Sunday, February 27, 2011
Every signature tells a story: Duke Snider and a pair of really nice rings
You can’t really get to know someone while he’s signing an autograph at a card show, but sometimes I think you can get a glimpse at what a person is like.
Reggie Jackson was famously a jerk when I met him at a New Haven, Conn. show as he banged my prized Hall of Fame ball on the table, said, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” then rolled it down the table.
Maybe Reggie was having a bad day. But we’ve all read stories that make us think Reggie has a lot of bad days.
Then there was an afternoon in Trumbull, Conn. when Duke Snider was appearing at a small show. This was back when these events were fairly new and autographs weren’t more than a couple dollars, even for some Hall of Famers.
We lost Snider Sunday at age 84.
Snider, of course, was doubly special. He was he part of the famed New York centerfield trio of “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” saluted in song by Terry Cashman.
But, more importantly, he was a Met.
The team’s All-Star in 1963, Edwin Donald Snider hit just .243 for the Mets, well below his .295 career average. But hit 14 homers and drove in 45 on a team that didn’t have too many runners to drive home.
But truth be told, the 1963 season was more of a curtain call for Snider, beloved as a Brooklyn Dodger and one of the players dragged out to Los Angeles, where he never really duplicated his MVP-caliber statistics.
So Snider was one of the rare players I’d be able to ask to sign both the Hall of Fame ball and my glorious Mets book.
We approached him at the usual hotel conference room table, where the white-haired gentleman sat with Sharpies. My wife and I arrived near the end of his signing time, and there were not too many folks left, giving us a little time.
As he signed, I mentioned that my Dad grew up in Brooklyn and watched the Duke at Ebbets Field, which brought a smile, though I’m sure he had heard that all day.
I noticed the massive ring on his finger.
“That’s my Hall of Fame ring,” he said, taking it off so I could get a closer look. This was in 1988, and Snider was elected in 1980, a ridiculously long wait for such a player.
Snider noticed that my wife was with me, and must have figured that we were newlyweds because a woman at baseball card show is rarer than a 1972 Topps high number Jim Fregosi traded card. Only a newlywed would attend such a thing, at least happily.
“You have a nice ring, too,” he said to my wife, who immediately perked up.
“Would you like to see it?” she asked?
“Sure!” Duke replied, and made the appropriate approving sounds.
It was an unexpected surprise, and we got a pretty good idea of why Snider was beloved in Brooklyn.
Sitting across the room was Indians slugger Joe Carter. Now, Carter was a very, very good player but had no connection to the tri-state area or was a Hall of Famer. I have no idea why the promoter booked him, and at this point in the day there was no one waiting for his signature.
Carter eventually would finish with 396 homers, just shy of Snider’s 407. And he owns one of the greatest home runs in World Series history. But he was just entering his prime when we encountered him.
Having spent our money acquiring Snider’s signature, we had nothing to spend on Carter, nor anything for him to sign, given his lack of Metness or Cooperstown credentials.
But we went over to his table to shake his hand and welcome him to Connecticut. While he didn’t ask to see my wife’s ring, he cheerfully talked baseball with us for a while.
He didn’t have to, considering that we were not paying customers. But, like Snider, he was friendly beyond all expectation. For that, unlike Reggie, he’ll always have a fan.