By Ross Forman
Ryan Arcidiacono, the Villanova University basketball standout who was named the 2016 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, approached Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson on Saturday, Aug. 6, at the 37th annual National Sports Collectors Convention inside the Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center.
They were in the back area of the Tristar Autograph Pavilion, run by Houston-based Tristar Productions Inc., away from the public. Jackson had just finished signing some items and Arcidiacono had about 20 minutes more of signing. But the 22-year-old Arcidiacono, who went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft yet signed with the San Antonio Spurs for the 2016 NBA Summer League and was signed by the Spurs on July 14, wanted to meet “Mr. October.”
Arcidiacono just wanted a photo with Jackson, but he caught Jackson by surprise – Jackson didn’t recognize the young-looking basketball sharp-shooter who, as a junior, was co-winner of the Big East Conference Player of the Year and in the 2016 NCAA Tournament final game, had the assist on the game-winning basket by Kris Jenkins as time expired.
Jackson hesitated, but when he learned it was Arcidiacono, Jackson was about as excited to meet Arcidiacono as Arcidiacono was to meet Jackson. They talked for about 10 minutes, with Jackson carrying most of the conversation, asking about his career and more. Jackson told Arcidiacono that he was super excited he signed with the Spurs.
Arcidiacono was, of course, super excited, too.
The 37th National – a five-day sports memorabilia extravaganza, with autographing appearances by about 135 sporting icons, such as Jackson and Arcidiacono – was held Aug. 3-7. The interaction between Jackson and Arcidiacono was one of hundreds, literally, of memorable moments in the memory-filled, Sharpie-strong, star-gazing Tristar Autograph Pavilion.
Bobby Mintz, vice president at Tristar, said the Autograph Pavilion ran “extremely well” at this summer’s National, especially considering the number of signers. He tagged it a “grand slam.”
The biggest day was Saturday, when the area was overflowing with autograph seekers, as the lineup included Mariano Rivera, Joe Namath, Sugar Ray Leonard, Julius Erving, Mike Piazza, Cal Ripken Jr., Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Mike Tyson, among others. Saturday was “one of the busiest days ever since we took over the autograph pavilion in 2006,” Mintz said.
The top signers at this year’s National were, in no particular order: Mike Schmidt, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson, Pedro Martinez, Joe Namath, Mike Piazza, Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Sanders, Curt Schilling and Martin Brodeur.
The top five “surprise” signers, meaning, those who drew longer lines than first expected, were: Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Pete Retzlaff, Shawn Kemp and Anderson Silva.
John Montefusco, Jim Lonborg, Nate Archibald and Jimmy Hart were among the autograph-seekers, too.
Tommy Lasorda arrived for his Sunday afternoon signing after a hospital visit. He needed 12 stitches after falling in his hotel room, but he demanded to the doctor to be released so he could go sign autographs at the show.
“The doctor knew about the show and wanted to attend with him,” Mintz said. Lasorda ultimately showed up right on time and had a big crowd.
A reunion of the 1986 New York Giants featured appearances by Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Bart Oates, Ottis Anderson, Mark Bavaro and others. They signed photos, footballs … and Gatorade coolers.
“The guys couldn’t have been better. It was a big party in the back signing area, as it was hard to keep them focused as they just kept chatting the whole time,” Mintz said.
Another major team-signing likely will happen next summer at The National in Chicago, Mintz hinted.
Ryan Hutchinson, 31, a Houston resident, made the trek to Atlantic City for his sixth National. He tagged the 2016 National’s Autograph Pavilion as “busier in the back (area) than at any National I’ve ever seen.”
Memories were plentiful among the signers. Just consider:
• Four Tristar exclusive signers were signing at the same time on Sunday, so it was a priceless picture seeing Roger Clemens, Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio and Tom Glavine come together for a photo-op. “I thought that was pretty cool,” said David Blakley, who lives in Dallas.
• When the news of Alex Rodriguez’s imminent departure from the New York Yankees broke, Biggio learned on his phone. So he immediately turned to Clemens to ask what “The Rocket” knew about it.
• “I thought Lou Piniella had a great autograph; it was nice-looking early in the day and also late in the day,” Blakley said. “He was offering inscriptions that he thought were appropriate for whatever photo he was signing, even if he wasn’t being asked to include. He’d say things like, ‘Don’t you think this photo needs (to also include) 1967 American League Rookie of the Year?’ or things like that.”
• “Johnny Bench is always one of the best autographs I’ve ever seen; it’s always so consistent. It just looks really nice,” Blakley said.
• So who had the best or prettiest signature at the 2016 National? That debate will linger, but Mariano Rivera certainly is a top contender for that title. Rivera’s signature “is so artistic and legible every single time,” Hutchinson said. “Mariano was very conscientious about angles of his signature, the way it would ultimately look.”
