A Northeastern storm wrecked havoc on the East Coast all day Friday, but that did not deter many collectors and athletes from turning out at the Collectors Showcase of America Show held in Chantilly, Va., March 16-18.
Bobby Hull and Grant Fuhr had to cancel due to travel problems. This did little to dampen the festive spirits in the air. The autograph guests included a wall of Packers who probably felt quite comfortable in the weather. Green Bay was represented by Hall of Famers Forrest Gregg, Willie Wood, Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Ted Hendricks, James Lofton and Willie Davis. Max McGee, Bill Curry and Tom Brown rounded out the Green Bay contingent, while Jerry Kramer had to cancel due to a family situation.
Meanwhile, former Pittsburgh Steelers Jerome Bettis, Rod Woodson and Lynn Swann signed at the show. Swann appeared in a good mood as he took the microphone from the CSA rep in the midst of signing and jokingly announced, “Now taking autograph ticket numbers one million to two million for Doug Williams.”
Two Redskins Super Bowl MVPs – Williams (XXII) and Mark Rypien (XXVI) – also signed at the show. Redskins fans were also treated with appearances from Joe Theismann, Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Mike Thomas and Jim Snowden.
Snowden appeared at the Breast Cancer Charity table, which had its own lineup of guests. Also appearing at the cancer charity booth were former Senator Chuck Hinton, 1949 American Rookie of the Year Roy Sievers, in addition to former New York Yankees Johnny Blanchard and Tommy Carroll. Former Washington Bullet Phil Chenier had to cancel his appearance at the booth due to a family situation.
The Breast Cancer charity booth had photos, balls and cards available for purchase and the cost was a $10 donation per autograph.
Collector Phil Braswell drove up from Suffolk, Va., for the show.
“I am a huge Yankees fan, chatting with these Yankees here is the best part of the show for me, it is a real treat,” Braswell said.
The Raiders fans turned out heavily for Fred Biletnikoff, Bo Jackson, Ken Stabler, Willie Brown, Jim Plunkett and the previously mentioned Woodson, Hendricks and Lofton.
Other guests appearing were Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Len Dawson, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith and Joe Morgan.
Autograph prices ranged from $20 for McGee to a high of $175 for Lynn Swann. About 75 percent of the guests added inscriptions for free. The interesting thing was that Jackson’s inscription fee was $99, which was $20 more than his starting autograph fee of $79 for small flats and baseballs.
Tristar representatives were at the show to place stickers on signed items for company exclusives Jackson and Bart Starr. Meanwhile, Jerome Bettis had a whole crew with him on stage, and there were special holograms available at no extra cost for Bettis’ signed items.
Online COA had its booth offering its digital imaging and hologram services for all the signatures signed at the show. James Spence was present with his son offering his authentication services at his company’s booth.
Most of the autograph guests were very cordial, with top honors going to Starr, Rypien, Theismann, Thomas, Smith, Morgan and Lofton. Hornung left somewhat early and seemed in a bit of a rush. It was surprising to see him after he had announced last year that 2006 was going to be his last year on the autograph circuit. Hornung did have some of his own photos and his book, which he was selling at the autograph table.
Starr’s and Wood’s autograph appearances were spread out over two days. Wood is from Washington, D.C., and is one former NFL player who is in a battle against the NFL to increase pension and disability benefits.
In addition, there was an invitation-only dinner prior to the show to raise money for Wood, who appeared tired and sometimes in pain in a wheelchair at the show. Wood wanted to ease fans’ minds about his situation.
“I would never have traded my experience in pro football for anything,” he said. “I have no regrets. It would be like me spitting in the wind, a wind that I liked. I look at my medical situation as temporary. It will take time as I recover. I have the time. The increasing medical costs, though, are something not in my control. I appreciate the concerns from the fans and the players.”
It is true that this show had a huge theme of Super Bowl history makers, MVPs and Hall of Famers, but there were some significant baseball history makers in the crowd as well. The Rookie of the Year Award was first given in 1947 and at the time, there was one award given per year. In 1949, two awards were issued, one to an American Leaguer and one to a National Leaguer. Sievers, who was a member of the St. Louis Browns, became the first A.L. player to win the award. The 80-year-old had a 17-year career in the big leagues with the Browns, Senators, White Sox and Phillies.
“I have a St. Louis Browns uniform from somewhere in the 1949-53 neighborhood and a 1957 Washington Senators uniform from my playing days,” he said. “Some have tried to buy those things, but I am not selling them. I would say that I have more than 100 signed Hall of Famer baseballs.
“I got DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Mantle,” he continued. “The one guy I wish I had was Roger Maris, I knew Roger, but never got a ball signed. I do not have any bats. It is funny, I was the first player to win Rookie of the Year in the American League and you know what I got? Nothing. I was never given any plaque or piece of hardware to display. I am happy about the honor. I think being the Rookie of the Year has allowed me to travel to some shows that I might not have been invited to otherwise.
“You get to see some of the ballplayers and fans and I always enjoy that,” Sievers said. “I go to about four or five shows per year, which is plenty. It amazes me where all these collectors get all these things. As a kid, I collected the old tobacco cards, we used to flip them, and put them in our bicycle spokes. Did you see what that Honus Wagner card went for recently? It is interesting, when I first started playing, Honus was still involved with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tris Speaker was involved with the Indians, Jimmie Foxx was with Red Sox, Hank Greenberg was the Tigers, as was Schoolboy Rowe.”
