Cooperstown Extra: Reggie Was Right

(“Reggie Jackson bats at Yankee Stadium” by Jim Accordino – Reggie Powering One. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

By now, the aura from the celebration of seeing four new inductees welcomed to the Hall of Fame has settled, but there were other events that occurred in Cooperstown worth noting.

The salacious headline generated from Induction Weekend was when an autograph hound pestered Reggie Jackson for multiple autographs as the Hall of Famer was just trying to have a quiet dinner with friends in town. That triggered a vitriol reaction by the 69-year-old legend punctuated by a slew of hardened cuss words that made video news because we are in the “everyone-with-a-cell-phone-is-a-news-cameraman” era.

Well, other than the curse words, Reggie had every right to chastise the signature “scalper” because it bordered on being a financial “mugging.”

Personalizing this report somewhat, I am familiar with the autograph industry, the sports memorabilia industry, quite familiar with Cooperstown and Induction Weekend, and was almost a witness to the entire incident, having breezed past Reggie and his dinner party literally minutes before the confrontation occurred.

It was late on a Friday night. Town was quiet, crowds had dispersed. Some baseball fans still sauntered up and down Main Street, which for those who’ve never been, is really just a four-block village of shops and restaurants, some of which stay open to accommodate their biggest weekend of the year.

Reggie was having dinner with just handful of friends at a relatively new restaurant in town, a sushi place called Mt. Fuji. Reggie and his party were at a sidewalk table. Reggie had his back to the street side, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

I happened to pass by with some friends around, say, 9:30 or so, and happened to know a couple of members in Reggie’s party who own several of the collectible shops in town. I said a quick “hi,” and asked my friend how the food was in this new establishment, when a year ago, the building held baseball souvenir shops.

Shortly thereafter, the incident occurred. Reggie actually signed some autographs for fans when dinner was over – even though he is also generously paid for his signature when official signings are lined up at the various collectibles stores in town during the daytime. But he spotted one “fan” who received a signature and then ran to the back of the line for another. And this was the same “fan” who had solicited autographs from him previously on the golf course.

The golf course in Cooperstown is a popular destination for the Hall of Famers, a luscious series of holes that run alongside the lake just one block north of the village. It’s also a popular destination for autograph seekers, as there are spots just outside of the grounds adjacent to the road where fans can wait for golfers to come by on their golf carts between holes. Many Hall of Famers will accommodate their fans by stopping for a minute or two to sign a handful of signatures before completing their rounds.

They get it. They know they got to play baseball and earn big incomes because there are fans of the sport. And they know fans enjoy meeting them up close and personal to get an autograph.

They also know that their autographs are big business. Their signatures are their inventory. And fans pay sometimes hundreds of dollars to get one.

There are also many autograph “scalpers” in the industry – we won’t call them fans cause their intentions are not because they are fans of the game or the player – who do nothing but solicit signatures from celebrities and make their bones selling them on their own or through other dealers. I happen to know one of these autograph hounds who even admitted he sells some of what he gets to Steiner Sports, one of the leading sports memorabilia dealers in the industry.

Being a Hall of Famer, and a legendary one at that, Reggie Jackson commands some good sums when applying his penmanship. His signature is worth about $100 on a photo or a ball, around $200 on a bat or glove, or something like that.

He gets it because fans are willing to pay it. It’s that simple. Supply and demand. You know the principle.

Still, he’s far from against giving someone a free autograph. I’ve witnessed it many times. But it becomes obvious when someone is grabbing you for one cause he’s going to resell it. And don’t ask, “how do you know?” Cause after a while, you just know. I can tell you who does and who doesn’t just as easily.

So when this occurs, it’s almost like a stranger coming up to you and demanding, “Give me a hundred dollar bill!”

Of course, when a fan pays a hundred dollars or so for a signature the player doesn’t get the whole sum. There are promoters involved, agents, and the facilities get paid wherever it occurs. Still, the player gets a good portion of it.

On Induction Weekend, some fans paid $199 for a Randy Johnson signature on a photo or a ball. Two hundred bucks just for the big guy to sign his name. And it was more on a bat or glove, even more if you wanted him to personalize it, as in “To somebody,” or to list his wins or strikeout totals, or even add, “HOF 2015,” a popular additive in the Hall of Fame autograph industry.

Far be it from me to say Reggie has been an angel throughout his career. Well, he was an Angel, but that’s the baseball kind. He’s earned his share of negative headlines, from straws in drinks, to dugout shoving matches, and other confrontations. You know the history. And he’s maybe turned down as many autograph requests as he has accommodated. There’s a time and place, you know.

But in this case, on this night, Reggie was right. It’s the same as if a drunk confronts you in a bar just itching for a fight. He’ll keep punching until you take the first swing, or finally just starts punching anyway.

Choice of words, not so right.

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