This post is a trip down memory lane so it’s kind of rambling. I think the payoff will be worth it though.
Like a lot of kids, the late ‘80s-early ‘90s was my first collecting prime. I had picked up the occasional pack in the mid ‘80s but the 1989 Topps set was the first set I hand collated myself and built strictly from packs and/or trading with friends. That year, I probably could have named the starting 8, several pitchers and maybe even a few bench and bullpen guys on any given team. I would struggle to do that with any team but the Cubs these days. I was 10, turning 11 that year. My dad was in the Army and stationed at Fort Leavenworth but that summer we were in the process of moving to his next assignment in Germany.
He went ahead of the family to get things started with his new job while we spent a month visiting my maternal grandparents out in Washington state. They had a 7-11 a couple blocks away that my brother and I walked to just about every day we were there. My mom would give us $5 to split (probably just to get us out of her hair) and we’d walk down, get a couple of Slurpees and spent the rest on cards. This was also the first year of Upper Deck and the birth of the $1 card pack. But why buy one pack of Upper Deck when I could get 2 or maybe even 3 packs of Topps? Of course, we did buy a couple just to see what the fuss was all about, but after not immediately pulling a Dale Murphy reverse negative or the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie, we quickly went back to Topps.
My uncle, who is only about 15 years older than me came over every once in a while and he offered to take us to a local card show one Saturday. I had never been to one before so this was pretty exciting. There was some kind of craft fair in the adjacent auditorium so my mom came along too.
Now, even as bad as the Mariners were in the 1980’s, there seemed to be a lot of hope. Harold Reynolds was a multiple time All-Star. Alvin Davis was Rookie of the Year just a few years before. They had a bunch of young guys in Griffey Jr., Omar Vizquel and Edgar Martinez. The show was full of cards and memorabilia for the Mariners, which I had absolutely no interest in. After a little more experience with card shows, I quickly learned there always seems to be a lot of hometown favoritism represented despite the success of its local team.
I remember my uncle haggling with a guy who owned a local shop for the newly released Upper Deck factory set. The dealer said he was sold out but if he came by the shop the following week, he’d honor the $50 price. And of course when my uncle took us to the shop later, the owner did not remember the conversation and wanted to charge $70, but that’s a different story.
Finally, I’ll get to the point of this post. So when we got there, we found out two current Mariners would be making an appearance to sign autographs. Either one would be $8. I don’t know if it was just me as a kid but it really did seem like a lot of money back then. My brother and I hemmed and hawed about it because it would come from our own money. We had to figure out if we wanted an autograph or just buy more cards. And if we went the autograph route, should I get one guy and he’d get the other?
The first guy was Greg Briley. We had tons of these 1989 Topps cards from all the packs we bought.
But we didn’t know he was going to be there, so we didn’t bring any. And I didn’t want to buy a card I knew I had at least 5 of back home.
So there was the next guy. I had heard of him but didn’t really know anything about him other than that he was a recent trade pickup. His numbers weren’t that great but Greg Briley’s line was really long comparatively.
We found a table that was willing to sell us 4 cards of the other guy for a buck. Kind of a high price back then considering the guy was a nobody. Again, being frugal collectors, we didn’t want to buy cards we already had so we went with 2 Upper Decks and 2 Donruss.
My brother and I took one of each and paid $8 to get our ticket. The front of the line was about 5-10 feet away from the table where the players sat. When we got towards the front, a handler took my brother’s ticket and said one ticket equaled one autograph so he’d have to choose which card he wanted signed. I didn’t hear any of this as my mom was trying to get our attention to take pictures. Typical mom, right? Well, I guess the ticket taker assumed I heard what he told my brother because he just took my ticket and moved on.
My brother got his 1989 Donruss card signed and when it was my turn I just handed my 2 cards over. The player, not knowing any better (or caring) took them both, signed them and handed them back to me. I’m sure we exchanged pleasantries but no real conversation. And that was that. My first paid in-person autograph.
If you stuck around this long, you’ll want to check out the photos after the break to see who it was.
My brother's face is smeared because I doubt he'd want to be seen like this back then. I'm in yellow behind him.
|Randy was almost as tall sitting down as were standing up.|
Since my brother got his Donruss card signed and I got both my Upper Deck and Donruss cards signed, we ended up giving my Donruss card to my uncle as a thank you for taking us to the show. When my brother started high school, I absorbed his collection into mine. So even though we eventually both stopped collecting, when I moved out of my parent's house, I took everything with me, including both Randy Johnson cards.
I saw my uncle in the last year or so and while he doesn't collect anymore, he still has his card and said he tells the story every so often when Randy Johnson comes up in conversation. There are probably quite a few people who wouldn't mind 3 Big Unit autographs for $16.