• What about the worst, or sloppiest signature? Well, three names come to mind: Dennis Rodman, Donovan McNabb and Curt Schilling. However, Blakley noted that Rodman’s autograph in Atlantic City “actually was better than usual.” Blakley said that “you could actually kind of see that it said ‘Dennis.’” Blakley added, “This would have been a good show to have gotten his signature, one that was semi-legible.” Rodman’s longtime signing agent, Darren Prince, said, “Yes, (Rodman’s) signature varies, especially on the mood he’s in and his schedule that day. I know, (have) worked with, and (have) seen others who have way worse signatures. A full ‘Dennis Rodman #91’ (autograph) takes him a good five seconds and has lots of different flows to it and, to be honest, I think it’s one of the more interesting celebrity autographs.”
• Rodman is also, at The National and at all public signings, one of the most sought-after for photo-ops – among other celebs. Anderson Silva, for one, posed with Rodman. “Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan don’t collect autographs, but they both love seeing all the champions and Hall of Famers. Reggie Jackson and Hulk said ‘Hello’ to each other,” Prince said.
• Martin Brodeur posed for photos with Hogan.
• Hogan, Mike Tyson and Sugar Ray Leonard took a picture together.
• Joe Namath came over to Hogan to say ‘Hello’ and take a photo with the wrestling icon.
• Jimmy Hart also snapped a photo with Namath and said that the former quarterback was one of his favorite athletes.
• Hideki Matsui signed autographs in English and Japanese.
• Dave Winfield took photos with other celebrities.
• Goose Gossage was very talkative and cordial in the back and with the public. “Goose Gossage truly takes pride in his autograph, and always makes sure the correct pens are or were being used, that he signed in the correct location and with the proper inscription,” Blakley said. “Goose was very concerned with how his autograph looks.”
• Curt Schilling rejected signing an autograph with a personalization request that carried a sexual overtone.
• Matsui signed a near 6-foot wooden caricature of himself that weighed more than 30 pounds.
• One of the most unique items at this year’s National that was being signed was a game-used National League On-Deck Circle from an All-Star Game. Many signers questioned where the owner could or would display the oversized collectible.
• Jim Lonborg had a dozen unsigned balls with him. Well, they weren’t unsigned when he left the show.
• “Joe Namath was an incredibly nice autograph guest,” Blakley said. “He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel comfortable around him. He would approach you, not the other way around. He’d introduce himself and welcome you; he just makes you feel comfortable, which I thought was very unique and so, so nice, especially for a guy of his stature.”
• Blakley, attending his 18th National and primarily a baseball collector, said the reaction that Hogan and Flair received was “incredible, on par with Joe Namath and legends like that.
“For a baseball (autograph) collector, like me, this year’s National was fantastic,” Blakley said. “Saturday, it was a madhouse in the Autograph Pavilion, but in a good way. The turnout was incredible.”
• John Montefusco signed on Wednesday, then returned to the show days later, mostly because he wanted to get some autographs.
• Mike Piazza brought his daughters with him, “and they could not grasp their heads around why their dad was having to sign autographs,” Hutchinson said.
• “Dick Allen was so much fun to work with; he was so hilarious,” Hutchinson said.
• Tim Raines seemed to take a special interest in the autograph and memorabilia world, even curious why and which pens were used with which items.
• Bobby Shantz has a gorgeous signature, particularly for a 90 year old. Shantz, after all, made his major league debut pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1949.
• Though his signature is on the sloppy side, there’s no nicer or friendlier signer than Donovan McNabb.
• Rickey Henderson also is a super nice signer.
• Ron Jaworski repeatedly told collectors to call him “Jaws,” not “Mr. Jaworski.”
• Pete Rose sported a stylish, monogrammed dress shirt.
• Mike Schmidt ate pizza after signing.
• Cal Ripken Jr. continued his long-running tradition of standing up after signing and taking a picture with anyone in his line.
• Franco Harris was seen joking with a young Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
• Ozzie Smith was seen giving hitting tips to a teenage player.
• Rocky Bleier brought his four Super Bowl rings to the show and displayed them on the table where he was signing.
• Perfect placement: Don Money and Dave Cash signing near each other.
• Joe Greene has a gorgeous signature, but will not sign any Coca-Cola photos, nor add “Mean.”
• Robin Yount will not inscribe “The Kid” or “Rockin Robin.”
• Randy Johnson will not sign a jersey unless there are five or more signatures already on it.
• Mike Piazza will not sign any item related to the Roger Clemens bat-throwing incident.
• Mike Tyson will not inscribe “Iron Mike.”
The Tristar Autograph Pavilion at The National was, as always, an amazing, memory-filled experience that will, no doubt, be star-studded next summer in Chicago.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.