Sunday, July 03, 2005
Every Signature Tells a Story: Reggie Jackson, Punk
Reggie's signature on the Hall of Fame ball, and Willie Mays, too.
It’s my fault. I accept all the blame. I trusted a Yankee.
To be fair, Reggie Jackson had two strikes against him even before he picked up the famed Hall of Fame ball.
His two-run blast in Game Seven of the 1973 World Series crushed the Mets’ bid for a championship. Then he became Mr. Yankee, forcing all of us to have to endure endless stories about those three home runs in the 1977 series against the Dodgers.
But Reggie’s actions at a 1989 baseball card show in New Haven, Conn., were shameful -- even by Yankee standards.
My Hall of Fame ball is a prized baseball possession, second perhaps only to my autograph-filled Mets history book.
Autographs were fairly inexpensive then. Card shows were just starting to pop up as the hobby was taking off. I jumped at chance to meet any Hall-of-Famer who passed through the area and thought it would be fun to have them all sign the same ball.
It’s been signed by Tom Seaver, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin and Johnny Mize.
Sometimes I had to think long and hard about whom would gain entry. Some of the recently retired players were making the rounds and I wanted to limit the ball only to guys who would eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Seaver was a no-brainer, of course. But I wasn’t sure about Steve Garvey, so he didn’t get to sign the ball. I was on the fence about Dave Winfield. He was still a ways from getting his 3,000th hit at the time and didn’t ask him to sign, a mistake in hindsight.
I had no doubts about Pete Rose — did any of us? He remains the only person on the ball who isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Pete signed while he was still managing the Reds, and I remember there two televisions showing football games near the table where he was applying his signature to the parade of balls, photos and bats, which I thought it was odd at the time.
Reggie was appearing at a show where several 1980s Mets were signing, and I thought it would be fine to add another Hall-of-Famer to the ball. He wasn’t enshrined yet, but a safe choice.
And as with the book, I like to shake hands with the player and maybe ask a question or two. Several of the players commented on the ball, treating it respectfully and turning it around to see the other signatures.
It was near the end of Reggie’s time to sign, and the line wasn’t very long as I approached.
I handed Reggie my ball and extended my hand for him to shake. He barely looked up as is signed and refused to shake my hand, leaving it hanging there.
Then Reggie palmed my prized ball and started banging it -- banging it! -- on the table.
“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he said, thumping the ball three times, then rolling it down the table. I had to move quickly to catch the ball before it rolled off the side and on to the floor.
I was absolutely stunned. “What a jerk!” I said to no one in particular.
I realize that Reggie was under no obligation to shake my hand, answer a silly question or even make eye contact. I paid for a signature, and that’s what I got.
But to take my prized ball, bang it on the table and roll it away was just horrible.
But I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never, ever trust a Yankee.