Sports Guru: Diamond Legends

Featured in Autograph April 2009

Being a modern day collector of baseball autographs can be a little frustrating. It seems like every “can’t miss” prospect has stopped signing for free once he makes it to the Bigs. And how many times have we heard “I’m not signing today—it’s just going on eBay.” Even the tried and true method of writing to players through the mail has become hit or miss. Sure, many of the hard-to-get guys will occasionally sign a stack of mail from spring training, but most of the time that’s just dumb luck.

As we approach another season of baseball, collectors can turn back the clock to a time before ballplayers “roided up” to get an edge, when many players worked a job in between seasons to make ends meet, and players were happy to sign a free autograph for their fans.

The long retired ballplayers are much more likely to sign their fan mail, either for free, or in exchange for making a donation to their favorite charity. Hall of Famers like Stan Musial and Robin Roberts never seem to get tired of autograph requests.

Stan Musial
Regarded by most baseball enthusiasts as the “greatest living player,” Stan “The Man” Musial still loves his fans and rewards each letter with an authentic signed 4×6 photo. He also sends along a catalog of unique items sold through his company Stan the Man, Incorporated. Musial occasionally signs items mailed to him; I was able to get a St. Louis Cardinals hat and a baseball signed years ago. But most of the time he sends the signed postcard, which is reward enough from one of the true legends of the game.

Musial’s beautiful signature will highlight any baseball fan’s collection. Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1969, Musial was the Most Valuable Player three times, won seven batting titles with a career .331 batting average, and collected 3,630 hits and 475 homeruns. He played a major role in three World Series championships.

Duke Snider
Another gracious Hall of Famer who signs his mail, The “Duke of Flatbush” put fear in the eyes of opposing pitchers, slugging 40 or more homeruns in five consecutive seasons. Also a great clutch hitter, he hit four homeruns in two different World Series. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1980 and continues to sign for fans from his home address. Sometimes he signs for free but most of the time he requests a fee of $5-$20. Snider has been inconsistent through the mail over the years. His 83rd birthday is in September, which is another reason to drop him a note.

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts has a plaque at the Hall of Fame, too. His year of induction: 1976. This seven-time All Star selection had six 20-win seasons attributed to his pinpoint fastball. Like Snider, he is a great signer if you include a donation; his charity of choice is the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.). $10-$15 usually does the trick, though he has been known to sign a few freebies.

Bobby Doerr
Doerr is a 9-time All Star and probably the best through-the-mail signer of all time. A legendary Red Sox second baseman, Doerr is 90-years young and still providing autographs for the price of a stamp. His No. 1 has been retired by Boston.

George Kell
Kell joined the exclusive Hall of Fame club in 1983 as a rock solid hitter and fielder. He was Mr. Consistent, batting more than .300, nine times in his career, leading the league six times in turning the double play. Kell has always been a friend to autograph collectors, signing for free. Many baseball stat geeks will tell you that Kell beat out Ted Williams for the American league batting title in 1949 by less than two ten-thousandths of a point.

Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat returned a sharp looking black-and-white I sent him last month, featuring him in the windup that won a franchise record 189 wins for the Minnesota Twins. An astounding fielder, he won 16 Gold Glove Awards. Kaat included an envelope requesting a donation to a memorial fund he set up to honor his late wife.

Luis Tiant
A Fenway Park favorite, many fans think he should be in the Hall of Fame. Tiant won more than 200 games and followed in the footsteps of his father who excelled in the Negro Leagues. He is a great signer both in person and through the mail.

Phil Niekro
Niekro’s knuckleball kept him in the Majors for an incredible 24 years. It also allowed him entry into the Hall of Fame, one of only three knuckleballers to be enshrined. Niekro will sign a card or picture for $10 and a ball for $15.

Rich “Goose” Gossage
The “Goose” isn’t free anymore since he entered the Hall in 2008, but he still signs for a nominal fee through the mail. He’s hands down the best-looking signature in all of baseball. In a 23-year career he had 20 saves an amazing 10 times, and twice reached 30 saves. Many collectors are having good luck “grabbing the Goose” for $10-$20.

Bobby Thomson
Responsible for one of baseball’s all-time greatest moments, Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” on October 13, 1951. The New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for the pennant off Thomson’s game-winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning. Thomson usually includes the date of the game with his signature and still signs for free.

Operation Bullpen

Autograph April 2009
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Sports Guru: Thrift Store Jackpot


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Bobby Hurley signed photo

Local thrift shops are unsuspecting places to find sports and autograph items. But recently I took the cake! On my way home from work, I usually make a stop at a Goodwill store. I’ve even become good friends with one of the workers since I see him nearly every day. He knows I’m a diehard collector and alerts me to any donations that may have come in.

