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Chicago Sun-Times Event Succeeds Without Pelé

The Chicago Sun-Times Show lacked its star attraction, but an otherwise strong lineup of signers and collectibles drew attention. Meet a few of the dealers at the show and what items were on the show floor.

By Ross Forman

The 47th annual Chicago Sun-Times Sports Collectibles Convention, held Nov. 22-24, was a star-studded event, with amazing autograph guests that truly ran the sporting gamut – current and retired athletes, stars, superstars and Hall of Famers.

Just no Pelé.

The soccer sensation who played in the World Cup four times (1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970), starred for his native Brazil, had a brief stint playing for the New York Cosmos of the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) in the mid-1970s and was named the best player of all time by multiple outlets was not signing autographs at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe

Instead, collectors were greeted by poster-sized signs that read, “Pelé has cancelled his appearance due to unforeseen personal family matters.” Show organizers said they are trying to reschedule him for one of the shows in 2014. Jay Bruce, Tony Gwynn and Kyle Long also did not appear, as scheduled.

That aside, the show still featured an impressive autograph lineup, including David Robinson, Julius Erving, Don Shula, Jerry West, Brian Urlacher, Bill Russell, Chris Chelios, Steve Carlton, Tom Osborne, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose and Ryne Sandberg, among others.

“I think it was a great show that offered something different for everyone in terms of the autograph guests, including seven of the Top 50 NBA players of all time, coaching legends Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne and the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot,” said collector Jon Carr from Carol Stream, Ill. “It definitely had some fresh names you don’t see regularly on the show circuit. Pelé cancelling was unfortunate, but hopefully he gets rescheduled for March with another great lineup.”

About 4,500 attended the show, according to show promoters.

“The unforeseen cancellation of some autograph guests, including Pelé, might have affected the crowd, collectors coming to see (Pelé), meet him and get his autograph,” said New York-based dealer Lisa Stellato. “The show was very busy on Saturday with a lot of families. But overall, I thought the crowd was lighter than in the past.

“Still, Chicago is one of the strongest show markets in the country, based on collectability, participation, families attending, sales and more. One thing I definitely noticed was a lot of collectors walking around with memorabilia, such as signed jerseys.”

Got some jerseys that no longer fit? The Greatest Seat can outfit some chair or love seats with them. Owner Tom Lenardi holds eight patents for the product.

Got some jerseys that no longer fit? The Greatest Seat can outfit some chair or love seats with them. Owner Tom Lenardi holds eight patents for the product.

The greatest seat
Tom Lenardi had a dilemma: “I got too fat for my jerseys,” he admitted with a smile.
But Lenardi’s problem turned into his profession six years ago, when he launched The Greatest Seat – hand-crafted sports jersey chairs and barstools. The chairs hold up to 300 pounds, feature a hidden storage compartment and can be assembled with a power screwdriver and glue. He holds eight patents for the product, and his company has donated more than $25,000 to charity, including the Special Olympics.

Still drawing crowds 36 years later are the Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot fame. All photos by Ross Forman.

Still drawing crowds 36 years later are the Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot fame. All photos by Ross Forman.

Lenardi’s chairs were among the most eye-catching items at the show, and the business truly is a family affair. His son, Alex, is a junior at St. Rita High School in the Chicago area, where he is a goalie for the school’s varsity squad – and he was selling the chairs at the show. Lenardi’s wife does the upholstery work, he said.

The Ryne Sandberg jersey chairs are among the most popular, and anything Chicago Blackhawks-related sells well, Lenardi said.

The chairs only take about one hour to make, yet the attention-to-detail is meticulous.
Customers can purchase chairs or stools with jerseys already included, or provide their own jersey and then watch it become a custom chair.

Lenardi once made a love-seat for a couple, featuring a Chicago White Sox jersey (which he supported) and also a Chicago Cubs jersey (her favorite team).

“I’m really having fun with this business,” Lenardi said.

At the Chicago Blackhawks’ three-day convention this past summer, Lenardi sold all 40 chairs that he brought by mid-day on Saturday. For more information on The Greatest Seat, call (773) 646-3563, or visit

Show floor sightings
Walking through every aisle of the show floor, here are some of the items spotted:

  • The large, framed, five-photo collection pieces, along with a cut signature of baseball icons, are impressive, to say the least. Each comes with a JSA letter of authenticity. Roy Campanella sells for $2,195; Roberto Clemente is $3,295; Cy Young is $3,395.
  • MLB logo T-shirts, in multiple colors, were being sold for $16, or $19 for the long-sleeve version. I had to wonder, are they licensed?
  • The Hula Girl bobblehead, a give-away from the June 6, 2012, Los Angeles Angels game carried a $21 price tag.
  • There were large 2005 City of Chicago street signs ($100-$200), telling of residential parking only around Wrigley Field.
  • Three prices for Three Stooges cards in one dealer’s case: Moe ($220), Larry ($265) and Curly ($75).
  • For $350, you could claim a framed 16-by-20-inch photo of Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, signed, along with a mounted puck that also was signed by the team captain.
  • Mike Ditka throwback-style Chicago Bears helmet, signed ($275).
  • The guys walking around Saturday in Detroit Tigers’ uniforms were working at the A-Z Cards & Comics booth, where you could snag a box of Topps cards from the vintage TV shows Growing Pains or Dallas ($40 each).
  • Bobby Knight card, spotted in one dealer’s case, was a Fleer release, made for a Hawaii Trade Conference – with that logo on the card. The card had a swatch of a Knight-worn red sweater and was selling for $20.
  • The black hockey jersey did not feature a team logo, but rather, information on a pro wrestling event held Aug. 14, 1970, in Chicago. The main event that night was Dick The Bruiser and The Crusher against Mad Dog Vachon and the Butcher. Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, a Canada native who participated in the 1948 Summer Olympics, was a pro wrestler from 1950-86 and was a five-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion and a member of multiple pro wrestling halls of fame. He died Nov. 21, 2013
  • For $3 (or four for $10), you could claim a 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks pennant.
  • A Washington Senators batboy jersey was $175.
  • A first-ever issue of Sports Illustrated was $250.
  • I saw one dealer selling four versions of All Star Baseball, the popular board game that was manufactured by Cadaco. The 1962 version was $75, while 1965 went for $70, the ’69 for $65 and the 1979 for $55.
  • There was an issue of The Sporting News (3-28-83 cover date) with Michael Jordan in North Carolina blue for $45.
  • World Series programs: 1945 for $250, 1935 for $300 and $350, and 1938 for $350.
  • There was a 1964 Topps Giants complete set for $150.
  • One of my favorite items was the framed, signed Walter Payton jersey, with multiple inscriptions – and a $2,200 price tag. The same dealer had a dual-signed, framed piece ($300) featuring each of the Stanley Cup-winning goals from the 2010 and 2013 Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Georgia-based dealer Kip Ingle had an impressive George Sisler-signed baseball, personalized to Buddy.
  • A Patrick Kane signed, framed 11-by-14 photo was $150.
  • Quoting dealer Kevin Savage on Saturday afternoon, “The crowd is good.” Savage said he sold “A ton of (Green Bay) Packers stuff,” which did not surprise him. Also at his booth: Kentucky Colonels program ($35).
  • There was a vintage Chicago Cubs uniform for a child – for $125.

Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at