Lee’s Retirement chronicles: 10. You like autographs? Me too.

A couple of months ago, I needed several hours to decide if I wanted to attend a baseball card collectibles and memorabilia show and spend $20 for an autograph of “special guest” Mickey Lolich. Those of you around my age will remember Lolich as the guy who almost single-handedly won the 1968 World Series for the Detroit Tigers, winning three games and pitching Game 7 on three-days rest.

I had a Lolich card I wanted to get signed but, more importantly, I have a copy of the sports section of The Detroit Free Press the day after the Tigers clinched that wonderful World Series. Getting Lolich to sign the front page would give me autograph No. 7 of members of that team.

Yes, the newspaper is showing some wear and a couple of the signatures are dedicated “To Pete.” That was my dad, for whom I was getting those autographs. Mom graciously gave it back to me when dad passed away in 1998 and I’m still getting autographs. Or trying to, at least.

So, imagine my disdain, a bit, when I learned just last week that Lolich is going to be back in West Michigan sometime this summer, signing autographs FOR FREE at Fifth Third Ballpark as part of the West Michigan Whitecaps’ “Tiger Fridays” at the stadium.

In a couple of weeks of the posting of this blog, another former Tiger if going to be in West Michigan. Kirk Gibson was a popular player whose only claim to fame, in my mind, is that he hit a memorable home run to help the Tigers win a World Series and he also hit a home run off Dennis Eckersley to help the LA Dodgers win a World Series.

The one in Detroit, a three-run shot off Goose Gossage, secured the win in that game, but it was a Rusty Kuntz sac fly to short right field that chased “Gibby” home with the go-ahead run in that game, so I’ll give him that one. I’ll also give him a good relay throw to Lou Whitacker in Game One that allowed Whitaker, from about 20 onto the outfield grass, to gun down Kurt Bevacqua at third base for an important out.

Gibson, however, for all of his athleticism, never hit 30 home runs, never stole 30 bases and only once hit better than .300.

So why is he charging $65 for an autograph when Lolich signed for $20 and, two weeks ago, Denny McLain signed for $10? Hard to say. Maybe — and don’t be hating on me for this — it’s because his Parkinson’s is progressing and sometime in the future he won’t be signing anymore. Maybe?


I Love Tigers Fridays

Tigers Fridays is one of the beautiful things about a club like the Whitecaps. This is like the fifth or sixth year in a row they are hosting the special nights where they bring in ex-Tigers though the names aren’t always big names. One night a couple of years ago they double-dipped with Juan Berenguer and Ozzie Virgil — one a member of the 1984 champions, the other a memory for people my age. I got a chance to meet Charlie Maxwell, a favorite of my youth and Ron LeFlore, who was popular in the mid-1980s. I told LeFlore I had a story and he stopped signing autographs long enough to listen. I told him that when he played for Montreal, they had a Saturday (I believe) doubleheader at Wrigly Field in Chicago with the Cubs and my wife and I attended those games with a couple of friends. LeFlore nodded in agreement. I continued: “In that doubleheader, I was happy to cheer for you when you had a stand-up triple in each game.” Though health issues make it necessary for LeFlore to get around with the aid of a walker, he stood up, reached out to shake my hand and, with a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face, he replied: “Yes, yes I did.”

This year, Lolich is a headliner — yeah, I know, an autograph for the price of a ticket when I paid $20 a couple of months ago — but Lloyd Moseby, Frank Tanana, Jack Billingham, Joel Zumaya, Vince Coleman and Duke Sims also will be on hand sometime this summer. With Lolich, Moseby and Zumaya, I’ll be adding to what my wife says is an already too large bobblehead collection. Check out my friends on facebook at “bobblehead addicts.” In the bobblehead game, I’m a bit player.

Anyway, the signed card collection is growing as I’m sending out between 10 and 20 letters/cards/requests each week. A few I have to pay for — Wade Boggs is worth $5 for each signature and Zane Smith has signed everything I’ve sent him. The best part of that is, unless someone requests a “donation” or demands a fee, I’m only spending 98 cents for postage and a couple of cents for each envelope that goes out.

And my trips to the mailbox usually end up making me smile.



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