By T.J. Schwartz
The following is a collection of reader stories in response to the On Your Side column from the May 3 issue of SCD relating some of my first autograph chasing stories.
Wow! I sure received a ton of autograph stories from my great readers. I want to thank all of you for your stories and would appreciate some more. So, here we go:
“Hello T.J. – from a long-time subscriber to the SCD. I have always enjoyed your articles and especially recently the one’s about chasing autographs. I would like to share the following experiences I had with Cobb and Mantle, and if you see fit, maybe share with your readers. I am a grandfather of three boys who love baseball, and I still am an avid fan myself.
“Here goes: From Cobb to Mantle, my ultimate autograph pursuit.
“When I was 15 years old in 1957, the Augusta Tigers Baseball Club sponsored a ‘Ty Cobb Night’ at Jennings Stadium in Augusta, Ga. I was at that game with my father and my brother, along with a packed stadium of fans because Cobb was being honored at the game. I remember being very excited at the possibility of being able just to take a look at the player who the Augusta Herald newspaper described in 1919 as ‘The World’s Greatest Baseball Player.’ Cobb played his first professional game for the Augusta Tourist in 1904. He later married an Augusta girl and raised his children in Augusta, where he lived for many years.
“That night the Augusta Tigers won the South Atlantic League championship, and with Cobb in the stands, there was an abundance of enthusiasm and excitement. After the game my brother and I walked over to where Cobb was surrounded with onlookers and admirers and we got an opportunity to ask him for his autograph. I recall that he had on a brown suit, and me being a lad, he towered over me as he signed my program on the front cover. He seemed to be enjoying the accolades and fanfare that had been the focal point of the event, and from my point of view he had made a gracious speech earlier thanking the crowd and the ballclub and the city of Augusta for remembering him. He even said something about he was without words but was grateful.
“Fast forward 15 years to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in 1972 where Jackie Gleason was sponsoring his first Jackie Gleason Inverrary Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament. Gleason ‘The Great One’ was putting on a world-class celebrity and pro event. I went to the tournament with a golfing buddy and was there because of the potential to possibly see my boyhood baseball idol, Mickey Mantle. I scouted the pairings and soon found Mantle on one of the holes with one of his playing partners, Joe DiMaggio. After he finished putting, I approached him with my scorecard and he graciously beautifully signed in blue ballpoint pen. I still cherish this autograph till this day.
“Mickey Mantle came into the national spotlight in his rookie year with the Yankees in 1951. Tyrus Raymond Cobb died at Emory Hospital in Atlanta in 1961. There is a short window of 10 years or less that an autograph seeker could have possibly gotten these two larger than life legends in person. Because Cobb was sick and did not make public appearances in the last years of his life, the opportunity was certainly small if not almost impossible. To realize that I made personal contact with these two baseball greats and Hall of Famers has given me wonderful reflective memories for the last 40 years. What a great hobby we enjoy.”
– Lamar Garrard
Now that’s a great chaser story! Ty Cobb? Awesome! – TJ
“Dear TJ, I know you love the Yankees from reading On Your Side monthly. I just wanted to tell you how lucky I was back in 2000 when I worked for Poland spring water in NYC. My route was in the Upper East Side.
“I had Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada living in one of my buildings for a year or so. I had a good friendly relationship with a temporary doorman in that building. He knew I loved the Yankees, so he said I will get you an autograph from him. He said just buy me lunch. Wow – I would wind up getting six signed jerseys!
“I bought them eight balls, seven caps, a bat, about five 8-by-10s. I got his first book signed twice, three balls with Jeter and Tino Martinez, four Posada balls, two Posada 8-by-10s, one Posada Subway Series cap and two Jorge jerseys signed on the back. I gave him great tips for my now, to me, priceless items. My wife thought I was nuts until she went with me to a show and saw what they were worth. She was good to me over the years and let me amass a great Yankee collection, but she passed away May 29.
“I am disabled with a neck and knee injury. I got to spend the last five years of her short life home with her, so tripping over a stroller in MSG at a WWE event was the best thing that ever happened to me. She didn’t like baseball, but our 14-year-old son loves our Yankees, and she went to many games with us. I hope you don’t mind me writing this, but I thought you would enjoy this.
