By Ross Forman
Three weeks before the doors opened at the I-X Center for the estimated 20,000 collectors who will converge on Cleveland for the 35th National Sports Collectors Convention, there already were 103 confirmed autograph guests, the most ever appearing at The National – and that total might have gone up.
“There was no specific number, and never is, that we were shooting for to appear at The National,” said Bobby Mintz, vice president of Houston-based Tristar Productions Inc., which has produced the autograph pavilion inside The National annually since 2006. “Instead, there are factors (coming into play for the autograph lineup), including players’ availability, the market, etc. We just want to put together the best autograph lineup that we can. The National is a very special event, the biggest sports memorabilia show of its kind in the country, if not the world.
“We’ve got a great group of players this year, and I think the collectors will really enjoy meeting and getting their autographs. Conversely, I think a lot of the players are excited, really looking forward to this.”
In fact, Mintz noted that several players and players’ agents actually contacted Tristar in hopes of appearing at The National.
“They know how special the event is and they want to be a part of it,” he said.
The autograph pavilion inside this year’s National is star-studded, to put it mildly. This will be an amazing sight of stars, superstars and mega-stars.
There are 33 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including five who stand on the NFL 75th Anniversary Team: Jim Brown, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, John Hannah and Jack Lambert. There will be six who have rushed for 10,000 yards or more during their NFL careers, and seven who are Heisman Trophy winners, including the only two-time winner: Archie Griffin. There are five Super Bowl MVPs and five NFL MVPs.
And that’s just from the football realm.
There are five Basketball Hall of Famers and two Hockey Hall of Famers, as well as three Olympic gold medal winners: Bobby Knight, Jerry Lucas and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Knight and Lucas also have the Ohio State connection, so they should be signing some Buckeyes’ paraphernalia, too.
There are 17 Baseball Hall of Famers, and seven members of the 3,000-Hit Club, including Pete Rose.
Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez represent the 3,000-Strikeout Club, while Tom Glavine and Johnson represent the 300-Win Club.
Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson and Jim Thome are members of the 500 Home Run Club.
Want the autograph of a Baseball Rookie of the Year? There are nine appearing.
How about a Cy Young award-winner? You’ve got five to choose from. Or maybe you want a baseball MVP? Johnny Bench will be in Cleveland, along with 14 others.
And for World Series MVPs, there’s Reggie Jackson and four others.
Len Barker, Tom Browning and Randy Johnson each pitched a perfect game – and all three will be at The National.
A Jim Thome statue will be unveiled Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Indians’ game. He’s signing at the show on Friday.
This is the first National in Cleveland since 2009, and collectors will be coming from around the world, not just across the U.S. Take, for instance, David Blakeley, 50, who lives in Livermore, Calif. Blakeley, who is primarily a baseball autograph collector, said he’s particularly excited to see the inductees from the Class of 2014, specifically, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.
“Managers aren’t usually part of (autograph shows), so it’ll be really nice to see them,” Blakeley said. “I think both will draw well, especially Torre.”
Blakeley said Jason Giambi also likely will be a popular guest. “In his heyday, he was as good as anyone,” Blakeley said.
Blakeley also is excited to see Carlos Baerga – for an autograph and to reminisce. The two were minor league teammates in the San Diego Padres’ minor league organization in 1987, playing in Charlestown, S.C.
Blakeley has attended the National about 12 times in the past, and when he heard this year’s show will feature 103 signers, he simply replied, “Wow.”
David Michaels will be making the trek from his home in Dallas, particularly to meet Cris Carter and Hines Ward – and he plans to get an authentic, full-size helmet signed by each.
“I’m absolutely stoked they will be at the show,” Michaels said.
Michaels will be attending his fifth National and said he “always loves to see new names” at shows, which is particularly special for those collectors working on multi-signed items.
Mintz said that Al Kaline will be a very popular draw, despite long having been an accessible signer. “He doesn’t make a lot of (card show) appearances,” Mintz said.
Rick Waits also likely will be a popular draw. “From 1977-1984 or so, Rick Waits was one of the Indians’ top two starters. He was always a favorite,” Mintz said.
Baerga, Jake LaMotta and Gary Bell also should each be very popular among autograph seekers.
As for Mintz, the Tristar executive said he’s personally most excited to see Julius Erving, a favorite of his growing up. Mintz also tagged Torre and Ripken among those he’s excited to see at The National.
Personally, I am super excited to see a former college teacher of mine, who will be signing at The National. Yep, when I took “Coaching of Basketball,” the teacher was none other than Bob Knight, the Hall of Fame coach who excelled at Indiana University and then finished his career at Texas Tech University.
I might even wear a red sweater.
The National by the Numbers: A preview of things to come
The tickets have been bought and the mail orders have come in. The following are some autograph tidbits heading into the National Sports Collectors Convention July 30-Aug. 3 at the I-X Convention Center in Cleveland according to Tristar Productions, who heads up the autograph pavilion at the show.
Top 10 popular signers at the National
1. Jim Brown
2. Bobby Cox
3. Julius Erving
4. Tom Glavine
5. Al Kaline
6. Cal Ripken Jr.
7. Barry Sanders
8. Jim Thome
9. Joe Torre
10. Mike Tyson
Top 5 surprise signers at the National (longer lines than some might expect)
1. Carlos Baerga
2. Rick Waits
3. Andy Van Slyke
4. Jake LaMotta
5. Gary Bell
Top 10 unique autograph inscriptions for signers at the 2014 National
1. Franco Harris, “Immaculate Reception”
2. Brooks Robinson, “Human Vacuum Cleaner”
3. Mike Tyson, “Yeah, I bit his ear!”
4. Bobby Hull, “The Golden Jet”
5. Gordie Howe, “Mr. Hockey”
6. Mike Hargrove, “The Human Rain Delay”
7. Al Oliver, “Scoop”
8. Wade Boggs, “Chicken Man”
9. Bobby Cox, “Most Ejections in MLB” (161)
10. Reggie Jackson, “Mr. October”
Top 15 best-looking, most recognizable autographs at the 2014 National
1. Brooks Robinson
2. Dale Murphy
3. Len Dawson
4. Andy Van Slyke
5. Tony Dorsett
6. Bob Knight
7. Jerry Lucas
8. Julius Erving
9. Tom Glavine
10. Bobby Hull
11. Reggie Jackson
12. Cal Ripken Jr.
13. Al Kaline
14. Joe Torre
15. Franco Harris
Autograph pavilion by the numbers
A few miscellaneous facts about the Tristar Autograph Pavilion at the 2014 National Sports Collectors Convention:
- Estimated number of baseballs that will be signed: 12,000
- Estimated number of footballs that will be signed: 5,000
- Estimated number of 8-by-10 photos that will be signed: 20,000
- Estimated number of blue Sharpies that will be used: 500
- Estimated number of blue, ballpoint pens that will be used: 200
Ross Forman is a regular contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.