Posts Tagged ‘Richie Allen’

A few months ago, my daughter Sarah told me, “Dad, I know you like to write about church conflict and pastoral termination, but I like it when you write about something else, too.”

So since it’s almost baseball season, let me write about something else … my long-time hobby of collecting the autographs of major league baseball players … both past and present.

It all started when I was 13 years old.  I grew up in Anaheim, California – two miles from Disneyland.  My friends Kevin and Steve called me one day – two months after my father died – and told me they had gotten the autographs of New York Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford several hours before.

I asked where they got them, and they replied, “At the Grand Hotel where the Yankees are staying.  We waited for the players to come out for the bus to go to the game (at nearby Anaheim Stadium), and when they did, they signed for us.”

The Grand was about 3 miles from my house.  I HAD to go the very next day … because I was … and am … a HUGE baseball fan.

Since the age of six, I collected baseball cards … seriously.  I still have thousands.  But until that day in 1967, I had only met a handful of ballplayers in person … and had less than 10 signatures.

Many of the kids in my Anaheim neighborhood eventually made their way to the Grand Hotel to wait for the players to come out.  Some went only once.  A handful went many times.

I went more than most.

We never knew who we’d see around the hotel.

One time, actor Jimmy Durante appeared.  He was performing at the adjacent Melodyland Theater – which later became a church – and I got his autograph a couple of times.

Another time, two friends – both named Steve – took the shuttle from the Disneyland Hotel (which went toward the Grand) to get autographs from the Detroit Tigers on Labor Day in 1968 … and sat next to famous actor Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity/My Three Sons) … who talked with them and gave them his autograph.

Many players were great signers.  They would sign whatever you gave them … sometimes many cards.  Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles and Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins were especially nice.

But some were tough, including Elston Howard of the Yankees (he always yelled at you); Ted Williams (who managed the Washington Senators for several seasons and could be very intimidating); Frank Robinson (who has never liked signing); and Mickey Mantle (who stared sideways at every person who asked for his autograph).

Over the years, I was able to obtain the signature of nearly every player I saw at that hotel, including Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, and Joe DiMaggio.

One guy was super-tough, though.

Mike Marshall was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1968.  He came out of the hotel one day … I was the only collector there … and he stood against a pillar, waiting to take a van to the ballpark.  I asked him to sign a 3×5 card, and he didn’t look at me … didn’t answer me … didn’t respond in any way.

Years later, I learned that Marshall determined from the time he was in the minor leagues that he would not sign autographs for anyone.  I don’t have his signature, and don’t really want it.

But there was another player whose signature was almost impossible to obtain … and I wanted it very much.

His name?  Richie Allen … or as he later asked to be called … Dick Allen.

Richie Allen was both talented and troubled.  He played initially for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he was a superb hitter, but he also marched to his own drummer.  I recently read the autobiography of the late Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts who said that early in Allen’s career, the Phillies were playing a doubleheader, and Allen just didn’t show up for the games.  Roberts found him at home instead.

Today, that would be a MAJOR scandal.

In 1967, the All-Star game was held in Anaheim, and I spent Sunday night, all day Monday, and Tuesday morning at the Grand, where the National League players stayed.  Monday night, just after dark, Richie Allen showed up, and I got his signature in my autograph book: R. Allen.

He signed it on the wrong page.

Allen didn’t seem to like fans, and he certainly didn’t like to sign his name.

Over the next few years, I never saw Allen anywhere, but whenever I spoke with other collectors, nobody else had gotten his signature, either.  He was nearly impossible.

Some of us used to write to players in the mail, and if someone was mean in person (like Elston Howard), they might be cordial in the mail … and Howard was.

But if you wrote to Richie Allen … he didn’t respond.

In 1972, Allen was on the Chicago White Sox, and he had such a great year that he was later named the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

I went to the Grand one day that year hoping to get Allen’s autograph on a 1967 Topps card that had already been signed by former teammate Johnny Callison.

I had read in the newspaper that White Sox manager Chuck Tanner allowed Allen not to take the team bus and to skip most pregame preliminaries, so after the bus left at 5:30, the collectors went home … but I stayed … determined to get Allen’s autograph on my card.

I almost never got autographs in a crowd … like from the stands before a game … and I wouldn’t follow a crowd chasing a player after a game, either.  It was too undignified.

But if someone is a tough signer, but you can catch them by yourself in a solitary place, you have a better chance of getting their autograph than if there’s a crowd waiting.

So about 6:40 pm that night, Allen came out of the hotel, accompanied by another man.  My heart pounding, I walked toward him and said, “Mr. Allen …”

He held out his right hand and waved me off.

That was it.  I had waited 70 minutes after the bus left, only to be dismissed outright.

I quit collecting the following year.  When Roberto Clemente died in 1973, I had 30 autographs of him … but just one of Richie Allen.