In December I was chatting with him when another worker came up and said, “We just had a guy drop off a bunch of signed sports stuff.” My friend told him to bring it out from the storeroom so I could take a glance.

Feild of Dreams Certificate of Authenticity

It was my lucky day. Six items were donated and priced at $10 each. They were all signed photos; a few were on plaques. I was thrilled when I saw a Certificate of Authenticity included with a photo of former Duke University basketball star and NBA player Bobby Hurley. The C.O.A. was from Field of Dreams, a sports memorabilia company that operates in many malls. Hurley’s in-person signature compared to the one from Field of Dreams looked very similar. The photo features Hurley in his Sacramento Kings uniform and it’s signed in silver paint pen.

I had the chance to meet Hurley several years ago when he conducted a youth basketball clinic. He was a great teacher and the kids seemed to get a lot out of the experience. I did too when he signed a basketball for me that day. Hurley’s NBA career didn’t last long after he was in a serious car accident during his rookie year, but he will always be remembered as one of the great Duke Blue Devils. In his four years at Duke, he led his team to the Final Four three times and won it twice.

Bo Jackson signed photo with engraved nameplate plaque

One more of the six items was authenticated by the same company: a signed Bo Jackson Kansas City Royals plaque with the engraved nameplate that reads “Bo Knows Baseball.” Jackson has always been a tough autograph since his two-sport days, playing left field for the MLB’s Kansas City Royals and running back for the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders. An all-star in both sports, Bo owned the endorsement market with his Nike “Bo Knows” campaign. Not only could he play baseball and football, but he also ran track in college and tinkered in hoops, playing for a minor league team in Los Angeles.

Jackson does do quite a few shows, but his autograph commands more than a hundred dollars. As a kid during the “Bo Knows” days, I’m thrilled to score an authentic signature for a 10 spot.

Larry Bird signed photo

A couple of other hoops legends were included in my stack of bargains: “Larry Legend” Bird and “The Round Mound of Rebound,” Charles Barkley. These two guys couldn’t be further from each other in personality, but they both have one thing in common—they were phenomenal basketball players.

Both photos came with a C.O.A. from Daniel Enterprises Marketing out of Chino, Calif. I have never heard of the company and couldn’t find out any information on the store. Both signatures appear to be genuine, though collectors have to be careful, especially with Bird. His mail has been ghost signed forever and he’s not a big fan of signing autographs. Bird proved his dominance again and again, winning three NBA titles.

The photo of Bird is from the early ’90s—which is good news. It seems there are many more photos forged today than during Bird’s playing days. Back then a signed photo was worth maybe $30-$50. Today, it’s worth much more, so it’s logical that it’s tougher to secure a legitimate Bird signature unless you’re willing to break open the wallet.

Charles Barkley signed photo

Barkley is the polar opposite of Bird, and continues to entertain today as a broadcaster. His stories could fill a 10-volume series. There was the time Barkley got in a bar fight and decided it would be a good idea to remove the guy from the bar via the plate-glass window, or the time he lost $2.5 million playing blackjack. And have you seen this guy’s golf swing? He’s terrible. However, he’s never one to turn down a good charity golf outing—Barkley routinely tees it up with guys like Michael Jordan, and never fails to leave everyone rolling on the putting green. You would think a guy that plays that much golf would be competitive. He’s not. But it’s sure fun to watch.

On the hardwood, Barkley was a dominating power forward, earning the NBA’s M.V.P. Award in 1993. He also won two Olympic gold medals as part of the first two Dream Teams.

Framed and matted photo of James Worthy

Last but not least for hoops autographs was a framed and matted picture of Los Angeles Lakers legend “Big Game” James Worthy. It’s not the best signature I’ve ever seen, but for $10, I’ll take it. It almost looks like it was signed twice, or maybe the Sharpie wasn’t working well. My fear is that the real autograph started to fade and some joker decided to trace the signature over the top to “restore” it to its original beauty. I guess we’ll never know.

Worthy will always be recognized as one of the true gamers. He played his best ball in the playoffs, and was part of three championship teams with the Lakers. He also won the NCAA championship in 1982 with UNC as a junior. Worthy used to be a great signer through the mail, but those days are over. Today he hosts the Lakers pregame and postgame shows, and is the CEO for his company, Worthy Enterprises.

