"Also," Werner continued, "I should warn you, some of your signatures are probably phony. Back in the '60s, Mickey Mantle had the clubhouse boy or a club secretary sign for him. After Roy Campanula had his car accident, his wife did almost all his signing. Now if you want verification...."
I felt like a six-year-old who has been told that Santa Claus doesn't exist. I made another call, to Mike Gutierrez, co-owner of MVP Autographs and Sports Memorabilia in Woodland Hills, Calif. Werner had told me that Gutierrez was "a nice guy who knows more about sports autographs than anyone else in the business."
To my relief, Gutierrez expressed the view that most of my signatures were "probably real." Like Werner, Gutierrez figured about a third of my pictures had "value"—$10 or more. He pointed out that it was economically fortuitous that some superstars had died. Perhaps my most valuable signature is on a picture of Bill Russell, who simply refuses to sign autographs. I know my Russell signature is real, because he gave it to me in person outside the Celtics' locker room at Madison Square Garden. It's now worth $500. My photo of Bobby Jones is also in the $500 range, as is that Green Bay LIFE magazine cover. Roberto Clemente, Cassius Clay, Lew Alcindor, Sonny Liston, Jackie Robinson, Roger Maris and Walter O'Malley are each worth several hundred dollars. By contrast, my Hank Aarons are worth $10 to $15 each; I have eight of them, dating back to when Aaron had 253 home runs.
All told, Gutierrez thought my collection was worth $10,000 to $15,000. But the truth is, for me, its value can't be measured in dollars. Looking at the photos as I did last week, I was young again. Once more, I was 15 years old, in communion with Warren Spahn. Spahn was smiling at me. And I gave thanks for his kindness, which led to the fulfillment of a boy's dream.