Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Can I Have Your Autograph?

Ray Robinson? Terrific guy—great guy, in fact.

Dig this:

In the Great Depression 1930s, I lived across the street from South Field, which was a breeding ground for Lou Gehrig's home runs at Columbia University. In those days, many of the youngsters in the neighborhood collected autographs of ballplayers, some famous and some not so famous. Most of us did it for memory — and not for money. We hunted ballpark entrances and hotel lobbies, where we could take our pads and scrapbooks to catch players in town to play New York’s Yankees and Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Only day games were played at the time, so many players got up early and spent pregame hours sitting and schmoozing in the lobby, and maybe doing crossword puzzles.

The most remarkable aspect of my autograph pursuit was that most of my pals and I were able to identify these players. Without television, and relying mainly on news photographs, mostly from The Sporting News, we knew immediately who Heinie Manush was or Smead Jolley or Tommy Thevenow. We knew this was Charlie Gehringer and that was Ed Brandt. I was much better at recognizing players than at doing my math homework.

Recently, as I looked over my 75-year-old scrapbook, its yellowed, crumbling pages fatigued by time passing, I realized that my collection revealed a singular cultural footnote: it seemed that most of the players, regardless of status in the game, signed with their nicknames, not their given names. One notable exception was Paul Dean. He refused to sign as Daffy, even though his celebrated brother, Jay Dean, scrawled Dizzy next to his photograph.

Share This Story