It’s been a busy few weeks over here at Steiner Sports. In addition to my blogging duties, I’m still in the midst of learning the ropes here and getting myself comfortable in my new sales role. Part of my responsibilities includes an education in the autograph signing aspect of our business, and fortunately for me, it’s allowed me to meet some of my heroes.
As most of you know, Steiner Sports has built an ironclad reputation during the last 20 years as a leading provider of sports marketing services and authentic, hand signed, memorabilia. Their unique relationships with athletes in almost every sport allow the company to offer collectibles that you simply can’t find anywhere else. The Steiner Sports authenticity guarantee is rooted in the fact that there are several witnesses to the product being signed (including an official MLB representative) and this past week, one of those witnesses was me.
Most fans are probably used to “public signings”. In this type of event, a customer would typically purchase a ticket ahead of time, wait on a line at one of our retail locations, and get their memento signed personally (and hopefully snatch a quick picture in the process). Public signings tend to be crowded, somewhat hectic and usually pretty loud. Private signings, however, are the complete opposite.
My first private signing was with Yankees First Baseman Mark Teixeira. He was due into our office on a Tuesday afternoon, and prior to his arrival, it was necessary to get the signing room ready for his appearance. Cases upon cases of baseballs were opened and “readied” for his signature (and by readied, I mean that each baseball is spun within the box to its correct position, of sweet side up). Batting helmets are arranged in neat rows, and shiny black Teixeira model bats are gently leaning upon the wall. There was a pile of jerseys, as well as several stacks of photos. Finally, there was a station for “send in” items, which are pieces that customers have sent out of their personal collections to be signed.
The room is located in our warehouse, away from the hustle and bustle of our main office floor. The staff that works a private signing takes great care to be sure the athlete is comfortable, and that the signing goes as smoothly as possible. For Teix, he is a pretty self sufficient and low maintenance guy. He came in alone (no agent or entourage) and made quick work of his signing commitment. He blazed through case after case of baseballs, switching from a simple sweet spot signature to more limited edition “inscription” balls.
The Teixecutioner and Bald Vinny
While Teix was busy signing away, the staff was working just as hard. As each ball was signed, for example, a staffer would take the ball and re-rotate it within the box for authentication by MLB. Their hologram logo is affixed in a particular location, and serial numbers on the holograms are recorded via barcode in a hand-held scanner. As the baseballs received their MLB authentication, they were then handed to me to be affixed with a Steiner Sports hologram. After tagging and bagging the baseballs, I was sent to the bat station, where I repeated the process of affixing Steiner holograms.
The whole signing took just about an hour, and included an interview with our talented web team (you can read about it here ). Mark was a blast to work with, and was very easy to be around. He chatted about baseball and football, and how he is adjusting to life in New York. He made everyone in the room comfortable, and was kind enough to pose for pictures with all of us who helped out.
Two days later, and not announced within the office as a private signing, we were joined by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. He was in town to add his signature to several pieces, including many that were being signed by members of the 77-78 Yankees during a customer meet and greet that following weekend. Prior commitments kept Reggie from attending the customer event, but it was crucial to get him added to the team signed pieces. In this particular case, forethought was needed to ensure that the remaining signatures needed on the pieces had room to fit. Signed balls, seat backs, bats and photos were on the docket for the day, and it was interesting to note the difference in signing styles between Mark and Reggie.
Mr. October, signing away
While Mark was very businesslike, making quick work of his commitment, Reggie was more diligent. He took frequent breaks during the signing, either to talk baseball or chomp on a light lunch (turkey and lettuce on whole wheat). My role during this signing was different than that of the Teixeira’s in that I was only there for a photo op and to get a bleacher bench signed. While I patiently waited for a few moments of Reggie’s time, I got to listen to him talk baseball with the others in the room. He commented on a photo of Mariano that we have hanging up in the room, and gave a long dissertation on why Mo is one of the best pitchers he has ever seen.
It was incredibly interesting to me because Reggie was a part of a different generation of baseball superstars. The game, as well as the athletes that played them, was different in Reggie’s time. There were no “specialists” that came out of the bullpen to face lefties only. Pitchers frequently threw 8+ innings an outing, and often threw three times per week. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the differences compared to the modern game, and I gained a tremendous amount of respect for a man that I already admired greatly.
The guy from the bleachers and the guy who HIT them to the bleachers
I was only two years old when Reggie belted those three home runs on a chilly October night in the Bronx, but like most fans around my age, I was properly schooled on his place in Yankees history. Think what you would like about the man, but I found him to be incredibly personable and even a bit chatty. He makes no bones about who he is or what his reputation says about him, and he is brutally honest when it comes to the game we all love. It truly was an honor to spend a few hours with him during his time here.
My final event this week was the biggest. On Saturday, the Steiner Sports office played host to 250 guests as we welcomed various members of the 1977-78 Yankees Championship teams. This event was quite different than the appearances above in that it included both a private signing as well as “meet and greet” opportunities for our clients. It was organized chaos at its finest, and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had here so far (and that is saying a LOT, especially if you read my last blog).
Athletes started to arrive at our offices as early as 10am. Private signings were held downstairs, with legends like Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent and Chris Chambliss working their way through the team items. One by one, another former stars would arrive: Graig Nettles. Lou Piniella. Mike Torrez. Sparky Lyle. Each was whisked away to the signing room to complete their allotment of autographs while our main office location began to fill with Yankee fans.
