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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obtaining Lou Gehrig's autograph was a signature moment

Forget that new Escalade. Do you want to drop some serious money? Grab the keys to some sports memorabilia instead.
Eyeing some leather interior? What about a home run ball smacked by Lou Gehrig in the second game of the 1928 World Series? That piece of cowhide brought $62,617 at an auction earlier this month.
So you’re thinking about upgrading to a Bentley? Why don’t you stick with the Ford Fiesta instead and go with some sports memorabilia? A baseball bat used by Ty Cobb during his 2011 MVP season went for $220,000 recently.
Talk about sticker shock. Here’s something else that is equally shocking; not every bat, ball or autograph has a price tag dangling from it.
Memories are priceless, and that is why the Lou Gehrig autograph gathered by my dad when he was a kid will never be spotted on eBay. It will never be the object of an auctioneer’s gavel, either.
It is ironic, because my dad was never into autographs or fawning over professional athletes. He never saw the point of gathering signatures and I tend to agree. Not unless they are on a petition to recall the Kardashians, Snooki and JWoww.
But my dad cherished his Lou Gehrig autograph. Really, it was the only one he ever bothered to get. I think even more than the signature, he enjoyed recalling the manner in which it was obtained.
Dad grew up on the south side of Chicago. It was a town he shared with Al Capone, the Bears, the Cubs and the White Sox.
New York Yankees' teammates Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth share a light-hearted moment.

Dad was a sports nut. He played basketball and baseball at Hirsch High School and was supposed to do likewise at what was then Michigan State College in East Lansing.
Only World War II intervened and dad opted to join the Navy instead. He spent four years in the Navy, and when he returned to the Michigan State campus, games no longer seemed so important.
He spent most of his working life as a teacher, coach and later, athletic director, with the Walled Lake schools.
Dad died some years back. The Lou Gehrig autograph was part of his legacy. You do not stick a price tag on something like that.
When dad was a boy, the Yankees were in town to play the White Sox. Dad’s favorite player was Lou Gehrig, and he heard from a buddy that Gehrig was going to dine with a lady who lived in a nearby apartment building.
They politely asked that lady if it would be all right if they stopped by when Gehrig was there, and she said sure.
Well, it was not that simple. The doorman would not let them in. Dad and his pal had to go around back, climb the fire escape, and get to the floor where the apartment was located.
When they knocked on the apartment door, there was Gehrig. They were awestruck. He could not have been more gracious, and they could not have been more intimidated. He kindly signed the back of a business card, and then asked if they wanted to stay for supper.  Dumbstruck, they stammered in unison “No thank you.”
That autograph stayed in my dad’s dresser drawer for years. He hardly ever showed it to anyone, but the fact he kept it for so long indicated how much he cherished it.
The autograph is not even at the house where I grew up in Walled Lake any longer. My nephew, Andrew, is a huge baseball fan. He played in high school, played a year in college, and is now a junior varsity baseball coach in Grand Rapids. He’s got the autograph, and it is nestled in a frame along with a picture of Gehrig that was purchased in Cooperstown.
It’s a shrine to Gehrig, I guess. It’s also a cherished memory of my dad. I have no idea what it is worth, but some recollections are invaluable.


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