As a 10-year-old, Dennis Schrader had an event that’s had a lasting impression on his life.
Schrader was helping the New York Yankees bat boys for 25 cents an hour in 1956. He was sitting in the dugout one day when some Yankees were playing the game “Pepper,” and a ball came flying over to him.
“I grabbed it and this guy comes back to go take a leak,” Schrader recalls. “‘Hi, kid.’ I go, ‘Hi.’ He went in there, took a leak, came back out of the little dungeon and he said, ‘You want me to sign that for you?’ I say, ‘Sure.’ I hand him the ball, and there’s an ink pen on a string for the lineup card. He put the ball up there and signed Mickey Mantle, handed it to me, patted me on the head.”
That was the moment when Schrader decided he wanted to become an autographed baseball collector. Now, 65 years after that encounter with one of the best baseball players of all time, Schrader has amassed over 5,000 autographed baseballs (none having duplicate signatures), which has been recognized by Guinness World Records.
“It was my life,” said Schrader about his eye-popping autograph collection. “I love it, I really did. And the people I met.”
The Tampa, Fla. resident was awarded the Guinness World Records for signed balls in 2011 when he had 4,220 autographed balls. His collection has just grown since then.
Because of his massive collection, Schrader has been selected to the newly-established SCD Collectors Hall of Fame for autographs.
In October 2013, in cooperation with the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., Schrader opened the non-profit museum, “Schrader’s Little Cooperstown,” inside the St. Petersburg Museum of History. All 4,999 baseballs are on display at the museum, which attracts between 80,000-100,000 visitors each year.
Photo Gallery: Dennis Schrader collection
The scoreboard sign at the museum is flipped to 4,999, but Schrader has another 40 baseballs at his house.
“I’m not taking them down (to the museum) until we can get somebody that I don’t have that’s famous that can sign the 5,000th ball,” Schrader said.
Last year, Schrader had Tom Hanks all lined up to sign that historic ball, but then the famous actor came down with the coronavirus.
SCHRADER HAS IT ALL
Schrader has autographed baseballs of every big name that has played in the history of baseball: Babe Ruth, Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron — the list goes on and on.
About 90 percent of Schrader’s collection is baseball players with the remaining 10 percent either athletes, coaches, celebrities or politicians. That includes Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Elvis Presley, Priscilla Presley, John Travolta, you name it.
The 74-year-old Schrader has amassed about one quarter of his collection by sending letters to athletes and celebrities asking for their autograph.
“I’d say, ‘I want to make the Guinness book of records. I want to have a museum someday. This will not be sold on eBay. This will stay in my family for generations. Can I send you a ball?’” Schrader said. “Then I put a line at the bottom that says, ‘Sign here if you want a ball.’ They would sign and send it back. Of course, a postage-paid envelope and all that.”
Some people would check the “No” box, but still sign the piece of paper. Either way, Schrader got their autograph.
One of Schrader’s prized possessions is a signed “Shoeless” Joe Jackson ball.
Schrader had the ball authenticated by an FBI forensic specialist. Schrader said one of the top authenticating companies questioned the autograph.
“The reason they give me some crap about ‘Shoeless’ Joe is it’s a 1919 ball and he was kicked out in ’20, and they say he was illiterate and he didn’t sign,” Schrader said. “Well, that’s BS because when he died, he owned a liquor store. He was very prominent. But when he got kicked out, he barnstormed for a while and then got to the point where he hated baseball. Ty Cobb went to visit him, and he slammed the door in his face.
“He wouldn’t sign anything. His wife did the signing and her signature is entirely different than what you see on about six balls. There are about six good ones out there — some forgeries, but there are six good ones. This is a good one. It’s with the right ink. It looks like it was signed by a third-grader because that’s the way he signed his name.”
Schrader also has a team-signed 1927 Yankees ball and a DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe dual-signed ball.
A number of years ago, Schrader bought a masterpiece from Robert Edwards Auctions. It’s a ball from when the National Baseball Hall of Fame was opened in 1939.
“When they inducted 26 men at that time, 11 of them were still alive,” Schrader said. “The 11 that were there for that induction signed some balls. I have one of those balls with all 11 on it.”
Schrader also has nine Ruth signed balls. He has an extremely rare ball that is inscribed “54 in ’61” and signed by Mantle and on the other side it says, “61 in ’61” and is signed by Roger Maris.
“I have never seen another one like that,” Schrader said.
One of Schrader’s trademarked stories centers around former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Back in the 1980s, Schrader raced greyhound dogs and had a box at the Tampa Greyhound Track next to Steinbrenner.
“One night I brought a ball and I said, ‘I want you to sign right here on the sweet spot under this other autograph,’” Schrader recalls. “And he looked at me and went, ‘I’m not signing that.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Because it was Billy Martin. I said, ‘George, you fired him five times. If you sign this, I don’t know anybody that will have a ball like this and it’s going to be in my museum someday. I’m going to get the Guinness Book of Records, and this is going to be phenomenal.’ He signed it and handed it back to me.”
Schrader’s autograph collection is amazing, as are the stories that support his famous signatures.