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Sign of the Times: National Autograph Pavilion Roundup

By ROSS FORMAN

Dennis Rodman has long had one of the messiest autographs, followed closely by Deion Sanders – or maybe vice versa. But neither of them had, arguably, the worst autograph of the near-120 autograph-signers at the 40th annual National Sports Collectors Convention.

Former NBA player Allen Iverson has the worst signature. Quite possible the worst ever. It’s basically A and I with a line flowing from the I.

Pete Rose has a perfectly-legible autograph and with only eight letters, he can kick it out quickly. Iverson’s signature at the National was significantly faster than any Rose delivered.

Welcome to the Writing Report from the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at this summer’s National.

 Mike Ditka will always be "Coach" to fans and players alike.

Mike Ditka will always be "Coach" to fans and players alike.

“Most of the autographs I saw were fantastic. People would be excited to have an autograph they knew who it was (from) and could read it,” said Karen Murphy, a collector from Kansas City, Mo. “The exceptions (are) Dennis Rodman, Deion Sanders, and now Allen Iverson. I’ve been around Rodman and Sanders for years, (yet) this is my first time seeing an autographed basketball by Iverson. It was what looked like an A with a loop, (that’s about it). Have to say, (I was) disappointed.”

There were, though, plenty of legible signatures, such as Ralph Garr, Jim Kelly, Bob Griese, Ozzie Smith, Jim Rice and Eddie Murray, among others.

“The best experience that a fan of a professional athlete (can have) is (an athlete who) interacts with the people. One guy comes to mind from this show: Drew Pearson,” said Jim Dougherty, a collector from Fort Worth, Texas. “When you pay for an autograph, you have the expectation of what someone is going to be like. Mr. Pearson goes above and beyond for his fans. I got a photo signed for our long-time family doctor (from Pearson). Drew saw the inscription that I wanted, and (since it was for) a doctor, (Pearson) said he is getting the ‘ROH 2011’ inscription,” as Pearson is a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.

“He didn’t have to do that, (but) did it anyway. He was talking to fans, shaking hands and telling stories. I couldn't believe how great he was. This 8 x 10 was one of my favorites and it isn't even for me.”

 Rod Carew is still magical with a bat in his hands.

Rod Carew is still magical with a bat in his hands.

Pearson signed on Wednesday, along with a few others, such as Bill Cartwright who was asked to sign his full name. Before doing so, Cartwright asked the collector if he in fact knew Cartwright’s full name – James William Cartwright. Collector said he didn’t.

The same collector asked Carlton Fisk to also ink his full name. Fisk refused.

Speaking of refusals, Rodman will not sign photos with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as he was requested in Chicago; Hope Solo also will not send a Snapchat to a fan, despite being repeatedly asked by the same adult collectors.

Another no-no: Pete Rose will not sign his rookie cards. “I’ve been around Pete for more than 20 years at shows and (events). I’ve seen Pete sign a lot of autographs and a lot of off-the-wall requested autographs. But never knew he will not sign his rookie card,” Murphy said.

The 1963 Topps Pete Rose rookie card (No. 537) is, arguably, the most recognizable and important baseball card of the 1960s, with Nolan Ryan’s 1969 Topps rookie card a very close second.

Rose’s four-player rookie card also features the New York Yankees’ Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Al Weis of the Chicago White Sox.

 Vladimir Guerrero is great at signing autographs, and even better as a dad.

Vladimir Guerrero is great at signing autographs, and even better as a dad.

“One athlete who really stood out this year at The National (was), Mariano Rivera,” Murphy said. “He showed up on his scheduled signing day, Sunday, at about 9 p.m. (After hours of signing), he went into the public Autograph Pavilion to help raise money for his charity by selling T-shirts, hats, etc.

“He was at his charity table for hours meeting and talking with The National crowd. Mariano, in fact, was still at his charity table when the show closed. He spent about 12 hours at The National, signing autographs, taking photos, and just meeting the crowd.

“What an amazing effort Mariano made to accommodate so many people. (Truly) a Hall of Fame effort.”

Another Hall of Fame effort at The National came from Hulk Hogan, who always interacts with fans, shakes hands, jokes around and just looks like he’s having as much fun as the fans who are thrilled to meet him.

“Hulkamania is just that, mania,” Murphy said. “I saw the photo-op (session) with Hogan … what a variety of characters (coming to meet him). They came with Hulk shirts; dressed up as wrestling opponents (of Hogan) and more. And one guy even ripped his shirt like Hulk (did for years in the ring) – that caught Hulk off guard.

“Hulk brings electricity to the crowd when he’s in the building.”

 Trevor Hoffman flashes a Hall of Fame smile for autograph seekers.

Trevor Hoffman flashes a Hall of Fame smile for autograph seekers.

Soccer sensation Hope Solo was the lone female signer, “and the little girls (at The National) were so excited to meet her,” Murphy said. “Hope spent the time with the little girls while taking pictures. All I saw when the little girls left (the area) was smiles from ear to ear.

“It would be nice if (show) promoters would be encouraged enough by the events and popularity of women’s sports today to include more women athlete signers at the National shows. It would inject a new (attendance group) to the shows, not only for athletes but to create more traffic building the industry for years to come.”

Another popular signer was Patrick Renna, who appeared in the movie The Sandlot as Hamilton ‘Ham’ Porter.

“One little boy came up to Patrick and asked him if he would sign his photo with (a) quote from the movie, and Patrick (obliged, adding) ‘You play like a girl,’ Murphy said.

