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Of course, some of the players are just as nasty as the signature hounds. In 1975 Fred Lynn, then a Red Sox rookie, ignored some kids asking for his autograph as he walked past them. An onlooker who was watching said, "Come on, Fred, you can sign some autographs." Lynn, without stopping, flipped him the bird. The onlooker got in the last word: "This is probably the last you'll see of Coopers-town, Freddie."
Athletes are asked to sign the damnedest things. Autograph albums used to be basic, but they're rare. Today there are photographs, baseballs, index cards, baseball cards (extremely important to serious collectors, for whom complete sets of signed cards can be a real treasure), newspapers, magazines, notebooks, cloth napkins, paper napkins, matchbooks, hands, arms...anything. Soccer player Roger Davies of the Seattle Sounders is occasionally asked to sign photographs of his feet. Davies is famous in Seattle for his feet, which used to hurt him so much because of bunions on his little toes that he had to slit the sides of his soccer boots and wear specially made street shoes.
Jim Palmer, Baltimore's pitching ace and advertising star, autographed Jockey shorts on TV last month for admiring purchasers. Jim Lefebvre, who used to play for the Dodgers, says, "I was once asked to sign a lady's thigh." He refused. "She might have been married," he explains. "If there was some question that somebody was fooling around, my name would have been right there." Reggie Jackson, on the other hand, said once that he signed a girl's breast. Alan Hudson, another soccer star, says he signed the bare stomach of a young female fan. "It was a bit embarrassing," he admits, "but that's where she wanted me to sign, wasn't it?"
The ultimate in this sort of thing took place on the Yankee team bus outside Comiskey Park in Chicago during a Yankee-White Sox series in 1979. A young woman dropped her jeans and asked the players to sign her bare buttocks. Reportedly, some did, and there was a great flap about it. Houston Chronicle columnist Cactus Pryor wrote, "This is the same team that barred woman reporters from their locker room for reasons of impropriety." It was conceded that the woman had exposed herself, but it was denied that any of the players had signed what had been exposed. Billy Martin, then on one of his tours as manager of the Yankees, produced a photograph that had been taken of the woman. "Exhibit A," bellowed Billy. "No visible signatures, just the bare bottom."
If not there, autographs are just about everywhere else. Little League mothers in St. Louis made a huge quilt out of patches they had sent to the Cardinals for autographs, a separate signature on each patch. After their last game of the 1980 NBA playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks' 6'11" Bob Lanier supposedly signed his size 22 basketball sneakers and gave them to two kids outside the team bus in Seattle. The Cincinnati Reds gave Roy Rogers, the cowboy singing star, a base autographed by Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench and the rest of the Reds after the club learned that Rogers' boyhood home had been at 412 Second Street in Cincinnati, or approximately where second base in Riverfront Stadium is now.
Some athletes resist giving autographs. Former basketball and baseball stars Bill Russell and Mike Marshall refuse to sign at all. "I could never understand why anyone would want my name on a slip of paper, unless it was a check," says Russell, who considers signing autographs demeaning. He once said that, when he refused to sign for a youngster, the kid called him a nigger. After he retired, Russell met a man who said, "Bill, I got your autograph when you were playing with the Celtics." Russell laughed his loud cackling laugh and said, "If you did, you better hang on to it, because it's the only one around."
Marshall is just as adamant about not signing, but he doesn't condemn autograph collecting as such. When he was a player, he would suggest to youngsters that they ask their teachers for autographs, because teachers were doing far more valuable work than a relief pitcher was. This seemed a moving argument at the time, although it would be hard to find a seventh-grader who would appreciate Marshall's logic. And, in retrospect, Marshall's comment became rather facile when he later turned down a reporter's request for his signature by saying, "My autograph is going to be so rare that one day it'll be worth something."
Some players are as rude or devious as those who seek their autographs. Ron Perranoski, the onetime Dodger relief pitcher, shot Scott Kaufer, now an Executive Editor of California Magazine, with a water pistol when Kaufer, then 12, asked him for an autograph during a game. Ruppert Jones, the San Diego outfielder, is only one of many players who put off autograph hounds by saying, "I'm not a ballplayer, he is." Very popular current and former players like Willie Stargell of Pittsburgh, Willie McCovey of San Francisco and Mickey Mantle of New York are, or were, awfully tough to get. Jim Bouton pilloried Mantle in Ball Four for shoving kids away, but writer Ed Linn, who once spent several days almost constantly in Mantle's presence while doing a story on him, was startled by the incessant pressure of autograph seekers chasing after Mantle wherever he went. Ted Williams would sign without protest when he was cornered, but he was a genius at getting away from a ball park without being seen. He knew all the secret ways out.
Others are irritatingly elusive, too. Jackie White of Baltimore, whose salesman husband, Robert, is an autograph dealer on the side, often accompanies her two small sons on autograph forays. "Some players can be really mean," she says. "It's crushing for a child to be pushed away or snubbed. Of course, your really famous ones like Reggie Jackson will never come out. They know the ball park, and they come out another way." In San Diego both Dan Fouts of the Chargers and Rollie Fingers, when he was with the Padres, would take an elevator up two or three levels and then sneak down the ramps behind the crowds waiting for them. Larry Parrish of Texas once wore an ice pack on his right hand to avoid signing as he walked to his car. A lot of players will push through the crowd without stopping after giving autographs to the first two or three people who ask them. Many players sign on the run, so to speak, as they move steadily to their cars. Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were renowned for signing that way. "Self-defense," Mays once claimed. "I gotta play ball the next day. I'd be there overnight if I didn't keep walking." Leon Uzarowski of Baltimore remembers vividly getting Mantle's autograph: "He signed my book 22 feet from the team bus traveling at two miles per hour with a five-mile-an-hour wind at his back after an 0-for-4 day at the plate."
Stadium parking lots have been scenes of altercations between players and fans. Jackson, who is notably selective in picking people he wants to be pleasant with, had a run-in outside Yankee Stadium with a truculent man pestering him to sign. Reggie Smith was attacked outside Dodger Stadium when he turned down two young men asking for autographs. One of them smashed the windshield of his car, and when Smith got out of the car the other hit him with a bottle. Two other Dodgers, Rick Monday and Dusty Baker, helped Smith subdue the men and hold them for the police.