”The abundance of gone things, it’ll bury you.” – Alden Bell, “The Reapers Are the Angels”
Why men collect objects is a mystery. Perhaps it goes back to the days of hunting and gathering, and it’s connected to a survival mechanism. Many of my friends collect things. My friend Joe, who is my daughter Jillian’s godfather, has an enormous collection of “Star Wars” items, which are still encased. My pal Steve’s entire basement is filled with unopened toys dating back to the 1930s with a value of more than $3 million. A publicist pal sold his “The Lone Ranger” collection for more than $1 million.
And then there are the collections that perhaps should remain private. While hosting a barbecue for one of my son Milo’s hockey teams a few years ago, a dad asked the team and parents if we would like to check out his collection in the basement. “Please, Dad, don’t show them,” his daughter pleaded with wide eyes. After that was uttered, I had to see what lurked in his cellar.
The dad showed off an extensive set of Princess Barbies, which were showcased in museum fashion. The dolls were backlit. That’s fine, but what struck us all at the same time was that his wife could have passed for a real-life Barbie. Most of the collections my guy friends possess are filed under sports memorabilia. One of my friends owns Michael Jordan’s game-worn Dream Team warmup jacket from the 1992 Olympics.
I love baseball so much that I initially turned down covering a Philadelphia Phillies beat since I was afraid it would ruin my love for the game. I’ve loved sports and baseball since I was a child. I used to sit on a stoop and talk baseball with an old-timer when I was 7 years old. My neighbor waxed about witnessing the exploits of baseball legends such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. One day, he was liquidating his library and asked what I wanted. I immediately asked for an autographed copy of his Connie Mack autobiography.
The book about the winningest manager in MLB history included a pair of Phillies 1964 World Series tickets, a series that never happened due to the Phillies’ incomprehensible collapse and an unused ticket to the 1952 All-Star game. My neighbor explained that he couldn’t offer me the priceless collectible since he had children and grandchildren.
I instead left with a number of other books. After a year of talking baseball with the old codger, he excused himself during one hot and humid midsummer night. “Here, this will mean more to you than anyone in my family,” he said as he handed over the Mack bio. That’s where my love of collecting sports memorabilia started.
I have a collection of signed bats and baseballs, jerseys and game-used hockey sticks. One of the perks of being a full-season ticketholder during the Phillies championship run from 2007-11 were beautiful limited-edition prints by artist Dick Perez. One of our favorites was a print with Atlanta Braves icon Chipper Jones sliding into Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz with the Phillies’ Ryan Howard in the background. When Jillian asked Howard to sign the print, the hulking slugger was incredulous as he signed. “What am I even doing in this poster?” Howard said while laughing.
After Ruiz signed, Jones was our white whale. Before embarking on a trip to St. Augustine, Florida, in 2017, we learned that Jones would be signing copies of his entertaining book, “Ballplayer, “in nearby Jacksonville. We were told that Jones would only sign copies of his book as we waited in line. Every other person had Braves memorabilia. Milo grabbed an elephant mask believing that if he made Jones laugh, perhaps the Baseball Hall of Famer would sign. I vetoed the idea. I told Milo to think again, and he nailed it.
When I handed over the book for Jones to sign, Milo delivered. “Mr. Jones, check this out,” Milo said as he unveiled the poster. “Some Carlos Ruiz action,” Jones exclaimed. “I’m going to sign one thing that’s not my book, and it’s that poster.” Milo and Eddie were ecstatic.
Another poster that attracted attention is a Dick Perez print of the 2009 World Series. The print features the Phillies and Yankees lined up before the national anthem for Game 3 in Philadelphia with managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel shaking hands at home plate. My children would take the poster down to spring training every March, and it attracted players like a magnet. When the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez was jogging by, he stopped and signed the poster and left. The same for Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia. “Hey, C.C.,” Eddie said. The burly hurler only stopped to ink our poster.
Over the years, my children were able to garner signatures from almost the entirety of both starting lineups. The Yankees’ Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Johnny Damon and the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were among those who signed. The greatest players of that era were hunted down successfully.
“Having all of these players sign this poster is magical,” Milo said when he was 10 years old. We hit the point in which I had to venture to autograph shows to pay for signatures. While waiting in line for the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui, who was the MVP of the 2009 World Series, to sign, a Yankees fan quickly scanned the poster and shocked me by deciphering the hieroglyphics. “Wow, you got Cano, C.C. and A-Rod,” he said while staring at the scribbles.
During the pandemic, I noticed a company was setting up a signing with the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte. I mailed the poster to the organization. I couldn’t explain, it but I had a bad feeling. I remember thinking that this might be the last time I ever see the poster. When I mailed it via UPS, I asked about the likelihood of loss. “It’s less than 1%, but that’s why you insure what you send,” the UPS employee said. I insured the poster for $2,000. After a month passed, I called the company and was told they would get back with me. Another month went by, and I called – and my worst fears were realized. UPS lost the poster!
The company placed the poster, which was in a tube, in a box. The container opened, and the poster vanished. I called UPS and was informed that the company shipping to Pettitte had placed the minimum insurance on the product. I called the company and was told they would handle it and would obtain all of the autographs that were on the poster when they acquired another print.
I doubt they will come through. Also, it’s a limited-edition poster that I do not possess. I contacted Perez and the Phillies, but they had nothing. There is one such poster for sale on eBay for an exorbitant amount. “There’s no way I’m paying eBay prices for that print,” the guy who lost the poster angrily declared. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”
The toughest part was telling my children about the lost print. I was surprised by their reaction. “Part of the fun was getting the autographs,” Milo said. “We’ll always have the memories of getting A-Rod and Sabathia to sign. It’s just an object.” When Milo saw how crestfallen I remained, my younger son switched roles to try and make me feel better.
“Look, we can find one of those posters, and we can start getting the autographs again if you want. Like you once said, ‘It’s the thrill of the chase.’ ” It is about the memories, and it was a blast exuding the effort to score signatures. But, alas, life would be much different if I only collected Princess Barbies instead of sports memorabilia.
Ed Condran can be reached at (509) 459-5440 or at email@example.com.
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