I’ve never really been an autograph seeker. I remember it was important to get a lot of my friends to sign my high school year book There was this one guy Jeff I’d known since the sixth grade whose signature was unrecognizable. He explained that one day he would be a doctor, and he was practicing his doctor signature. My dad once came home with Shirley Temple Black’s signiture. She was in politics by then, and he had met her on an airplane. At Disney, we would bring in celebrities for autograph sessions. Eric Heiden, the speed skater, Shelly Duval (Olive Oyl in Popeye), and the actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars (not the voice), are three that I remember. When my oldest boy was about ten, a local hotel was having a grand opening with the Dallas Cowboys famed Doomsday Defense of yesteryear. Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Lee Roy Jordan, Too Tall Jones, they were all there. The place was full of guys my age saying, “ah could you please sign this ah…for my son?” And all the sons were standing around wondering, who the hell are these guys? These aren’t the Cowboys! Where’s Troy Aikman? Where’s Emmitt Smith? But all the dads were goo-goo eyed. A radio customer of mine who owns a car wash was personal friends with Spanky McFarland, from the Little Rascals, and brought him in for his store’s grand opening, shortly before he passed.
Sports memorabilia has increasingly become big business. And I once had in my possession something that I believe would be worth quite a bit today, if I had been able to hang onto it. Not that I would want to part with it now, if I still had it. But it would be interesting to know what it would fetch.
It was the 1968 US Open at Oak Hill Country Club. I was eleven. My dad bought me a program, and it occurred to me that I might try to get a bunch of these golfers to sign it. Before the day was over, I had Doug Sanders, Julius Boros, Don January, Cary Middlecoff, Ken Ventura, and many more. I don’t at this date remember with certainty all of the others. I almost got Arnold Palmer, but some girl twice my size pushed me to the ground as he was reaching for my pen. Competitive stuff, these autographs. But there was the one. The Golden Bear, as he was known back then. As he passed in front of me, I called his name, held out my book and pen. He stopped, took a few steps back toward me and took the program. He flipped to a page he already knew about, a page that was just a picture of him, and signed it and handed it back with a few in the crowd applauding. Nice gesture to a kid. He handed it back without a word, turned and continued with his group to the next tee. Jack Nicklaus.
Years later, after I was on my own, my dad sent it to me with some other mementos that were still at his home. He was moving to a new house, so this stuff had to go. It was neat to see it again and start to realize that this really was something special to have. Between a couple of pages, was a pressed oak leaf, that I had also decided to keep from that day, way back when.
Sadly, leaving it out on a coffee table, as a conversation piece, was not one of the best ideas a newlywed ever had. My new wife took it to be just some stupid golf magazine, and threw it out. I did a brief Internet search and found that a program from 2001 signed by only Jack, was bringing about $500. A 1968 one with all those other signatures I believe would be worth thousands. But to me, it would have remained priceless.