Josh Katz, a collector from Holden, Mass., added: “One of my favorite people from this year’s National was Patrick Renna, who was such a down-to-earth guy. It was amazing to see how many athletes walked by him and shouted, ‘You’re killing me, Smalls!’”

Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban signed autographs, then often stood up to shake the collector’s hand and thank them for coming. “(Beban) is very approachable, takes time signing his name and inscriptions, makes the guest feel important,” Murphy said.

Another super-signer was Christian Okoye, as well as Ralph Garr, as both interacted with fans. They didn’t just sign and swiftly move the line along.

 The Greatest of All Time? Hard to argue against it being Joe Montana.

The Greatest of All Time? Hard to argue against it being Joe Montana.

Murphy said one of the favorite autographs she acquired at this year’s National was from Chipper Jones as the former Atlanta slugger signed a black bat in gold. “He gave me the most gorgeous autograph I could ever ask for … (it) made my whole week,” Murphy said.

Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, was among the most-excited show attendees to meet Renna. The two posed for a photo together and Leinart told Renna how much he enjoyed The Sandlot.

“Carlton Fisk took his time on every autograph,” Katz said. “He looked the item over and double-checked where every person wanted their signature.”

Dan Hampton saw Katz’ leg tattoo (a Boston Red Sox B with the Patriots logo inside it) and laughed. “I see you’re from Boston … remember when we kicked your butt?’”

Katz replied, “No, Mr. Hampton … I was 5 (years-old at the time).”

Both laughed.

Hampton then added, “The last 10 years have probably made up for it anyway.”

Katz said the favorite autograph he acquired at The National was from Hogan, on a 16 x 20 photo. “I have loved the Hulkster for so long,” he said.

Also in the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at this year’s National:

 The incomparable Jerry Rice looks like he could still play.

The incomparable Jerry Rice looks like he could still play.

  • Roger Clemens was wearing a camouflage shirt and shoes.
  • Jim Kelly was getting autographs from other signers.
  • William Shatner prefers to fist-bump fans as opposed to shaking hands.
  • Watched Vladimir Guerrero sign an autograph with his now-major league son – but his son was about 8 years-old in the photo.
  • Paul Molitor was asked to sign several of his rookie cards, a 1978 Topps (No. 707) which also features Alan Trammell, U.L. Washington and Mickey Klutts. Molitor refused – until he had the best pen for the signature.
  • Joe Theismann walked over the talk with Hope Solo while she was signing.
  • I didn’t see Moises Alou sign nearly as many photos of the Steve Bartman moment as anticipated.
  • Iverson ingratiated himself to Chicago, or at least half the city – he wore a Cubs baseball hat.
  • Every player who saw Ditka called him, ‘Coach.’
  • Shatner held three Sharpies in his hand at once while signing.
  • A lot of the signers were getting photos with each other.
  • Piniella spent a lot of time going around and saying ‘Hello’ to the other signers, and specifically wanted to see Clemens and Hamilton.
  • Deion Sanders would not inscribe “Prime Time” on any baseball items, only football items.
  • Both Jerry Rice and Joe Montana signed standing up.
  • Craig Biggio signs left-handed though he threw and batted right handed.
  • Ray Lewis was very polite, cordial and easy-going throughout his signing.
  • “Nobody creates a crowd and excitement like Hulk Hogan. People who weren’t even there to get his autograph or meet him wanted try to just get a glimpse of him,” said David Blakley, a collector from Sachse, Texas, whose favorite autograph he acquired at The National was Mariano Rivera on an authentic New York Yankees home jersey.
  • “Rivera was sure to suggest certain pen types and colors to make sure (all) autographs (were) as nice as possible for the customers,” said Blakley who said the best-looking autograph from the 2019 National was Rivera, followed by Andre Dawson.
  • Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell each signed an actual on-deck circle from Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was about six-feet in diameter with the Astros logo in the center. “I don’t know how (the collector) got it to Chicago. That thing was big and very heavy,” Blakley said.

Bobby Mintz, vice-president at Houston-based TRISTAR Productions, Inc., which ran the Autograph Pavilion, said it probably was the strongest pavilion since TRISTAR began running the autograph area in 2006.

The top National signers were Mariano Rivera, Greg Maddux, Hulk Hogan, Chipper Jones and Carlton Fisk. Lee Smith and Harold Baines also each had really long lines.

The top five signers who signed more than anticipated were Fred McGriff, Josh Hamilton, Mike Ditka, Jeff Bagwell and Roger Clemens.

“Josh Hamilton said he loved seeing the items people sent in to get signed,” Blakley said. “He was especially impressed with a 16 x 20 multi-signed MVP poster. It had already been signed by at least 30 different players from the AL and NL. He liked it so much that he asked that a photo be taken of him holding it after he signed it. He also couldn’t believe he was asked to sign a ball under Willie Mays, as if he was not worthy to be near Mays on a ball. I was very impressed with Josh Hamilton.”

Scott Nash, a collector from Plano, Texas, snagged a signature from former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy two days before his 94th birthday and Nash noted the autograph is “very legible.”

 Craig Biggio signs left but throws right.

Craig Biggio signs left but throws right.

“I was thrilled to get a piece of my art signed by Craig Biggio and got to spend some time chatting with new Hall of Famer Harold Baines, and found that all the stories about how nice he is are 100 percent true,” Nash said. “Some players have put a limit on how many inscriptions they are willing to sign on an item, even if you are paying for them, so it was great to get Brooks Robinson to add eight inscriptions to a seat back for me.”

Lee Smith was asked, “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever signed?”

His wife quickly answered for him: “He doesn’t sign those, though he has been asked to on more than one occasion.”