Speaking of baseball history, Blanchard was one of the best pinch hitters in baseball in the late-1950s and early 1960s. He once hit homers in four consecutive at bats, which was commemorated on his 1962 Topps baseball card where he was holding four bats on his shoulder.
He was also the catcher behind the plate who called the pitch for one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. It was Oct. 13, 1960, when Bill Mazeroski clubbed his home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series to lead the underdog Pirates to victory over the Yankees.
“There is a big story behind that,” Blanchard said. “I was told by the dugout not to call a slider. Pitches were usually not called from the dugout at that time. I called a fastball on the first pitch and Ralph Terry shook me off. I came right back with it and he shook me off again. I came back with it again, I knew Terry wanted the slider.
Mazeroski was a high-ball hitter. I played against Bill in the minor leagues, everybody knew that Maz was a clutch hitter and if you threw a ball between the belt and the letters, he would kill you. Well, Terry threw the first pitch and I almost closed my eyes. Ball one, high. Time out! I went out to the mound, I told Ralph to throw it between his knees and his ankles, I will be down there, the slider ain’t slidin’, keep it down. I went back to the plate and called a low fast ball and got shook off. That is where I made my mistake, I should have called time out and got the coach out there to the mound. Well, he threw a slider, it did not break, it was in Maz’s wheelhouse and he jumped all over it. As soon as Maz made contact, I was ready for the shower, I knew that the ball was gone.
“If you see Maz, tell him he owes me a six pack, I always joke with him that I helped put him in the Hall of Fame,” he said.
Blanchard pointed to a photo a reporter had of Maz hitting the home run. “Look at your photo there I signed, you see where my right knee is when he hit that pitch?” he said. “On the ground. I was set up extremely low, with my right leg straddling the ground, but the pitch came in chest high.
“Let me be clear, I think the 1960 World Series was the most mismanaged Series in history,” Blanchard continued. “We had Whitey Ford and Ryne Duren available in the bullpen in the ninth inning of Game 7. Whitey was one of the best clutch pitchers ever and he was also passed over for starts in Games One and Two. In game seven, we had Yogi in left and me behind the plate, we should have been flip flopped. Stengel was fired after the Series and it was felt he was losing it a bit.
“He would later go on to manage the Mets. Stengel had Joe Pignatano and Warren Spahn on his coaching staff there with the Mets,” Blanchard continued. “In a ninth inning of a Mets game, Casey Stengel yelled down the bench and said, ‘Blanchard, grab a bat!’ Pignatano quickly quipped, ‘He would grab a bat, Casey, but he is across the river (with the Yankees).’ Warren Spahn almost fell on the dugout floor laughing, saying that was one of the funniest moments he ever had in the dugout. The 1960 Series was the only World Series I saw Mickey Mantle cry in. Nobody said anything to him after the game. He said it was the most disappointing game in his career.
“We broke several scoring records in that Series but lost,” he said. “In the following spring training in 1961, Mantle said that he felt that we just had superior talent in that Series and he would not have felt bad if we had lost to the Dodgers with the likes of Koufax and Drysdale. He just felt the Pirates were an inferior club that year.”
The determined Yankees would come back in 1961 with new manager Ralph Houk to become World Series champs, with Ford winning the World Series MVP. The Yankees also took the title the following year in 1962 with Terry getting some redemption as the World Series MVP. Even in their fabled 1960 World Series loss, the MVP honor went to a Yankee, Bobby Richardson.
“Yes, I have saved some things, not enough, I have met with Jimmy Spence here at the show and we discussed a Cy Young signed ball that I have had in my collection. He has shown me that he has some great knowledge about autographs,” Blanchard said. “You have to be careful with those vintage autographs. If I had known what the hobby turned into, I would have saved more items. I do not have any of my jerseys. We used to sign several hundred team balls every year with the Yankees, but I did not save any.”
Attendance for the show appeared fairly solid, the theme for the weekend was overwhelmingly football, and Redskins, Steelers, Packers and Raiders fans spent money on their teams collectibles.
“We had 42 guests scheduled this weekend, four cancellations, with three of those being related to weather,” promoter Marco Rol said.
“With that said, Bart Starr led the way in advance ticket sales. Lynn Swann drew well. Jerome Bettis had all that cheering so people were happy to see him; he did well. The dealers, from early reports, had a good show. The storm hurt us, I lost a wholesaler or two and about a dozen big customers who had to cancel their autograph purchases. We tried to deal swiftly with refunds or exchanges.”
What’s brewing for the next show?
“We are working in advance more than ever as this show grows,” Rol said. “Attendance is increasing, table sales are increasing, and we have got to continue to bring big names in. Our advance ticket sales were the most ever. We already have boxing legend Joe Frazier confirmed. We have verbal commitments from Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. We are thinking about a 3,000 Hit Club theme and have offers out to Robin Yount, Dave Winfield and Rod Carew. I do not think that Kaline and George Brett are available at this time.
“We have an offer out to Dan Marino,” he continued. “We also expect to have some of the new 2007 football Hall of Fame Class, but we are working on that. Former Redskin Kenny Houston should be here. We would like to do something with the 1972 Dolphins this year. I am note quite sure when that may happen. We have had a lot of requests for former Steelers Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw; at least we did get Lynn Swann and Jerome Bettis in for this show and the Steelers fans.”