The surprises were everywhere at this year’s National, though I concede that some of them at least are a result of my own lack of familiarity with some segments of the hobby. Thus, I was startled to see a huge line of fans on Saturday at the BlowoutCards.com booth in the corporate section, all eagerly awaiting a chance for an autograph from Rich Franklin.
It was one of the longest and most enthusiastic lines I encountered over the five days, and so I was intrigued to learn that the affable Franklin is a former math teacher turned popular protagonist of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). I learned something of his prowess within this genre from Larry Lacluyse, owner of the Mishawaka Sports Museum in Mishawaka, Ind., and a familiar face at Midwestern card shows for many years.
Larry’s interest in Franklin impressed me, as did one of the guys who stood in line for a signature and photo opportunity. This gentleman had traveled for five hours for the opportunity to meet Franklin, promptly bought a lifesize cardboard cutout of the fighter and then headed home ... without bothering to so much as even take a glance at any of the other 699 or so booths.
Veteran collector/dealer Pat Quinn reminisced about getting Teddy Ballgame to sign stuff back in the 1980s before things had gotten quite as pricey and structured as they would become. Quinn presented Ted with a box of items for him to sign and asked about the cost. “Fifty dollars,” said the Hall of Famer. Quinn told him he didn’t have that much for each of the dozen or so items in the box. “No, $50 for the whole pile,” said Williams.
A couple of years later, Quinn pushed a box of books in front of Ted for signing purposes, and Ted impetuously got a little carried away, as he was known to do from time to time. “He told me that if he found even one book in the box that he hadn’t seen before, he would sign the whole bunch for free,” Quinn recounted with a laugh. The very first one that Williams grabbed was a rare book, and before he could stop himself he blurted, “Where did you get this?”
“And then he realized what he had said,” Quinn continued, and just like that the pioneering hobbyist had made an even better deal that the $50 discount of before.
Steve Pemper of Ball Four Cards in Milwaukee had NFL Hall of Famer Jim Taylor at his booth and I got to talk to the legendary former Packer for a few minutes between some of his autograph signings.
The 74-year-old Taylor talked about playing for Vince Lombardi during the glory years – noting his first contract was for $9,500 – and opining that the Hall of Fame coach was tougher as a contract negotiator than he was as a coach, a lament not uncommon from former Packers.
I asked Taylor about his 1959 Topps rookie card that actually pictures the Cardinals linebacker of the same name. This was an uncorrected Topps “error” that effectively meant Taylor didn’t actually get a football card with his mug on it until 1961, since the same error was repeated in 1960 Topps Football as well.
I asked Taylor if collectors were constantly trying to get an autograph on the 1959 rookie card. “I have never signed that card and I never will,” he said firmly. “It wouldn’t be right,” he added, since the card didn’t actually picture him.
That’s why I like talking to the old-timers. Rock-hard convictions that remain as immovable as they were on the football field.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about similar chats that I had with Ernie Banks and Whitey Ford.
I don’t want to sound like an old geezer (though I am sure I often do), but those kinds of stories contrast sharply with the high-finance, micro-accounting that is the hallmark of the modern autograph session. Doesn’t mean the players in that venue are bad guys, it just means it’s a different time. Most everybody likes big bucks, but there’s always a price that comes with it, one that is often counted in loss of innocence, quaintness and spontaneity.
I’m just sayin.