A crowd estimated at 100,000-plus turned out for the DHL Major League Baseball All-Star FanFest from July 6-10 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. As part of the festivities leading up to the All-Star Game, advertisements for the event boasted “over 400,000 square feet to hit, pitch, catch, shop, eat and live baseball.”
As has been customary at the annual MLB extravaganza, after paying for admission ($22, unless you found the coupon in the local newspaper), all activities, exhibitions and special events at Fanfest were free. Fans could wander each of the three floors freely, and even at the busiest times, although individual events or exhibits may have attracted huge crowds, foot traffic between the various booths was generally not a problem.
One of the most popular sites at FanFest was “Hometown Heroes,” a tribute to the San Francisco Giants featuring memorabilia, photos and publications, and “The Diamond,” where fans could attend baseball clinics and listen to talks conducted by coaches, managers and current and former players. Giants fan favorites Rob Nen and Kevin Mitchell were among those former players answering questions from fans.
Other popular attractions included batting cages, replicas of a clubhouse, equipment room and dugout, and exhibits paying tribute to the Negro Leagues and Hispanic baseball players.
However, judging by the crowds, the highlights of Fanfest were the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit and the autograph pavilion. The Hall of Fame exhibit contained an impressive number of jerseys and equipment, given that it was a traveling exhibition. For fans willing to queue up at the autograph pavilion, their wait was rewarded with free autographs from baseball legends, Hall of Famers and former players from the A’s and Giants.
Autograph guests scheduled to appear on various days included Vida Blue, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Bill Laskey, Jeffery Leonard, Gaylord Perry, Will Clark, Darrell Evans, Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Rob Nenn, Earl Weaver, Luis Aparicio, Fergie Jenkins, Harmon Killebrew, Jack McDowell, John Montefusco, Robin Roberts, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, Monte Irvin, Juan Marichal, Mitchell, Robby Thompson, Matt Williams, Luis Aparicio, Goose Gossage and Cal Ripken Jr. (signed books only).
During my two trips to Fanfest, I witnessed Fergie Jenkins, Luis Aparacio, Nen, and Will Clark signing. Clark remains a fan favorite and entered the pavilion to thunderous applause.
The least impressive aspect of FanFest was the “Collector’s Showcase,” which featured about a dozen memorabilia dealers spread out on each of the three floors. Many of the dealers were selling the usual variety of pins, autographed or new baseballs, pictures of featured autograph guests, or new material that qualified for the Topps or Upper Deck wrapper redemption programs. A minority of dealers sold vintage material or game-used jerseys of mostly common players or minor stars. A few sold new high-end unopened packs. I am not certain whether costs or space issues (or the composition of the crowds) prevented or dissuaded more dealers from exhibiting, but the lineup of dealers and their wares was relatively uninspiring.
Chasing All-Star autographs
Just after I checked into my hotel, I saw that Major League Baseball Productions was setting up an interview room on my floor. I inquired whom would be interviewing there, and learned that they would be meeting with the “Major League Baseball Legends,” most of whom were actually staying at my hotel and would be signing autographs at FanFest.
Over the next few days, a steady stream of players entered and exited the room. One of the players interviewed was Gaylord Perry. Periodically, I had some brief exchanges with the folks who staffed the room. I was told that Perry ranked as one of the most fun interviews conducted, and a staffer described him as ‘hilarious.” After meeting Perry, I can attest that he is a rather jovial and friendly fellow.
Having now confirmed that my hotel could be running rampant with Hall of Famers, the next morning I got off the elevator and scanned the lobby. I noticed someone who looked familiar, but I could not immediately place him, but finally decided that it must have been Gaylord Perry. The next day, I saw him in the lobby again, this time alone. I approached him and said, “I’ve seen you in the lobby the past two days, and I’ve just got to ask, “Are you Gaylord Perry?” He looked down at my name tag and in a booming voice said, “Well, yes I am, Joe!”
We proceeded to chat for about five minutes. He was waiting for his buddy, Rollie Fingers, to go to an MLB function that morning. He told me that he still liked going on the road occasionally and meeting fans, as well as seeing his baseball buddies, and that he is living in North Carolina, enjoying his retirement years. Regrettably, at the time, I did not think to ask for his autograph.
Each night I made my way to the lobby again to join my fellow autograph hounds. Although I usually got a very late start, on my second night in town I found myself in an elevator with Dusty Baker, former manager of the Giants and Cubs.
After exchanging pleasantries, he noticed my conference tote bag, and it was only a matter of seconds before Baker asked if I was a scientist. Baker holds scientists in high regard; in 2001, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent successful surgery for his disease. In fact, he has encouraged men to get tested for prostate cancer, and has been involved in fund raising to increase prostate cancer awareness and research.
Much to my amazement, I found myself getting off on Baker’s floor, where we continued to talk for about 10 minutes on issues ranging from cancer to nuclear terrorism. Not having a ball on hand, I sheepishly asked if he would sign the first thing that I could dig out of my tote bag: a brochure from NASA that I had picked up at my conference, describing the next generation of rockets that would take man back to the moon and on to Mars. With his autograph, it is now quite a conversation piece.
On subsequent evenings leading up to the All-Star Game, I witnessed Baker at the hotel on several occasions. He never refused an autograph request, and thoroughly enjoyed conversing with fans. He was a class act.
Monte Irvin was also a class act. Fellow autograph hounds stood in awe as the Negro Leaguer and Hall of Famer, now 88 years old and walking with the assistance of a cane, entered the hotel and then stopped to honor an autograph request from a young fan. Irvin greeted the youngster with the enthusiasm of a man half his age, and though the liveliness of his step has long since vanished, the twinkle in his eyes remained as he inquired whether the child would be attending the All-Star Game the next evening.
What follows is a list of players and sports personalities that were known to sign at the Marriott (most were visually confirmed by me; others were confirmed by fellow autograph collectors): Chris Berman (ESPN); Wade Boggs (added HOF ’05 to items he signed); Will Clark, Bob Feller; Rollie Fingers; Peter Gammons (ESPN); Goose Gossage; Monte Irvin; Ferguson Jenkins; Harmon Killebrew; Candy Maldonada; Kenny Mayne (ESPN); Kevin Mitchell; John Montefusco; Robb Nen, Gaylord Perry; Dan Shaughnessy (sports columnist and reporter, Boston Globe); Robby Thompson; Bobby Thomson
Earl Weaver was also among the guests staying at the hotel, but when spotted, did not sign for fans. Harmon Killebrew and Fergie Jenkins were unpredictable, signing for fans on one day, but not the other. John Montefusco signed for everyone, and always adds “The Count” to his signature. “People always ask for it, so I just automatically put it on,” he said.
By the morning of July 11, all of the All-Star Week had drawn to a close, and players were checking out of their hotel rooms. By this point, I had been carrying a baseball with me at all times, just in case I happened upon a player.
Although I would always remember my conversation with him, I had started regretting not having asked Gaylord Perry for an autograph. Much to my amazement, as I crossed the lobby that morning, there was Perry, sitting in a chair waiting to be picked up. He was sitting with his wife, and although I generally avoid players with family around them, it was clear that my final opportunity was at hand. I approached him with my ball, saying, “I’ve seen you around the hotel for several days now, but have been too chicken to ask for an autograph.” He waved his hand, motioning for me to give him the ball. I complied. Now I have a ball that Gaylord Perry autographed for me, right on the sweet spot.
Joe Dynlacht is an occasional freelancer for Sports Collectors Digest. Dr. Dynlacht may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.