“In my spare time I go with a friend to Yankee Stadium, hang outside and get autos from the VIPs and old timers who we catch after the game. We camp out at a secret location and attempt to get some of the boys. Some games I get 15 balls signed. I got Jay-Z, Trump, and Berra three times for free. I could go on and on.
“I enjoy On Your Side, and boy, have I built a collection of some cool autographs to leave behind to my son. When I finally have my last knee surgery and return to a job that isn’t so hard, like an indoor sales job, I will miss hanging out at Yankee Stadium.”
Great stuff and so sorry about your loss. The fact that you are keeping all those autographs instead of selling them is a testament to you and other true hobbyists out there. Your son is a very lucky kid. – TJ
“T.J., I have many autograph stories from the Forum (the L.A. Lakers former arena) and the surrounding hotels.
“Up until about 1990, virtually everyone was accessible and with very few exceptions – Ewing, Stockton and to a lesser extent Pippen – almost everyone would sign. For a long time, hotel employees didn’t mind us few people getting autographs. Then it changed and they became very strict. At the Marina Del Rey Marriott, they went so far as to up a barrier to keep us from getting to the players as they were walking to the bus. The first Trail Blazer to come out of the hotel was Danny Ainge. He walked right by us and got on the bus without saying a word.
“The security people were all smiles and looked like they were going to high five each other until Ainge came out of the bus and signed for all of us.”
I hate to say anything nice about Ainge, being the Celtic hater I am, but that was a very classy move! – TJ
“Hi T.J., The only problem with your articles in SCD is they only appear once per month. Love reading them.
“When you talk about personal autographs successes, mine was my ideal Duke Snider. When fans today get crazy because they lose their favorite player – Pujols or Hamilton – I have to laugh.
“When I was a kid in Brooklyn, we lost our entire team to you guys in L.A. There was nothing left, but my idol was still The Duke. Years later, he was at a show at LaGuardia Airport, and I dragged my son and a camera to record the event. I got up to Duke and could not talk. I felt like the Jackie Gleason bit on The Honeymooners when he was flustered-’HAMANA HAMANA!!’
“I finally had the nerve to have Duke sign a ball and take a picture with him. My luck, our camera did not work but luckily, another friend had a camera and took the picture of me and Duke. At another show, I had him sign that picture. I was amazed as an adult, how much in awe I was of Duke, and what a kind man.”
– Steve Stemberg
I felt that exact same way when I first met my idol, Mickey Mantle. I couldn’t say a thing but smile. – TJ
Reader Mark agrees:
“Just read your article from May 31 on autograph chase and just wanted to relate my story of ‘best’ autograph. It was at a show, so it wasn’t really a chase, but in ’90 or ’91, I took my son, who was 12 at the time, to a show featuring Mantle at Cincinnati Gardens.
“I hadn’t really been into obtaining autos at the time, but I couldn’t pass the chance up to see Mickey in person, as of course he was my sports hero as a kid. Plus the price was like $15 or $20 (like an idiot, I purchased only one!). Anyway, as soon as we entered the smaller room where he was, I exclaimed to my son, ‘There he is, boy!’ loud enough to draw chuckles from most in the room, including Mick. Even though I was a grown man, 40 years old, it was pathetic how tongue-tied I was when we finally presented our ball to be signed. I think I said something stupid like ‘His favorite player is Jose Canseco,’ pointing to my son. Immediately I’m thinking, ‘Jeesh, what an idiot.’ I think I did manage to add that he was the greatest I ever saw, which he thanked me for.
“Anyway, to make a long story short, he signed our ball, even adding the “No. 7” quote, and took a picture with us shaking hands. I had that picture blown up and is still one of my prized possessions, hanging in my basement. No other man was ever more important to me than my father, but Mickey Mantle certainly was second on the list! I actually shed a tear the day I heard he died.”
– Mark Angelo
Me too, Mark. Me too! – TJ
And now, the winner as the funniest of the bunch. Enjoy:
“Greetings from Nebraska! I really enjoy your column in SCD and am responding to your request of first autograph experiences.
