Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jets Helmet $500, Mantle Hat $245, Bombers Ball . . . Priceless

I'm a man of many hobbies.  There are the normal ones, like dwarf tossing, snake juggling, and whistling the entire Simon and Garfunkel songbook while riding a pogo stick, but in addition to those, I'm also an avid collector of sports memorabilia.

It started kind of by accident.

A couple years ago, shortly after Thanksgiving, Theresa asked me if there was anything special I wanted for Christmas, something I wouldn't normally buy for myself.  After batting the idea around for a while, I decided to look into sports collectibles.  As it turns out, there are a great many websites devoted to just that, and it didn't take me long to hit the mother lode.

"Hey, T, come here and check this out.  I think I found something."

"What is it?"

"An official 1978 World Series baseball, autographed by Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent."  I showed her the picture of it online and she jotted down the website.

Christmas morning came, and after the traditional orange-frosted Pillsbury danish and a glass of eggnog, we opened the presents.  When I unwrapped my last gift, I was in for a surprise.  Not only had Theresa gotten me the Bucky Dent ball, she also "threw in" an official 1978 Yankees yearbook, autographed by Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

Let me take a minute here to give you a quick history lesson.  Red Sox fans, you might want to skip ahead a few paragraphs, as this won't be a pleasant memory for you.

Are they gone?


I'm a third-generation New York Yankees fan, I've been following them since I was about five.  As with any team, there have been good years and there have been bad years.  But without a doubt, the 1978 version of the Bronx Bombers is my absolute favorite for a number of reasons.  First of all, it was a team of characters.  Billy Martin fighting with George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin fighting with Reggie Jackson, Reggie Jackson fighting with Thurman Munson.  A band of brothers this team was not, but once they took the field, their personality clashes (mostly) disappeared and they racked up win after win.  The '78 season started poorly though, and by July the Yanks were 14 games behind the despised Boston Red Sox.  But things turned around in August, and by the end of the year, the two teams were tied for the division lead.  To make a long story short, if it's possible at this point, the Yankees beat the Sox in a single-game playoff and went on to claim their 22nd World Series title.

So, the Bucky Dent ball and the Reggie Jackson yearbook sent me off on a noble quest.  I decided to obtain a signed piece of memorabilia from every single player on that 1978 team.  When I was a kid, my mom took me and a few friends to a Dodge dealership in Scotch Plains, New Jersey to meet Catfish Hunter and Thurman Munson.  I dug out my old scrapbook and found the piece of paper the two Yankee greats had signed for me.  For my birthday, Theresa had the autographs mounted and framed, along with the 1978 Topps baseball card of each player.  It's still my favorite piece, because I got those signatures in person, not from an online auction.

So I had Dent, Jackson, Munson, and Hunter.  Four down, thirty or so to go.

And now, three years later, I'm almost there.  It was fairly easy, though not always cheap, to get signed items from high-profile players like Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, and Goose Gossage.  The bench players, little-knowns like Domingo Ramos and George Zeber for example, were a bit harder to find.  There are only two players left on my list, pitchers Bob Kammeyer and Larry McCall.  Kammeyer died several years ago, and it's been next to impossible to locate any signed memorabilia.  That's probably because he only pitched seven games in the majors, and his only notable accomplishment is to have surrendered eight runs in one inning without recording an out, and then receiving $100 from Billy Martin to intentionally hit Cleveland's Cliff Johnson with a pitch.  Larry McCall is currently the pitching coach for the Bluefield Orioles, and his major league career was about this same as Kammeyer's, minus the horrific inning and beanball bounty.

Along the way, I've also picked up some other great memorabilia.  A signed Mickey Mantle hat.  A Jets helmet autographed by the entire Super Bowl III team.  Another of my favorite pieces, a signed ticket stub from Dennis Martinez's perfect game against the Dodgers, a game that I attended. Martinez autographed it for me when I met him the following season.  I'm a purist at heart -- the autographs I got in person are more valuable to me than those I've simply purchased online.

Which brings us to last week, when I received a one-of-a-kind item, something that has immediately taken center stage in my office.  It wasn't a Bob Kammeyer or Larry McCall baseball.  It wasn't a pair of Marilyn Monroe's underwear autographed by the Yankee Clipper Joe Dimaggio (although that would be awesome).  No, it was something far more special.

You've guessed it, I am now the proud owner of an official game-used softball signed by the Bombers, a men's softball team from the Boston area.  I discovered this group of athletes a year or so ago, when blogger and Bomber veteran Jim "Suldog" Sullivan detailed their season on his site.  I read about the pitching domination of Dave Vargas, the blinding speed of Fast Freddy Goodman, and the leadership and dedication of Ron Johnson.  And no discussion of the Bombers would be complete without mentioning the player with perhaps the best name in all of sports.  Better than Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky, better than Dizzy Dean, better even than Mickey Mantle.

I'm speaking of course of the Bombers young left fielder, Cam Zirpolo.  I have no idea if Cam Zirpolo is a good player or not.  For all I know, he rides the pine and only enters the game if one of the elderly Bombers (and there are several) breaks a hip or something.  But his name simply begs for an introduction by boxing announcer Michael Buffer.


