He counts Bobby Trowbridge, Clete Boyer, Johnny Blanchard, Mickey Rivers and the Mantle family among his good friends. He’s quick with a story and isn’t afraid to share his opinion on anything from the permanent retirement of No. 3 in Major League Baseball to how Commissioner Bud Selig should have never been granted the position in the first place.
His name is Herbie Buck, a retiree after 34 years as part of the corrections division of New York State Law Enforcement. If you haven’t guessed by the names mentioned above that he’s a huge Yankees fan, his sports room would clue you in at first glance.
The room is filled with signed memorabilia, and Herbie has a story to go with nearly every piece. He travels to Cooperstown every year for the induction ceremony, and you’re likely to see him chatting with former players on any number of subjects.
Herbie wasn’t always a crazy collector. He was a fan first, but when he arrived in Cooperstown in 1993 for Reggie Jackson induction into the Hall of Fame, it was a done deal. You see, anything Herbie does, he goes full tilt. That means signatures coming out of the woodwork, from Yankees to Negro leaguers to his current hometown Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
“I do have cards, but I’m mostly into autographs – pictures, balls, hats, bats, posters and stuff like that,” Herbie said. “Like all the kids, we either flipped them (cards) or we put them in the bicycles. They went around and around in the spokes and got all torn up. The first piece I ever got done was a 4-by-6-inch picture of Duke Snider I purchased at Cooperstown and I had him sign it for me.
“Everything I do have, outside of what was given to me by Danny Mantle because I am very good friends with the Mantle family because I knew Mickey so well, I have gotten myself.”
Did I mention he has a lot of Yankee connections?
Herbie didn’t know all of the material he had until he moved to South Carolina and started unpacking his collectibles. He has 79 binders of signed articles, pictures, cards, checks and letters. That’s 12,000 items in those binders alone. Since then, he keeps adding Yankees and Pelicans memorabilia as much as he can.
And that doesn’t include his NASCAR collection that includes die-cast models of every car driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr., along with many models of the great Richard Petty,
“My pride is a 2-by-3-foot poster I bought in 1996. I kick myself I didn’t have it when Mickey was alive in 1995,” Herbie said. “I have approximately 140 signatures on that poster.”
The poster has the entire 1996 Yankees team and the rest is all of the players still alive from 1996-2008. “You name it, they are on there: Joe DiMaggio, Clete Boyer, Hank Bauer, Gil McDougald – many of them are gone,” he said.
Another prized piece is a unique Mantle item that many people have never even heard of.
“When Mickey Mantle went into the Hall of Fame in 1974, the state of New York gave him a badge – No. 7. I have one of them and my wife has one of them,”
This hobby is all about connections, and Herbie has plenty of them, starting with Trowbridge, The two used to work together, and Herbie has every one of his cards, along with signed pieces from every one of Trowbridge’s Milwaukee Braves and Kansas City A’s teammates from 1956-60. As you know, there were some powerhouse names on those teams.
Another collecting theme is signatures from members of the 1948 World Series teams of the Boston Braves and Cleveland Indians. He even had Warren Spahn and Mickey Vernon, through Trowbridge, help him identify players in photos so he could then seek out their signatures.
Other themes include Negro leaguers and the Ladies of Professional Baseball. He was a regular attendee of the Negro league reunions put on by National Pastime.
He’s got all of the Yankee Gold Glove winners, along with the Yankees pitchers who have thrown no-hitters. Five hundred home run club? Of course. But that list, in his mind, doesn’t include any modern players.
“I go back to Mantle, Maris days, when the guys were decent guys – not the steriods, not the multi-million-dollar players today who think they are god’s gift to the world,” he said. “I’m not talking about them. I can’t stand them – they are a pain. I’m talking about down-to-earth guys that treated the fans like they were fans because they appreciated the fans paying to see them, paying at shows that put money in their pocket – treating little kids like they were kids and not animals.”
It’s this current arrogance and greed that has stopped him from going to see the Yankees during spring training, a tradition he enjoyed from 1996-2000. He would spend a month in Florida, watching the team and getting to hang with the players.
“It got so bad down there it was ridiculous. They started treating the fans like garbage,” he said. “Security was worse than ever, pushing everything back, back, back.
“It’s a rotten shame when you take a family of four down there – it’s going to cost you a couple grand to stay – and the only thing you come back with is a sunburn. It’s ridiculous. You go to the other fields, and they bend over backward to take care of you. We used to go down there and come back with full team-signed baseballs, right up the line. But every year got worse and worse.”
You can understand Herbie’s frustration after he tells you stories about meeting George Steinbrenner and later getting to hang out in his box during the spring training games. Steinbrenner was a big fan of those who worked in New York law enforcement. Fat chance getting to sit with the owner these days.
Herbie also enjoyed the older generation because he said none of them were bad guys. Well, except one or two.
“Joe DiMaggio was very moody. He was not a real friendly guy. I never saw the man smile. Even the pictures I have with him, he has a frown on his face,” Herbie said. “He was the only one I can say was that way. All the rest were friendly and would thank you for doing stuff. Except Reggie Jackson, what a pain in the ass he used to be and still is in a way. Cantankerous. He would treat the fans like dirt. Terrible the way he used to treat the kids. For the most part, all of the players were super great guys.”
Displaying his wares
If you ever want to question Herbie’s stories, he has the evidence to prove most of them. When he gets a signature from a an athlete, he takes a photo of him and the athlete, and the athlete signs that photo, too. He has four albums and at least 600 photos of him with various players.
“I believe in taking pictures with the players. So if anybody says to me, ‘He didn’t sign that,’ guess what? I’m standing there with me and him and the items is sitting in front of him. That’s my letter of authenticity.”
With so much memorabilia in his collection, you might think Herbie has a rotating display. But a Yankees fan is a Yankees fan through and through.
“I don’t change too much, because I have my favorites and they have to stay out,” he said. “Especially my Mickey stuff, that has to stay out. To sit here in my chair, look around, I say, ‘When the hell did I get time to do this stuff and work?’ ”
Retiring No. 3
Herbie Buck is leading the charge is trying to get No. 3 retired throughout Major League Baseball, in honor of Babe Ruth, Currently, only Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 has such honor.
Buck is a good friend of Babe Ruth’s granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti, and he currently has 7,000-8,000 signatures, with another 4,000 on his website. That list includes more than 100 former players and Hall of Famers.
“The only one who refused to sign it was Harmon Killebrew two years ago,” Herbie said. “He said, ‘I can’t sign it because I was No. 3. If it ever gets passed, I can never wear No. 3 again.’ ”
Buck takes his petition to Cooperstown every year to get players sign it.
“Let’s face it, he was the Father of Baseball. If it wasn’t for Babe Ruth, there wouldn’t be any baseball. Why they never did it is clueless to us. You would have thought one of the commissioners should have done it.”
To sign the petition, visit http://thetruebaberuth.com.