Few people probably even know who Michael Tucker is, let alone remember when he played for the Kansas City Royals. Much like his career, he’s an easy player to forget. But not me.
The former Royals outfielder threw a baseball at me when I was kid and it wasn’t the nice kind, you know, foul balls or long flyballs to the outfield. No, he actually threw it at me, as if to hit me with it. He missed. That’s what happened back then when you asked him for his autograph and attempted to roll a ball over the dugout for him to sign.
That’s one of my many memories as a child trying to collect autographs of professional baseball players, not to sell, but only because it was fun. Like the time my stepfather tried to get Gary Gaetti to sign his cap, only to have the cap thrown back at him because it was dirty. He signed my clean baseball instead.
There was another time I got a minibat signed by former Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez and then tried to carry on a conversation with him in Spanish. I was 13. I didn’t speak Spanish. But I got his autograph.
Or the time I got Reaf LaFrentz’s autograph at a Royals game. I happened to be sitting next to him, had a baseball, and asked him to sign it. I know, he played at basketball at Kansas, so boo, but still, I thought it was pretty neat at the time.
The point to all this is that I loved getting the autographs, in person, on my own, which often meant I was at the games when the gates opened. At Rangers Ballpark in Texas, that’s four hours, in the heat — just ask my dad, who baked, while chased down signatures. Sometimes I got one, sometimes five. Often, I got nothing. But I tried and that was just as much fun for me.
I never did any of that with the idea of ever selling a single one. Never. Even my Rusty Meacham signed baseball or my Benji Gil baseball card. Do you even know who those guys are? I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. They were on the field, playing the game I still love today.
Autographs are big business today. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel knows all about that. He just served a whopping two-quarter suspension from the NCAA last weekend for allegedly selling his signature as an amateur athlete. That’s a no-no, by the way.
But if you look around online, you’ll find many former, and yes, some current athlete’s John Hancock available for purchase. I’m not saying others have done what Manziel reportedly did, but I’m not saying others haven’t either. But the signed mini helmets, photos and footballs are there to buy, some at big prices too — whether they’re being sold by dealers or by individuals.
Looking on eBay, you’ll find Chris Harper photos available for $32.99. You’ll also find a bunch of Tyler Lockett signed items, complete with certificates of authenticity. None of my autographs come with those, by the way. My stories and memories serve as my certificates of authenticity.
A signed Lockett mini helmet will run you anywhere from $89.99 to $129.99, depending on whether or not you want the certificate saying its real. Although, you have to remember, many of these “real” certificates are actually fake. I can print better-looking ones at home, if that’s what you really covet.
If you’re in the market for Collin Klein signed items, you have plenty to choose from — photos, footballs and mini helmets. You can get two different Klein and John Hubert photos of them together, signed, with starting bids at $14.95. Or you can just buy it now for $11.99.
Wanting to spend big money? You’re in luck too. You can buy a K-State mini helmet — a $29.99 value — with autographs from Klein, Hubert and Lockett for $249.95, with a certificate of authenticity. Or you can go with the mini helmet or signed football combination of Klein, Lockett, Hubert and Harper for only $299.95.
If it’s a K-State coach you want, you have plenty of choices between photos, mini helmets and footballs signed by Bill Snyder. The helmet, with a certificate of authenticity from some outfit called AutographsMadeEasy, will cost you $169.99. A photo of Klein and Snyder, signed by both, has a starting bid of $19.99. A signed photo of Arthur Brown, from the same company, is going for $41.99. They’re also selling a Manziel mini helmet for $299.99.
Although my favorite from AutographsMadeEasy has to be the half-naked signed photo of celebrity chef Rachael Ray they’re selling for $74.99.
But if none of that sparks your interest, someone is also selling one of Snyder’s business cards signed by the legendary coach, with a starting bid at 99 cents. As of Monday night there were no bids, but there are still five days remaining in the auction. The card might have value even without the big purple signature, just because Snyder’s cell phone number is also on the card. He might need to get that changed.
If you’ve always wanted a signed photo of K-State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber, you can buy that too. There are several available for about $35, or a basketball for $139.99, or even a framed section of court tile, with a Powercat, for $99.99. Sticking with basketball, I found no Michael Beasley or Bill Walker autographs. But I did find a signed photo of Darren Kent for $10.
The sports memorabilia store in our mall has autographs from several former Wildcats, including Daniel Thomas on a Miami Dolphins helmet, Jordy Nelson on a Packers helmet and Terence Newman on a Dallas Cowboys helmet. They have a Snyder football for $150 or even the hard-to-find piece, a K-State mini helmet signed by Jarard Milo for $70.
What does all this mean? Not much, other than there’s big money in owning and selling autographs — the right autographs, not the Rusty Meachams of the world. What was once something I just did for fun growing up is now big business, proving anything or anyone can be bought and sold for the right price. Just ask Johnny Football.
I never thought I’d miss Michael Tucker and Gary Gaetti so much.
You can e-mail Joshua Kinder at firstname.lastname@example.org