“Although I have many sports autographs now, my first autograph experience was non-sports related. It was in the summer of 1974, when I was 7 years old. I was spending a week at the home of my grandparents.
“During that particular week, there was a new restaurant opening in the city 20 miles away. On the Saturday, they were having a grand opening with many characters attending, such as The Hamburglar, Grimace and Mayor McCheese. You guessed it – it was a McDonald’s. Now remember, this was the 1970s, and there were no other McDonald’s out here. This was a big deal. It seemed like the whole city of 25,000 people was there!
“Anyway, I wanted to meet Ronald McDonald. I don’t know how the idea of getting an autograph came about, but when I saw him I approached him with my pen and paper. When I reached him, I remember being scared to death. He looked at me, saw my pen and paper and said, ‘What are you doing kid, keeping stats?’ I said I just wanted his autograph. He scribbled Ronald McDonald and I got away from him as fast as I could. He was scary. (I’m surprised this didn’t kill my future autograph hobby, and to this day McDonald’s would be one of the last places I would eat!)
“I stayed with my grandparents a few more days and got ready to leave to go home and couldn’t find my autograph anywhere. My grandmother admitted that she threw it away, as she didn’t think I would want to take it with me! Devastating!
“Just a funny story I thought you might enjoy, as I sure enjoy your stories. One bright spot is that although my grandmother threw away the autograph, at least I am one of the few whose mother did not throw away their baseball and football cards! I still have them all!
“Thanks again for taking the time to read this and keep up the good work. Please take care!”
– Troy Kearney
OK, you had the ultimate courage to chase down Ronald McDonald, who by the way was probably some 18-year-old kid making the 1974 minimum wage of $2 an hour, and you let Grandma throw it out? For shame Troy! Great story! – TJ
Behind the Counter
Keeping with the theme, I thought I’d relate what I felt was the Greatest moment in my autograph history. I capitalized “Greatest” because I’m about to talk about the absolute Greatest man ever in sports, Muhammad Ali.
Twenty-plus years ago at a hotel near LAX, Jim Brown, Roy Campanella and the Champ were signing. I got a Campy auto, but missed Brown and Ali. So I went into the main room to see thousands hanging around as Brown finished signing. They were all waiting for Ali. I was writing for Tuff Stuff then and figured I’d write a piece on Ali.
So, he comes into the room from the back, and Brown stands up facing him. He does a mock sparring session with him and Ali is clearly in a great mood. You can also see the respect that Brown had for him. The signing starts with everyone standing orderly in line. Anyone who has been to a signing will know that this is rare. The two hours fly by and the Ali’s handlers tell him he has got to go. The Champ says no and keeps on signing.
There were a ton of ticket holders still in line. He does another half-hour and finally gets up. The crowd immediately gathers up to the stage like a mosh pit, just to get a close-up glimpse and photo of Ali. He waves to the crowd (remember, this was 20-plus years ago and he was very much in good shape, disease-wise).
I’m standing about 6 feet away to the side, due to my press pass, when the most amazing thing I ever saw happened. Ali starts to step down from the stage into the massive crowd to walk out the front. The crowd – without any prompting – opened up like the Red Sea and made a perfect path down the middle. No one asked them to do it, they just en masse did. Amazing! Ali starts to walk out while people, including many still holding unfulfilled autograph tickets are just staring at him in absolute awe like the last courtroom scene in the great movie, To Kill a Mockingbird.
A little girl breaks ranks and runs up to Ali with a piece of paper. He stops dead in his tracks, kneels down in front of her and does one of his magic tricks with a coin and then signs. (I’m tearing up as I watch this great man break all autograph rules.) A few women run up and get freebies and then a few men. Through this, his handlers are just stone faced as they’ve obviously seen this before. Throughout this, the crowd is quiet, orderly and still lined up with a clear path down the middle. Ali signs a few more freebies while walking out and then finally gets to the door. He stops and waves and everyone applauds.
To this day, I’ve never seen this kind of reaction or respect for any other athletes, and I’ve seen them all. What a Man!
That was not just another day Behind the Counter!