Attempting to get me to read my parents started a subscription to Sports Illustrated beginning in 1970. I subscribed continuously until the early 1990s and off and on to the present day. Since I save everything I had a bunch of old copies and didn’t know what to do with them. I was at a sports memorabillia show in 1992 when I figured out what to do. I would try to get as many of my old issues signed as I could. The first one signed was an issue with Johnny Bench on the cover. Our two youngest children were two and four at the time, so I exploited them mercilessly in my pursuit! It’s been one of the most enjoyable and bonding things we’ve ever done together.
Some athletes take a very negative view of signing autographs, especially when they consider the market for resale of said items. I’m not making a judgment on that, it’s their signature and they can sign at their discretion.
A Story: Rod Carew was the batting coach for the California Angels back in 1996 when my 5-year old daughter Anne and I went to Spring Training in Arizona. We had a Sports Illustrated Issue with Carew on the cover she was attempting to get signed. Carew was at the practice field when he started for the ball park that was about 50 yards away. He was immediately mobbed for autographs. His first response was to say that he only signs for kids. Still there was a crowd of about 30 boys (looked like ages 8 to 15) and one little girl (our Anne). Without lifting his head Carew was signing items as he walked briskly to the ball park. Anne kept attempting to get in but was constantly bumped out by the older boys. As Carew came to entrance to the ball park where he would no longer be available he turned and said “That’s it, I sign one for the little girl and then I’m done.” Then called Anne over to sign her magazine. He gained two fans that day, a 5 year old little girl who is now 27 and her now 62 year old Father. Rod Carew’s Daughter was seriously ill at the time (she would shortly pass away). He did not have to sign anything for anybody, but the positive impact on a little girl will last a lifetime. We ran into Rod Carew again in 2004 at an Autograph Show in St. Louis and we happily paid the price for him to sign two more issues. We related the story that occurred 8 years earlier and he seemed very touched.
We can relate many wonderful stories of athletes signing our magazines. Golfers especially were awesome. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer would stand and sign until everybody was satisfied. Others such as Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Billy Casper and Gene Littler couldn’t have been nicer. We would go to the practice rounds of these tournaments and park ourselves at a green and catch the players as they walked to the next tee. Some made it clear that they weren’t excited about the prospect (Johnny Miller, Tom Watson), but always signed. The only golfer who refused to sign was Greg Norman (made my 7 year old cry with his refusal). Phil Michelson will not sign on the course but told her he would sign after the round was over, sure as his word he did.
This brings us to last weekend at the Byron Nelson in Dallas. My Children and I still attend golf tournaments, but haven’t gone after autographs since about 2001 (autographs just aren’t the same with teenagers). I took our two young grandsons for their first attempts at autographs. The attitude seems to have changed. The tournament had a designated kids autograph section next to the practice putting green, close to where players exited the course after finishing their rounds. We attended the final practice round on Wednesday, then the 2nd round on Friday. Our two young grandsons were in the designated autograph area for three hours between the two days and not one player stopped. They did manage to get Jordon Spieth and Graeme McDowell outside the autograph area (they were both awesome), but those were the only two for the two days.
Just to be clear, athletes have no obligation to sign autographs, but just talk to my now adult children about how they were treated by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, etc. moved them to be lifetime golf fans.
We have over 700 magazine covers now signed (I totally exploit our Grand Children). I have a record of who got every one signed, when the time comes they will own that magazine, a memory with their Grandpa. A note to the athletes; not everyone asking for your autograph is in it for the money. Many, if not most, are in it for the memory.