Andre Reed signed plaque photo

The lone football autograph in the bunch is Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed. A 2008 finalist for the Hall of Fame, I think it’s only a matter of time until he will be sporting one of those awful yellow suit coats. Reed has always been a great signer and still answers his fan mail. But I’m guessing that may end when he gets the call from Canton. Reed was a crucial piece of the Bill’s Super Bowl days in the 1990s. They never took home the hardware, but they did make it to four straight.

In the Trenches: A Collector Tribute


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Collector Victor Gonzales with Gene Simmons at a 7-11 in San Diego

After hanging outside of venues and waiting for autograph opportunities for so many years, I see some of the same people also waiting for autographs. One collector became a dear friend of mine, and he helped me get the autographs that I couldn’t, out of his own generosity. He was a model fellow collector.

At a Pearl Jam show last year, I got singer Eddie Vedder to sign a CD. He was only signing one item per person for a crowd of about 10. My friend, Victor Gonzales, told me he didn’t get Vedder’s autograph, but that he’d get him inside the venue.

“Do you have another Pearl Jam CD?” he asked. “I’ll get it signed for you when I go in.” I gladly handed it over, feeling guilty for already having one signed.

Victor with 1960's football player Earl Faison

I first met Victor five years ago, when he told me about his collection of autographs, and I began seeing him around at autograph stakeouts. We would trade stories about the people we had met and who we got autographs from, or didn’t.

At 5-foot-7-inches, it was easy to lose Victor in the crowds. But he never pushed his way to the front, even though he was usually there first. And when someone was bummed about not getting a signature, he would offer to get an item signed for the person.

While waiting outside a venue where Sinead O’Connor was playing, Victor told me that he’d get my CD signed for me since I had to leave. I learned from a friend that O’Connor was only signing one item per person, but Victor had one signed for me and him. Turns out he worked at the venues. Aside from his job in produce, he did the stage lights and stage sets. He laughed saying, “The artists can be a lot nicer when you are working for the venue, as oppose to standing out with the crowd, where they think you might be selling autographs.”

When James Blunt played, I didn’t wait long for his autograph. He was inside already and I wasn’t the biggest fan. As usual, Victor told me he’d get it for me.

Victor with 1980's and 90's MLB left-fielder Kevin Mitchell

I saw him standing by the backstage door and I waved to him. He didn’t wave back. I thought it was because security was around, and he didn’t want them knowing that he talked to the autograph seekers. But he had no problem handing me back my signed CD. He told me about the opening act, Sara Bareilles and how even though it wasn’t his job, he helped unload her van and truck. He got a CD signed from her, and six months later she had a hit.

As many autograph collectors can relate, it isn’t always easy. Backstage at a ZZ Top show, Victor was turned down. “I had an 8×10 of the band with my index card. I put them out on a table and they walked by, laughed and kept walking. They never stopped to sign. I was mad!”

Another band that upset him was Crosby, Stills & Nash. The manager said the band won’t sign and assured him they’d send one in the mail. They never did.

Victor with MLB pitcher from 1972-1994 Richard "Goose" Gossage

I became a better collector and overall person because of Victor. I watched how nice he was to people who were pushy. And I realized because of him, that these rude people were just hardcore fans. It wasn’t anything personal.

He told me that he would bring boxes of fresh produce to baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn whenever Gwynn held autograph signings. And he usually stood with Gwynn as he signed for fans. He told me if I ever wanted anything signed by Gwynn to let him know.

A few times I offered to give Victor an extra CD or album I had. He’d always refuse, saying he was happy with his index cards. When he told me that he didn’t drive, I offered to give him rides when an autograph opportunity was happening somewhere far away. He would say, “No, I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

He’s one of the few autograph collectors that would call and give me the heads-up. One time I was going out to lunch, and he found out that Willie Mays and other Hall of Famers were going to be in town. So I started doing the same for him.

Victor with English footbal manager Gary Johnson

When I told him about a party at director James Cameron’s house, he was impressed. I said, “I got two DVDs signed. I’ll give you one.” After refusing on the phone for a few minutes, and me insisting, he agreed to take it. He told me, “I have some bad news, though. I couldn’t get your Pearl Jam CD signed.” I told him it was alright. He had gotten me about 10 CDs signed over the years. And just hanging out with him made the hours I waited for autographs so much more enjoyable.

As the weeks went by I called Victor about a few concerts, and I didn’t hear back from him. I thought that was odd.

I received a phone call two weeks later from his sister. She had his phone, and said he had passed away. I was shocked.

