If there's any doubt the jerseys displayed at the Newport Sports Collection Foundation are authentic, take a whiff.
The most recent addition, that of the Mighty Ducks' Dave Karpa, still smells as if he has just stepped off the ice after handing out bone-jarring checks.
Across the room, the complete uniform of former King Dave Taylor, now the team's general manager, is displayed on a mannequin. But it no longer smells, explained museum program director Kellie Newcombe, because it has been there awhile.
Only a true sports collector could see art in a smelly uniform. But there is much more than memorabilia. There is history.
The museum, founded by real estate developer John Hamilton and opened in 1995, occupies 5,500 square feet of office space in Newport Beach.
"You wouldn't keep a Renoir in your basement," Hamilton explained.
Among his favorite items is a set of golf clubs that belonged to President Eisenhower.
Another of his prized possessions is the jersey U.S. Olympic hockey team goalie Jim Craig wore when the United States beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Also on display is baseball legend Honus Wagner's first baseball contract, circa 1895. (He was paid $35 a month.)
Hamilton decided to open the museum for several reasons.
"One, it was a collection that grew to substantial size, certainly one of the most significant in the United States," he said. "And it needed to be shared with other people so they could enjoy it."
Indeed, one person who was thrilled was his wife, Kathy, after he cleared boxes containing thousands of signed baseballs out of their Corona del Mar home.
"But more importantly," Hamilton said, "we hoped the collection
and the museum could be a vehicle to accomplish more important goals, and that is to encourage young people to stay in school and stay off drugs. To join a team, not a gang."
The foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers weekend programs and guest speakers who talk about the importance of academics and the hazards of drugs and alcohol.
Every year, the number of children visiting the museum grows. This year, about 1,100 have visited, which is more than all of 1997.
"Just seeing some of these kids' eyes light up has been worth it," said Hamilton, who graduated from Orange High.
USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett brought his Heisman Trophy in and gave a very inspirational talk about the disciplines in life and the rewards you can receive by making sacrifices and participating in sports.
Said Garrett, whose friendship with Hamilton dates to their undergraduate days at USC: "My degree is in sociology and I've done a lot of community work in my life. To be able to participate in this program is an absolute privilege. I'll never forget my early days and how people gave me words of encouragement. And now I try to do the same."
Last October, a group of older kids from Covenant House, a center for troubled youths in Hollywood, visited.
"Well, this particular group of kids were probably 17-21 years old, and I had [Ducks' Karpa and Warren Rychel]. And I told these kids that these athletes could kick their butts if they wanted to, and that kind of got their attention.
"Typically we encourage kids to stay in school and off of drugs, and with these kids we were a little late. So we decided to turn the tables a bit and asked them to give us suggestions as to what we might tell kids that are 12 years old.
"It was amazing. They suddenly just came to life. Some of them who were sitting around with body language that [said they had] an attitude, suddenly got very involved.
"Instead of a half-hour encounter, we went an hour and a half. They really opened up, gave us some wonderful ideas and we learned a great deal. And afterward their counselors told us it was the most they'd ever seen the kids get involved in something like that. It was incredibly rewarding."
Hamilton caught the collector's bug when his father's friend, who worked for Look Magazine, gave him a football signed by the 1953 Look All-American football team. Hamilton was 12.
"Early on, most everything [now in the museum] was purchased, but in recent years, most everything has been donated," he said.
A friend of Hamilton's, Judy Harrington, donated many newspaper clippings and photographs that belonged to her grandfather, Malcolm MacLean, who was a longtime member of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America and the official scorekeeper of the 1919 World Series. Displayed in one of the baseball rooms are box scores and stories from that series.
The collection, in an office building near Fashion Island, has grown so much, Hamilton said he is negotiating to move to a larger, more visible site in Newport Beach. But he balks when the talk turns to putting a price tag on his collection.
"If I knew, I wouldn't say," he said. "I have to do it for insurance purposes. One of the reasons for doing this is to take the money out of the hobby.