Mike Schmidt, the ultimate brainy (former) ballplayer, wrote a story recently for the Associated Press bemoaning the fact that money had so debased the once-unsullied world of autograph collecting that the resulting arena is now nothing short of “ugly.”
I’ve been at a couple of group press interviews with the Hall of Famer, and it’s hardly an overstatement to say that he’s one of the brightest and most thoughtful former players around, but it may be that those very same qualities leave him just a tad naive.
While recounting his own charming tales of signing his first autograph 40 years ago and also proudly displaying autographs of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player that his grandparents had secured for him in the early 1960s, Schmidt went on to lament that current state of affairs.
I don’t even disagree with his less-than-unique assessment that our society has become “callous, rude and motivated by money.” True dat. But it seems to me it’s a more sophisticated response to try to figure out a way to foster those elements that are so laudable – preserving memories, lighting up a kid’s face with a signature from his hero, etc. – while minimizing the ugly aspects that leave him so dismayed.
Schmidt is adroit enough to concede that – in his own words – “Old Mike has made a couple of million bucks he had never counted upon" through the various inserted autograph cards so stridently marketed by the card companies. He can see the contradiction of grousing about all the money in the memorabilia business while accepting a sizable chunk of it for his own coffers.
But he doesn’t then take it to the next logical step, which is to concede that whining about the sordidness of the hobby seems disingenuous at best in light of the fact that Major League Baseball itself is such an enormous business behemoth with literally billions of dollars on the table. I think the world was a much more agreeable place when $6.50 could snag you a handsome box seat at once resplendent Shea Stadium, and another buck could get you a reasonably chilled Rheingold beer to go with it. But it just ain't that way anymore.
Sigh! I don’t even collect autographs and have given away signatures from the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and others, but I certainly understand that when things have value – even a misty-eyed sentimental value – a monetary figure gets attached. And yes, Mike, even though lots of people tell you they will never sell it, you’re absolutely correct to note that everything gets sold sooner or later. That’s why Upper Deck or Topps agreed to show you the money for those insert cards.
As I mentioned above, I suspect Mike is just a wee bit too sensitive for the rough-and-tumble world or autograph collecting. And I gotta admit, I thought the most interesting quote in the AP story was the one where he said that his dislike of the cat-and-mouse game with autograph collectors on the street was one of the reasons he retired early.
I wonder if he’s ever had the opportunity to chat with Brett Favre about his views?