Suldog knows I'm a fan of Cam Zirpolo and the rest of the Bombers, so he sent me a softball signed by the team.  Suldog's autograph is there, of course, as is Cam Zirpolo's (you've always got to say the first and last name to retain the "coolness factor" . . . though he did sign the ball "Cameron Zirpolo" which doesn't have quite the same ring to it).  Big Jay Atton, Josh Lebrun and Dave Vargas also added their John Hancocks.

But I noticed something else.  Lots of the Bombers have really shitty handwriting.  I mean, seriously, you'd need the Rosetta Stone to decipher some of these scrawls.  For instance, take a look at this guy's autograph.  Unless he's Chinese (in which case, I humbly apologize), this is just a horrible effort at writing one's name.

Still, I'm proud to add this great artifact to my collection.  Thanks, Suldog, and please pass along my appreciation to your teammates along with my best wishes for an outstanding season on the diamond.  I look forward to reading about the heroics of all the Bombers . . .  the Atton Boys, Joey Baskiewicz, Buddy Carchide.

And especially the Chinese guy.


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Mariann Simms said...

Nifty things there, Chris.

Altho I'd have really wanted the Marilyn underwear myself...having been a fan of hers since I was three-years-old. :)

Moooooog35 said...

Bucky fucking Dent.

That is all.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Okay, did it ever occur to you that maybe all the guys on the Bombers are doctors?

We're legally required to have shitty handwriting.

CatLadyLarew said...

Ah, spring... when all boys' attentions turn to baseball.

Jenn said...

Well its a good thing I stuck around even though you said, as a die hard Sox fan, I should leave, because the softball story is really sweet (don't worry, with all that Yankee stuff in here the rumor of you being kinder & gentler will surely fall by the wayside quicker than Vargas can toss a strike).

Shawn said...

I'm not sure if that's Chinese or a hieroglyphic representing a water buffalo. It deserves further study.

Homemaker Man said...

As a blogger, I say nice post. As a Bostonian, ha ha ha, Kammeyer's dead and he can't sign crap!

Linda said...

Hah- Lakers Tshirt in the softball picture. Real subtle!

Quirkyloon said...

"after the traditional orange-frosted Pillsbury danish"

Wait, did you write anything more after this?

I got sidetracked. Sorry.

Yummy. *slurp*

Heff said...


IT said...

How many balls have you signed... particularly ones with other guys signatures? Good grief, it's hard enough writing on a damn spherical object without overwriting someones name.
Of course, I don't have that problem because I sign everything IT.

BTW - burn that shirt

Suldog said...

Just wanted to say it was The Bombers pleasure to give a true fan (maybe our ONLY fan) a memento that will no doubt increase in value exponentially, fetching as much as 65 cents on E-Bay someday.

nonamedufus said...

That was some story. Congratulations on that impressive collection. When I was a kid I got Toronto Maple Leaf's defenceman Dick Duff's autograph and promptly lost it. Dick who, you say?

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Mkay, I just want to begin by echoing Heff's sentiment...nice balls. I will then wonder aloud why I like you so much, even if you root for all the WRONG teams...yet I still like you... Go figure.

My Guy, a die hard sox fan had a memorabilia dream also. You know behind every great collector of fine sports memorabilia there is a loyal and determined woman willing to do the work. I refer to this:
I think you may enjoy it.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Ps the story is a happy one... Of course I found it..days later and it proudly hangs on the wall of his office. He once told me, that someday he will give that photo to our grandchildren...awwww. You think he liked it?

big j atton said...

okay i c you like the temas boston hate the most
red sox> yankees
celtics> lakers
Bruins> i bet u like the habs
lobsters (tennis)>sporttimes
bombers at least we have that in common unless you are secertly a titan fan then all hell will break loose
go ahead knucklehead and order your offical espn bombers championship jersery for the low cost of 9.99

Jeff said...

Very cool. I think I remember my dad saying he once had a Mickey Mantle baseball card as a kid. Who knows what it might be worth now, but it's pointless because it's probably in a landfill somewhere. said...

You Knuckles - great read.
As a diehard Phillies fan, I grew up with nothing to cheer for until 93 and the past few years (minus the past two weeks). So as a lad, I naturally studied baseball and loved reading about Yankee baseball. I think every book report I did was on Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. As any good Philly boy, I came to my senses as a teen but I always was jealous of their History as that is baseball history. I hope one day to have a collection such as yours. Now it's time to forward to my wife.
- KD

Anonymous said...

this is the manager of the bombers one of the atton boys and had i known you were a yankee fan not only would i have not had sully send you a ball, but had sully still doing laps for even suggesting sending you one!!! lol

Jenn Thorson said...

How awesome is that? Plus, big applause to Theresa for not just suggesting, but rolling with, cool gifts for you which you wouldn't have bought yourself.

Those are the best kinds.

Anna Lefler said...

Wow - that's an impressive collection..and you are a natural storyteller!

Thanks so much for visiting my pad this morning and for your very nice comment! Much appreciated!

I look forward to reading more of your the meantime, have a great weekend!

:-D Anna

Anonymous said...

It's going to be known as "The Year Of The Bomber" save that ball!

Fast Freddy Goodman...the one and only

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