Victor with part San Diego Chargers owner George Pernicano

His sister told me so much about him that I never knew. She told me he had diabetes from the time he was a child, and complications from it made him legally blind, which explained why he didn’t drive, or never acknowledged me from far away.

I later met his dad, who told great stories about his room and all his signed memorabilia, and how he still gets signed stuff coming in the mail. And he told me that Victor once worked for Tony Gwynn, opening his fan mail and helping him with responses to fans. He said, “Sometimes people don’t have return envelopes, and they have no way of getting the cards or items back to the people. Victor got to keep those things.”

Victor with San Diego Charger defensive end Luis Castillo

One of his sisters told a great story about him being in New York. The Black Eyed Peas were on stage and saw him in the crowd. They remembered him from San Diego and called him on to stage. That’s the kind of guy Victor was. Bands remembered him. The Autograph community has definitely lost one of the nicest collectors around.

The Perfect Game


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Ask any collector how many specific signed pieces are required for the perfect sports collection and you’ll get as many answers as there are collectors.

There does, however, seem to be one number that is difficult to dispute—17.

In baseball history, there have been 17 individuals who have successfully pitched a perfect game. It would only stand to reason that the autographs of these 17 individuals would constitute a perfect collection.

A perfect game is defined in The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary as, “a no-hitter in which no opposing player reaches first base, either by a base hit, base on balls, hit batter, or fielding error; i.e., the pitcher or pitchers retire all 27 opposing batters in order.”

David Cone

Now that is an accomplishment that is difficult to imagine. Think of the thousands of games that have been played by thousands of pitchers who have taken the mound. It boggles the mind to think that on 17 days in baseball history the planets aligned and all of baseball’s superstitious behaviors combined to allow these men to do the unthinkable.

An even more amazing thought is the pitchers who never accomplished a perfect game. Nolan Ryan threw seven no-hitters but was never perfect. Neither were Hall of Fame pitchers Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Bob Feller or countless others.

Of the 17, 10 were pitched in the American League and the remaining occurred in the National League. The first was on June 12, 1880, and the last was on May 18, 2004. That’s about one perfect game every 11 years. Will you be watching in 2015 when the next scheduled perfect game happens?

Let’s take a look at the pitchers who have achieved perfection so far.

Lee Richmond

Born in 1857, Lee Richmond pitched for six years for four different teams. His perfect game was the first ever on June 12, 1880 when his Worcester Ruby Legs defeated the Cleveland Blues 1-0.

Hi preparation for the game was somewhat atypical. The night before his achievement, he stayed up all night at a party at Brown University. The next morning he played in a baseball game between Brown University, his alma mater, and Yale University. He then hurriedly skipped lunch to arrive just in time to pitch his perfect game.

John Ward

Just five days after Richmond’s accomplishment, John Montgomery Ward, hurled a perfect game for the Providence Giants as they defeated the Buffalo Bisons 5-0. Ward was born in 1860, and played baseball professionally for 17 years. In 1879-1880, he racked up an amazing 87 wins.

Cy Young

Cy Young

Cy Young, the pitcher by whom all others are measured, pitched a perfect game on May 5, 1904, as the Boston Americans defeated the Philadelphia A’s 3-0.

Young, in his 22-year career, pitched 7,354 innings and 749 complete games. In 16 seasons, Young had more than 20 victories, and surpassed the 30-win mark five times in his career, all while maintaining a 2.63 ERA.

In addition to his perfect game, Young had two other no-hitters in his 511-win career. For his efforts, he is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Addie Joss

Joss, also a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, threw his perfect game late in the season on October 2, 1908. He led the Cleveland Naps to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Joss also pitched a no-hitter against those same Chicago White Sox two years later.

In his nine-year career, Joss had an ERA of just 1.89. He died two days after his 30th birthday and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Charlie Robertson

Charlie Robertson retired 27 in a row on April 30, 1922. His Chicago White Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 2-0.

Amazingly, Robertson’s perfect game came in only his third big league start and became his third big league victory. During the game, Detroit manager Ty Cobb argued on three separate occasions that Robertson was doctoring the ball. The arguments came to no avail, and Robertson’s performance stands for all time.

Don Larsen

Don Larsen

Larsen has the distinction of being the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series. On October 8, 1956, Larsen and his Yankees mowed down the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-0.

Larsen played 14 seasons for nine different teams, and had a mediocre career, winning 81 games and losing 91.

Jim Bunning

Bunning played 17 years in the Major Leagues from 1955-1971. A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the United States Senate, Bunning pitched his gem on June 21, 1964, as his Philadelphia Phillies routed the New York Mets 6-0.