After I got married, I picked up the autograph hobby again, even taking some guys from the youth group to spring training games in Palm Springs, where we did very well.  (Going to spring training workouts … before the exhibition season starts … is the single best way to get autographs today … especially if you can have access to the practice fields.)

Years later, my friend John heard that Dick Allen owned horses at Santa Anita racetrack here in Southern California.  He took his items to be signed, went to the track, asked when and where Allen might show up, and waited.

Allen finally came by.  John asked him if he would sign for him, and Allen replied, “No, but I’ll shake your hand.”

John … who had a knack for getting the signatures of even the toughest players … told me later that was it: he figured he would never get Allen’s autograph.

Fast forward ahead many years.

In 1992, I was pastoring a church in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  My collecting days were over, but if somebody asked me if I would ever collect again, I’d always say the same thing: only if Dick Allen comes to town.

How likely was that to happen?

One day, my old neighborhood friends Kevin and Steve – the same ones who had told me about getting Mantle’s autograph 25 years before – came to visit me in Santa Clara.

For some reason, we went to Vallco, a shopping center in Cupertino (near Apple’s headquarters), and there was a baseball card show in the mall.

While looking at a few signed photos, I noticed that one collector had Richie Allen’s signature.  I asked where he got it.

He told me that he had obtained it at a show … maybe back east … and I said something like, “Wow, I wish Allen would come here.  He’s always been the hardest guy for me to get.”

The collector told me, “Well, he’s coming to Santa Clara,” and he handed me a flyer.

Sure enough, in about a month, Richie Allen was scheduled to make an appearance at a card show at the Santa Clara Convention Center … about two miles from my church!

Card shows both hurt and help the autograph hobby.

They hurt it when players sign for money at shows … and then won’t sign for free anywhere else.

They help it when tough players like Richie Allen go to a show, where they are paid to be nice … and to sign whatever you hand them … as long as you pay for it.

My specialty in the hobby was trying to get the signatures of each player on every card I had of them.  (It was much more doable when Topps was the only card company around, and nearly impossible when Fleer, Donruss, Score, Upper Deck, and others started up in the 1980s.)  I didn’t sell any duplicates.  If someone wanted one, I’d make a trade … or give it to them.

I had about 40 different cards of Richie Allen, and at $6.00 a pop, that was going to require $240.00 … but for me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But I knew how to get the funds.  I went to my local baseball card shop … cashed in some old cards … and walked away with the money I needed to meet Richie Allen … finally.

That Saturday afternoon, I went to the Convention Center, and there weren’t many people there.  Away from Chicago and Philadelphia, Richie Allen wasn’t much of a draw.

There in the back sat Allen, next to former A’s pitcher Steve McCatty … whose signature I had many times.

I bought my tickets, went up to Allen, and asked him to sign my cards … and while he was signing, I told him my story from 1972 … how I had waited for his autograph and he just waved me off.  (Steve McCatty couldn’t believe all the cards I had of Allen.)

Here are some of the cards he signed that day … including the card with Callison in the middle:

Richie Allen Signed Cards 001

Okay, maybe Allen was being nice because he was being paid, but the last item I asked him to sign was his autobiography entitled Crash.

Here’s what he wrote:

Richie Allen Book Signature 001

A while later, my friend John visited me, and when I showed him the Allen signatures, he couldn’t believe it … regardless of how they were obtained.

I gave him a couple of items Allen had signed, and John was ecstatic.  He finally had his man.

Several years ago, the Veterans Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame voted on whether or not to induct some veteran players, and Richie Allen got the most votes … but fell one vote short.

Maybe someday he’ll go into the Hall … I’m not really sure.

I have sometimes wondered, “Why do I like collecting baseball autographs so much?”

Is it a way of saying, “I met someone famous?”  If so, wouldn’t a photo work just as well?

Is it a way of saying, “I’ve had contact with that person?”

A lot of collectors get autographs on bats, balls, and expensive things … items that will later increase in value.

That was never my intent.  I liked getting signatures on cards, which were relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to categorize and hand to a player.  The cards were a direct tie-in to my childhood when baseball was my passion.

The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon founded the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Last week, while on holiday, I visited the church with my wife.


Spurgeon loved to get books that he valued signed by the author, sending them away for their signatures.

Even in Christian circles, when an author comes out with a book, some bookstores … or churches … will host a book signing.

I do know that a creative signature signed with a Sharpie pen on an item of your choosing can look like a work of art … and they make great items to display in your house.

To the left of my desk, I have a bookshelf filled with signed photos of baseball players: Mays, Mantle, McCovey, Aaron, Musial, Snider, and Koufax among them.

Among those greats – all members of the Hall of Fame – is a signed photo of a young man who became a great ballplayer … and who became one tough signature.

Like many things in life, finally meeting him was well worth waiting for.








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