The Autograph Pavilion at the 41st annual National Sports Collectors Convention is eye-popping, as has been customary from TRISTAR Productions, which has managed the area for the past 15 years.
Sure, the total number of autograph signers is down a bit from the past handful of years, but certainly not the demand for on-site autographs. That might be the highest for any National.
Here’s a quick look at the numbers that make up the 2021 Autograph Pavilion at The National:
• 115 – Total number of autograph signers.
• 28 – Pro Football Hall of Famers.
• 17 – Baseball Hall of Famers.
• 10 – Basketball Hall of Famers.
• 3 – Hockey Hall of Famers.
• 2 – WWE Hall of Famers.
• 25,000 – Estimated number of autographs that will be signed in the public area.
• 500 – Number of Sharpie pens that will be used.
• 225 – Number of Ballpoint pens that will be used.
• 5,000 – Number of 8x10 photos that will be signed.
• 10,000 – Number of baseballs that will be signed, including in the backstage area.
• 1,000 – Number of footballs that will be signed, including in the backstage area.
“Interest in the hobby is at its highest in 30 years,” TRISTAR vice-president Bobby Mintz said. “I remember the 1991 Anaheim National well, and I feel the 2021 National will rival that show. The Autograph Pavilion is going to be stronger than past years due to the interest in the hobby and the fact we have more than 30 players who have never [appeared at] The National, so that allows collectors to see players they don’t normally see.”
So, who is heading to Rosemont for this year’s signing smorgasbord?
The signing sessions start on Wednesday, July 28 at the Sneak Peek Day, with free autographs from Cecil Fielder, Wally Joyner and Jan Stenerud. On Thursday, signers include Ray Guy, Lawrence Taylor, Dan Hampton, Jimbo Covert, Drew Pearson, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Art Shell, among others.
Friday will be the busiest day in The Autograph Pavilion, with 38 set to sign, including Lynn Swann, who is expected to be among the most sought-after signatures all week. Other signers on Friday include Lee Smith, Rich Gossage, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza, Horace Grant, Johnny Bench., Fergie Jenkins, R.A. Dickey, Andruw Jones and Chris Chelios, among others.
The National: Schedule for 2021 show
On Saturday, fans can meet Gail Goodrich, David Ortiz, Barry Sanders, Ivan Rodriguez, Felix Hernandez, Ozzie Smith, James Worthy, and more.
To wrap up the show on Sunday, the signers include Roger Clemens, Rollie Fingers, Chris Carpenter, Bret Saberhagen, Thurman Thomas, Michael Cooper and Alan Trammell, among others.
“There are a bunch of first-time National signers, and a pretty good mix for football, baseball, and basketball [former players],” said Brian Schwartz of Schwartz Sports in Northbrook, Ill. “With the influx of people overall, and the newfound popularity of getting rookie cards autographed, I am optimistic that will lead to a boost in autograph sales, especially for the more popular and harder-to-get guests included in the lineup.”
"The lineup of autograph guests at The National always amazes me — the best of the best," said longtime Michigan-based collector and dealer Mark Dehem. "The National is where you will see the GOAT in every sport. I appreciate the lineup every year as it brings in more and more collectors to the show. The National has to have the biggest names as the show is the biggest there is, so it only makes sense to see the greatest names in sports at the greatest show."
The most popular signers at The National are expected to be Ortiz, Piazza, Chipper Jones, Swann, Hernandez, Worthy, Barry Sanders, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Thome and Larry Walker.
WWE star and professional wrestling legend Hulk Hogan will be, without question, the most in-demand signer of all 100-plus signers — just as he was during his appearances at The National in 2018 and 2019.
His 2018 National appearance was confirmed and announced only two weeks before the show opened, yet he still was the No. 1 draw. He hasn’t appeared at a show since the 2019 National in Chicago, further pushing the demand for Hogan.
Hogan, who will be joined by WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, draws ridiculous lines, for his autograph or a simple photo-op alongside the pro wrestling icon. And, good for the fans, Hogan is the ultimate show guest: He is friendly, outgoing, personable, and very, very caring.
“Hulk knows the National Sports Collectors Convention is the Holy Grail of sports memorabilia conventions,” said Darren Prince of Prince Marketing Group, Hogan’s longtime marketing agent. “We started talking to Hulk about [appearing at The National] over a month ago. Hulk wanted to do it to connect with his fans who all need something to smile about after a tough year and out of his friendship and respect that he has for Jeff Rosenberg and Bobby Mintz at TRISTAR Productions and Ryan Fiterman of Fiterman Sports Group.”
Hogan, the biggest icons in professional wrestling, has had nearly 20 surgeries in the past 12 years, so Rosenberg and Fiterman are providing him with a private jet to travel to Chicago.
“Now the Wrestling GOAT will be at the Sports Memorabilia Convention GOAT with the Show Promotor GOAT (TRISTAR),” Prince said.
BIG PAPI A BIG DRAW
Five signers who might surprise by the number of autographs each sign for the public are Joyner, Hernandez, Frank White, Mike Witt and Horace Grant.
The lineup for this year’s National is exciting, Mintz said.
“Basketball is hotter than ever, and we certainly brought more basketball [players] than in year’s past,” he said. “Chicago is one of the best places to produce a show, a great facility, great hotels and restaurants nearby.”
Ortiz, no doubt, will attract autograph-seekers from across the country, particularly Boston. The same likely will be the case for Carpenter and Hernandez.
“Ortiz is just an all-around nice, fun guy who enjoys meeting people. The life of the party,” Mintz said.
A COLLECTOR’S PARADISE
Jim Umbach, 61, a collector making the trek to Chicago from his home in Phoenix, said his autograph radar has five names in bold for this year’s National: Ortiz, Barry Sanders, Johnny Bench, Ted Hendricks and Gail Goodrich.
He plans to have Sanders sign a Heisman/Hall of Fame full-size helmet, as there are only 10 players on that list and two are deceased.
Mike Breeden of Midlothian, Va. will be at his 24th or 25th National and is excited for the signers who “you don’t see pop up all that regularly” at shows.
“The National is the premier event in our industry. There is no close second,” said Breeden, an avid autograph collector. “You can walk the floor of most card shows in an hour. You can’t do [that] at The National.”
DANDY DOZEN: 12 BIG AUTOGRAPH DRAWS
“Big Papi” — David Ortiz
“You’re killin’ me, Smalls” – Patrick Renna (The Sandlot)
“The Cobra” – Dave Parker
“Ryno” – Ryne Sandberg
“Pudge” – Ivan Rodriguez
“The Wizard” – Ozzie Smith
“The Chief” – Robert Parish
“Human Joystick” – Dante Hall
“Big-Game James” – James Worthy
“Ice Man” – George Gervin
“The Golden Jet” – Bobby Hull
“Perfect Game” (8/15/12) – Felix Hernandez
AUTOGRAPH PAVILION TIPS
“Everyone always tells me that they shoot for the older guys, because they never know when they will get another chance. Or they shoot for guys who you don’t often get [at public signing sessions]. Of course, get your idols.” — TRISTAR’s Bobby Mintz
For advance autograph tickets, mail in/order program details, the complete list of signers, and all the latest TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion information, go to tristarproductions.com/National, or check out details on social media (Twitter & Instagram: @TRISTAR1 and Facebook: /tristarproductions).