Bunning is one of a handful of players to win more than 100 games in both the American League (118) and National League (106). He was an eight-time All Star and retired second in strikeouts only to “The Big Train,” Walter Johnson.

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax got into the act on September 9, 1965. His Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0.

Koufax, played for the Dodgers from 1955-1966. He had three other no-hitters in addition to his perfect game. He was a six-time All Star, won the National League and World Series MVP awards in 1963, and received three Cy Young awards. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his first year of eligibility.

Catfish Hunter

Catfish Hunter

Hunter got his immaculate victory on May 8, 1968, with the Oakland Athletics, as they beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0.

Catfish’s nickname was given to him by Athletics owner Charlie Finley, who had decided Hunter needed a nickname, and concocted a story about Hunter catching a mammoth catfish.

He played from 1965-1979, winning five World Series rings, eight All Star selections and the 1974 Cy Young Award. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Len Barker

Len Barker

Barker, who played 11 Major League seasons, got his big game on May 15, 1981 as the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0.

Barker played for the Rangers, Indians, Braves and Brewers, and ended his career with 74 victories.

Mike Witt

Mike Witt’s heavenly performance came on the mound for the California Angels on September 30, 1984, as he led the victory over the Texas Rangers 1-0.

Mike Witt

Witt played for a dozen seasons with the Angels and the Yankees. Over his career, he earned 117 victories.

Tom Browning

Browning, one of the great characters in the history of baseball, threw a perfect game on September 16, 1988, as the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0.

In June 1988, Browning was two outs away from a perfect game, and again in 1989, was three outs away from a perfect game.

Tom Browning

Browning is remembered for his unpredictable antics. In one Chicago game, he left to watch the game with fans on the rooftop of a building beyond the outfield at Wrigley Field. In another, he left to be with his wife as she had a child. The television announcers appealed to Browning to return if he was watching because they needed him to play.

Dennis Martinez

Martinez achieved the feat on July 28, 1991 as the Montreal Expos defeated the Dodgers 2-0.


Martinez is the winningest Latin-American pitcher, achieving 245 wins, with nearly 30 of them coming after age 40. He played for 23 seasons and was selected to four All-Star teams.

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers joined the elite group on July 28, 1994, as the Texas Rangers beat the California Angels 4-0.


Rogers has played with the Rangers, Yankees, A’s, Mets and Twins, and has 176 victories to his credit.

David Wells

David Wells became the second New York Yankee to pitch a perfect game on May 17, 1998, when his pitching earned a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

Wells has 18 Major League seasons under his belt with seven different teams. He has won 212 games.

David Wells

Interestingly, Wells attended the same high school as fellow perfect game pitcher Don Larsen.

David Cone

David Cone, the third Yankee to reach perfection, waited just over a year after Wells, on July 18, 1999, to pitch a perfect game in a 6-0 victory over the Montreal Expos.

Cone played 17 years with five teams, and won 194 games. He retired in 2003.

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson

Johnson is the newest member of the perfect game club. On May 18, 2004, Johnson led the Arizona Diamondbacks to beat the Atlanta Braves 2-0.

“The Big Unit” is in his 18th Major League season and is now playing with the New York Yankees. He has won 246 games and five Cy Young awards. He is destined for the Hall of Fame.

Building A Perfect Game Collection

Putting together a perfect autograph collection is possible, but it certainly won’t be easy or inexpensive.

While balls signed by Richmond, Ward, Young, Joss, and Robertson exist in the hands of private collectors, they are few and far between. With the exception of balls signed by Cy Young, balls signed by the other four rarely come on the market. Balls signed by Young sell for amounts well over $1,000.

Because of the difficulty of getting the first five perfect game pitchers, most collectors begin with the 12 pitchers from the more modern era. Some 34 years separate the games pitched by Robertson and Larsen. Larsen’s World Series gem is usually considered the starting point.

Most collectors who attempt to have a ball signed by multiple perfect game pitchers, usually have Larsen sign first and on the sweet spot since his performance is the only one to occur in a World Series.

Single-signed balls by Larsen, Bunning, Barker, Witt, Browning and Rogers can usually be obtained in the $50-$75 range. Wells, Cone and Martinez range from $75-150. Randy Johnson averages $150-$250. Balls signed by Koufax and Hunter are at the upper end of the price scale at $200-$300.

If you start with the 12 easiest to obtain of the perfect game pitchers, you can get single signed balls by all 12 for $1,075-$1,750. Not a bad price at all. Getting the remaining five is a fun challenge, but when complete your collection will be nothing short of perfect.