The most unique aspect of this event was the interaction between players and fans. Stations were set up in conference rooms and cubicles to host the athletes and the attendees. Sessions started off with brief Q&A sessions, followed by the fans posing for photos with some of their heroes. While most of this was going on, I found myself back in the signing room, acting as the “handler” for Yankee Outfielder, and eight time Gold Glove winner, Paul Blair.
Paul Blair, during his Q&A session with fans
It was my responsibility to move him from station to station, making sure he was comfortable and that he had the proper (new) pens/markers for each task. I also had to set up each signed item for him, and then get it ready for the next person to sign. While going through his materials, other legends were making their way into the signing room. It was clear that these guys don’t get to see each other all that often, because as each guy entered the room, everything was put on pause to allow time for the obligatory handshakes, hugs and chit chat.
It was like being right in the middle of an old high school reunion. A DVD from the 1978 World Series was popped in, and the flat screens in the signing room came alive with images from Game 3 of the Fall Classic. Almost on cue, that evenings starting pitcher, Ron Guidry walked into the signing room accompanied by recently retired skipper Lou Piniella. Sweet Lou’s eyes lit up upon seeing the screens, and the two Yankee greats traded stories from the evening as they watched the events unfold before them.
Seeing the look of joy on Piniella’s face, I couldn’t help but ask him the last time he watched this game. “Oh, sometime in the 80’s, I think” was his reply. He commented that he was always too busy to actually sit down and enjoy it, but that it was something he was looking forward to doing now that he was retired (His actual comment was “I hope they replay this on the YES Network soon, I really want to see it.”)
Pitch by pitch, inning by inning, he and Guidry would trade stories about people, players and events that they were reminded of during the broadcast. The Yanks rallied in the 7th inning, and when Thurman Munson stepped to the plate and delivered an RBI, and the two men howled with laughter. It was easy to see that they loved Big Thurm, and conversation quickly turned to stories about the former Captain.
Bald Vinny and Louisiana Lightning
My favorite of the anecdotes came from Guidry, who recalled a sequence of pitches from the very game we were watching. Munson put down a signal, and Guidry shook him off. Munson called for another pitch, and once again Guidry shook him off. Finally, Munson dropped a signal for a pitch Guidry didn’t even throw and Gator requested the Captain join him on the mound for a conference. “What the *bleep* are you doing back there, Cap?” Guidry said. “I don’t even throw a changeup!” Munson replied “I know Gator…you just looked a little tense out there. I figured I’d give you a break!”.
Back on the main floor, I joined in on several Q&A sessions that had already begun. Prior to the event starting, I had posed an inquiry on FaceBook and Twitter soliciting questions from some of my readers. It was at this time that I got to ask my favorite questions from those that were sent in.
The first person I had a chance to speak to was Sparky Lyle. There were a lot of things I wanted to ask about, but the first question that came out of my mouth was about his reputation for sitting (naked) on top of birthday cakes that were brought in for players. I asked him who got the most upset over that prank, and he said it was former Pitching Coach Art Fowler. When pressed why it bothered Fowler so much, Sparky replied “I think he just loved eating cake!”
Thankfully, my desk was clear of birthday cake
I also asked him a question I received via Twitter, from user @Merle211 (and winner of my first autographed ball giveaway), about what it felt like to be traded to the Yankees from the Red Sox during Spring Training of 1972. Sparky said that contrary to what was custom at the time, he actually knew he was going to be traded. He said that at the end of the 71 season Ralph Houk had mentioned to him that they were going to go after him and try to put a trade together. Sparky recalls that he didn’t think much of it, but when it actually went through, he said he was surprised that Houk was able to pull it off! It turned out to be a great move for the Yanks, as Lyle became the Yankees’ bullpen ace, establishing himself as one of the best relief pitchers of the 1970s.
The next question I chose to ask was one that I had always been curious to know the answer to. Dave Cohen, of FaceBook fame (and also winner of my second autographed ball give away), had asked of Lou Piniella:
” In the one-game playoff at Fenway in 1978, when he made the defensive play that saved the game, pretending he had a fly ball the entire time when he couldn’t see the ball, freezing the runners, at what point did he actually see the ball for the first time?”
When asked, Piniella responded with a hearty belly laugh. “Officially and on the record?”, he replied, “I saw it come off the bat…..off the record, I didn’t see it until it landed right in front of me” He went on to tell the story, and recalled that the inning prior (the 8th), he had come back to the dugout and mentioned to Yankee Skipper Dick Howser how difficult it was to see in the outfield. “If anything is hit on the screws, Skip, it’s gonna be a tough one to track down” Piniella recalled. The very next inning, Red Sox Second Basemen Jerry Remy hit a towering fly ball that Piniella lost in the sun. His defensive play caused the runner on first to only advance one base, thus preventing him from scoring the tying run when Red Sox legend Jim Rice followed with his own fly ball to the outfield.
Newly Retired Lou Piniella
When the event wrapped up, I had a hard time believing what I had just been a part of. Not only was I in the room with several Yankee legends, I was able to listen to their stories and relive their memories. As a Yankee fan, it was a week that I won’t ever forget. As a Steiner employee, it was an excellent hands on training experience, and one that I hope to do a lot more of in the future.
To reserve your own piece of memorabilia from the signings I was involved with last week, you can contact me directly at 914-307-1047 or at email@example.com
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