About a week ago, one of our administrators at school asked if I was going to the autograph show at Rosemont in a week. I didn’t even know it was going to be there … but in fact the National Sports Memorabilia Show was going to be there. It was held over four days, but exercising self-control, I decided to only go the last day (Sunday).
The one major thing that I wanted was to add Gale Sayers autograph to my “legends of the Bears ball”. Looking at others there, I decided to go after a few baseball Hall of Famers who were scheduled to appear: Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson, and Paul Molitor.
The first thing I noticed, compared to the other shows: much fewer people. I think the economy is really, really starting to have an impact. A number of booths were marked “Retiring”, “Going out of Business”. It might have been a ploy, but the business of collectables has been seriously hurt by the economy. People are just unwilling to buy niceties in an uncertain economy.
The other thing I noticed: there were fewer of people like me “Loner adult males aged 18-40”. There were many couples and many of what looked to me to be “father-son” combinations. That to me is a good sign. Even though attendance at baseball games is as high as ever before, the ratings for baseball on TV are as low as they have ever been, and there appears to be no sign in sight as to where it will bottom out. There is some serious concern, along with the permanent readjustment in our economy, where baseball will fit in with football, basketball, and (revulsion) the growth of flopping (soccer). People want more drama (hence things like soccer and MMA have grown). Baseball has drama, but it is fewer and far between.
Another point I’ll share with the folks who don’t do this: it is odd/funny/interesting, and most often understandable that some of the athletes will not do certain things while autographing. For example, Roberto Alomar had a very memorable incident during his career that while in a fit of rage he spit on an umpire, and had it all caught on tape. He refuses to sign anything to do with that that incident. Mike Tyson will not sign “Iron Mike” (not sure why). Bo Jackson refuses to sign anything from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the team that contacted him and cost him a year of eligibility in college baseball). There were others. What I am amazed with is that among the collectors, except for an occasional person who “doesn’t get it”, everyone knows enough to respect the player. There is a business transaction taking place, but it is one of personal interaction, and just about everyone understands that if you avoid acting like a papparazzo or a drooling fanboy, things tend to go pretty good!
I also took an opportunity to drop off my two big birthday presents for authentication. I figure my ’53 Yankees and ’57 White Sox balls will require some special insurance coverage, and I want to make sure they are taken care of, so I dropped them off with the authentication service, and they are going to get them back to me this afternoon. In a few weeks they will send me their opinion letter confirming that the balls are authentic, and that should allow me to get them added to my insurance rider, just in case.
With the crowds much smaller than the other shows I have attended, waits were shorter. All of the players I met were very nice. Orlando Cepeda was very quiet, but instead of saying “thank you”, a said “Gracias, señor Cepeda”. His face lit up a bit, and he replied with a “gracias” of his own. Paul Molitor asked if I was a Brewers, Twins, or Blue Jays fan, I told him “No, I’m a White Sox fan, you know, the Chicago team you helped beat most of your career.” He smiled, and I told him that I hated seeing the Sox lose, but I appreciated the talent and effort. He smiled and shook my hand.
Perhaps the highlight had nothing to do with me …. as I was waiting for Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson was one table over. Two tables over from him was the once undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. Tyson was flanked with bodyguards and there was a strict no pictures policy. As far as I could tell, he had a grin on his face, and seemed to be engaging with people. He had by far the longest line of anyone.
When Bo Jackson finished with all of his fans, he stood up and walked over to one of the Champ’s bodyguards and whispered to him. The bodyguard went over to Tyson, and Tyson immediately stopped and got up and gave Jackson a big hug. Jackson asked if he could have a picture with him, and the cameras came out for a picture of the decade: quite probably the greatest American athlete in history, and one of the most ferocious and dominant heavyweight champion the ring has ever seen. Even I wished I had brought a camera to take that picture!
My best personal moment was with Frank Robinson. When there were two people left in front of me, I realized that I had lost my ticket to get his autograph. I panicked … I hadn’t waited more than 20 minutes, but still! The guy behind me tapped my shoulder and said he had found this on the ground, but didn’t know whose it was until I started getting that “where’s my ticket” look on my face as I started looking for it. I thanked him. I was greeted by Frank Robinson (who I noted had been really animated with the younger kids that day … that’s always a sign of class!) As he was signing my ball, I again told the guy (now next to me) thanks! Robinson looked up at me and asked “What’d he do?” I said that I had lost my ticket, and that he was a great guy for giving it back to me. “Is he a great guy because he gave it back to you?” I replied “No … he was a great guy before this … this is just what great guys do.” He smiled, shook my hand (note: shaking the hand of a man who won the triple crown, two MVPs and hit over 575 home runs … not to mention being the first Afrcan-American manager in Major League history is most awesome!), and thanked me for coming out, and then thanked the guy next to me for being a nice guy.
The really bad news came at the end of the day. When I picked up my two autographed balls from the authenticator, one (my 1957 White Sox ball) came out with flying colors. My 1953 Yankees ball was declared to be a forgery … failing on quite a few of the points they examine for handwriting analysis. I was pretty upset!!
On the way out, there was a booth set up by an auction house offering free appraisals. I showed them my White Sox ball, and he asked me what I thought it was worth (just like “Antiques Roadshow”. I guessed about $500, and he said that was pretty good … he put it in the $450-$500 range. I then showed him the Yankee ball. He looked at it for 2 seconds and called over his friend, telling me that he was more the card expert and less the autograph expert. His friend came over, looked at the ball for 2 more seconds, handed it to me and said “that’s a fake, and a poor one at that.” Now I was flabbergasted!! My uncle had this ball for decades … it wasn’t like he even bought it, it was given to him … why would someone forge a ball to just give it away? The guy said that he is very familiar with Yankee signatures, and that none of them looked as they should, and that they weren’t even close.
So while gaining a few more treasures for my collection, I sadly lost a big one.