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Thrift Store Finds: Jerseys Make for Perfect Signing Fodder

When players retire, it seems one of the places their replica jerseys turn up at is in thrift stores. You can usually pick these up for under $10 and they make for perfect items to try and get signed.

I spend quite a bit of time wandering from thrift stores to garage sales to estate auctions. I’ve been doing this for years, and I get great joy from buying and selling and have managed to turn that hobby into a decent paying part-time job.

Plus, I get to add to my sports memorabilia collection. It’s a rush to pick something up for a dollar and sell it for $90. Of course, then you have to hand over a good deal of your profits to the open hands of eBay and PayPal, but it’s still a lot of fun.

The majority of “stuff” I sell is jerseys, old board games and collectibles. I don’t sell many autographs, usually because the ones I find I can’t part with. But I’ve sold everything you can think of, from baby strollers to one-of-a-kind bass guitars to vintage video games.

 This Zach Thomas jersey, which the linebacker signed through the mail in a great signature, was found at a thrift store for $5.

This Zach Thomas jersey, which the linebacker signed through the mail in a great signature, was found at a thrift store for $5.

Why am I telling you about my thrift store escapades? Because recently I came across several Zach Thomas jerseys – good old No. 54, 12 seasons and 1,700 tackles.

Thomas is one of my favorite players to ever pull on the aqua and orange of the Miami Dolphins, and he was one of the toughest players to ever play the game. I remember reading one time that as a kid, Zach had his head run over by the family car. Perhaps that toughened him up in his youth or more likely caused tire damage to the car, much like the damage he inflicted on opposing players during his Pro Bowl career.

Whenever a player retires, there’s an influx of his jersey in thrift stores. I’ve come across three in the last month or so, and I live in western New York, not Miami. The thrift stores there are probably a sea of discarded Dolphins aqua and orange. I bought one to wear for $5, and another authentic, stitched jersey to mail out for an autograph. Seems like Zach may have some time on his hands right now, and he has been signing a ton of free autographs through the mail.

He has signed on and off through the mail over the years, but recently, it seems like everything is coming back from him and in just a few weeks. I mailed him the jersey, a card and a black mini helmet that sort of resembles his Texas Tech helmet.

The problem with the helmet (that I picked up for a dollar) is that it had a corporate logo on it. I tried to get the sticker off using my trusty Goo be Gone, but it just ruined the surface gloss of the helmet. Turns out he didn’t sign the helmet anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. He did sign the jersey beautifully across the entire No. 4 and inscribed it “To the Talbots Bar & Grill.” How cool is that? Now I need to frame it.

He also signed the card and added his own 8-by-10, also inscribing it to our basement man cave. Not sure why he didn’t sign the helmet, but I’ll take three-for-four freebies any time. And it all started with my $5 authentic jersey that someone donated to get it out of the house.

Terry turns the tables
There was a video making the rounds the other day on the sports sites featuring Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry asking surprised fans on the street to sign an autograph for him.

Terry is shown in the video reaching into cars for an autograph and trying to get 100 signatures in his autograph book. He also signs a few autographs himself in a trade with fans. It's definitely a fun video to watch. Look for it on YouTube.

I always liked Terry when he was playing with Dirk and the Mavericks, and he’s been one of the few NBA guys that signs through the mail. I know we were able to get a few cards from him signed in care of the Mavericks. I'm not sure what his signing habits will be with the Celtics. I can’t think of any current Celtic that signs through the mail, but hopefully Terry won’t change his ways.

Third time’s a charm
While on the subject of the Celtics, my brother recently had a nice success with Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn.

Over the years, my brother had written to him twice, getting the rejected Return to Sender both times. He decided to give it one more shot when he found a couple of high-res photos online that he could print at home. It worked and Heinsohn signed both photos in just a few weeks.

I think many times it is hit or miss with through-the-mail collecting. I jokingly called him a stalker. He replied “I look at it as being persistent.”

Heinsohn won eight NBA championships as a player in nine years, and then went on to coach the Celtics from 1969-78, adding two more championships to his résumé. He is now a color commentator for Celtics broadcasts and has been in some official capacity with the Celtics throughout all 17 of their championships. I think I might have to get a letter out to this Hall of Fame legend next.

Andy Pettitte
A few columns ago, I reported that Yankees legend Andy Pettitte was making a comeback and heading up through the minors. He made a stop in Rochester and pitched against my Orioles in the playoffs.

Well, my only consolation to the O’s losing the series was the signed Pettitte picture that arrived in our mailbox this week. When Pettitte pitched here in Rochester, he actually asked if he could set up a table to sign autographs when he was finished pitching. And that’s exactly what he did, free of charge.

Unfortunately, my boys had a baseball game themselves, and we were forced to leave in the fourth inning, about an inning too soon. Pettitte signed for the entire impromptu line. I took a shot at sending a picture and card to the Yankees, and the picture came back in about a month. The card wasn’t in the envelope but that’s OK.

What a great signature to add to the collection. I might not be a Yankees fan, but Pettitte and many of the Yankees are class acts.

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