YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Memories Lose Much on a Rack

December 25, 1991|MIKE DOWNEY

A mall near my home has one of those sports souvenir/memorabilia/keepsake/jock-junk stores. You know the kind. It's where you go if you want an autograph without actually having to speak to an athlete.

A few days before Christmas, I strolled into this crowded store to shop for somebody (not a child) who is into sports a whole lot more than I am.

This is what I saw:

--A Steve Avery autographed baseball.

--A Willie McCovey autographed baseball.

--A Gordie Howe autographed hockey stick.

--A Pete Rose autographed batting (not fielding) glove.

--A Wayne Gretzky autographed hockey jersey ($600-plus).

--A Jerry Rice autographed football jersey.

--Trading cards of everybody from Eddie Mathews to Chuck Knoblauch.

--Statuettes of everybody from Roy Campanella to Magic Johnson (with a beard).

--A copy of Baseball Digest with Don Newcombe on the cover.

--A framed photograph, program and $2 winning ticket on Secretariat from the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

--And autographed golf and tennis balls, which, I must admit, was a new one on me.

Well, I walked out of this store with no merchandise but several questions.

Among them:

--Is there an athlete alive with legible handwriting? (I couldn't read one signature and recognize the name without consulting an accompanying ID tag.)

--Do people really treasure autographed memorabilia that they purchased in a store? ("Wow, Joe DiMaggio's autograph! You lucky stiff! How'd you ever get THAT?" "I spent $350, that's how.")

--Is that an autographed Wayne Gretzky jersey, or is it a Wayne Gretzky autographed jersey? (The difference being: Did he ever actually wear it, or did he simply sign a bunch of them from the Forum souvenir stand?)

--Where exactly would you display a autographed Gordie Howe hockey stick? (On the wall, like a stuffed fish? In a large and very weirdly shaped trophy case? Or do you simply lean it up in the corner so people can look at it and say: "Yep, that's Gordie's stick, all right.")

Look, I'm not a collector, so indulge me.

Do you ever actually show these things to people who come over to your house? I mean, do you lock up Jerry Rice's football jersey inside a glass case above the fireplace, so everybody can view it? Or maybe you wear it, in which case the shirt conceivably could depreciate hundreds of dollars in value depending on the relative dryness of your armpits.

OK, I get it. It's not an investment. You just bought the thing because you like Jerry Rice.

Then why don't you simply buy a San Francisco 49er jersey with his number on it and forget the autograph, which you can hardly read anyway? Save a couple of hundred bucks.

This same store carried a beautifully framed photograph of Babe Ruth standing before a radio microphone at Yankee Stadium, saying farewell to the New York fans. Its price was something like 130 bucks.

I liked it. I thought about buying it.

Suddenly, across the room, I spotted another photograph of Babe Ruth. It looked familiar.

I went over to look at it. The picture was considerably wider, at least a foot wider, possibly two.

But it was the exact same picture.

In one of them, Babe Ruth stood at the microphone with the vast expanse of Yankee Stadium all around him. In the other, the Babe stood practically by himself, at the mike. The picture had been cropped around him.

I envisioned myself at Sotheby's, at an auction.

"Mmmmm, I like the Monet, but there's just too much pond. Whack away all those lily pads on the sides and we can talk money."

Oh, well. As with most art, it shouldn't matter what it looks like. If you like something, buy it. If you don't like something, don't buy it.

Personally, one thing I don't want to buy is an autographed ball. That's because I have spent too much time watching clubhouse boys autograph box after box of baseballs, forging the signatures of athletes who are too busy to do it themselves.

Some memorabilia shops offer certificates guaranteeing the authenticity of their autographed merchandise. I don't know about you, but I'd hate to own a Nolan Ryan autographed baseball that actually was autographed by Stinky Finkelstein, the batboy.

It's a fairly harmless hobby, though. And addictive. I've been giving some thought, in fact, to going back to that store and buying myself something for Christmas.

I'm going to buy that Secretariat thing, break the glass, pull out that $2 ticket and take it to Belmont. What's the statute of limitations on this stuff?

Los Angeles Times Articles