with Rick Ackerman
Perhaps the single most appealing aspect of collecting hockey memorabilia is the desire to approach a professional player and ask him for an autograph on a treasured collectible. Hundreds of people will wait in long lines at arranged public signings and even stand for hours in the rain or snow in a parking lot or by the entrance to a hotel for a chance to get something signed. Others will spend hundreds of dollars sending jerseys, sticks and other items in the mail to players, enclosing extra money for return postage or a sizable contribution to the players' favorite charities. Usual items include hats, jerseys, pucks, sticks, cards, books and pictures, although I have seen other unusual objects offered for a signature, such as a car (several players went out to the parking lot for that one), a dinner plate, a couple of iPhones belonging to giggling teenage girls, underwear (also belonging to giggling teenage girls), and body parts, including bald heads and even bare breasts. One un-named player would not sign a pro-offered bald head, yet had no problem signing a rather magnificent mammary in the back-room of a popular local drinking establishment.
Sometimes getting an autograph is simple and easy. A decade ago, all one had to do was go to the Blues practice facility at the St. Louis Mills in early September and wait for the players to exit the ice. Because of the NHL lock-out and a terrible Blues team at the time, very few people were there and the players were more than happy to stop and sign. The same was true at the top of the exit-ramp at the players' underground parking lot at the TradeStocks Center. And the Blues sponsored a breakfast at the Missouri Athletic club at which players were readily available. However, as the team got better (and MUCH more popular), those opportunities vanished as the area at the Mills was roped off from the public and people were banished to wait outside by the southern exit of the players' parking lot (fenced), hoping some of the boys would stop to sign. The northern exit, which many players chose to use, was forbidden territory, firmly guarded by Mills' security and the Hazelwood Police. The top of the ramp on S. 16th Street was also ruled off-limits (and wisely so as fans would block traffic or jump in front of cars there). The MAC breakfast was cancelled two or three years ago.
There are still several opportunities provided by the club, including Fan-fest, Dream Night and the KMOX radio shows hosted by Chris Kerber at various locations, including O.B. Clarks' in Brentwood. However, these are always well attended and crowded venues and long lines are part of the routine for those seeking an autograph from their favorite players. It is the same with scheduled player appearances during the season at various places around town, including Andy Strickland's radio show at Johnny Macs. And there are scheduled signings around the metro area at various card-shows, although there is a fee for signing items, up to $50 for a jersey or stick. I spent around $200 (on ten or so items) when "Mr. Goalie", Glenn Hall, made a rare appearance in St. Louis two years ago.
Sometimes it takes a great deal of ingenuity to get a needed autograph. The King of Autographs is my good friend Kevin Jones, who is now approaching 300 pucks signed by current Blues players and alumni, not to mention a vast array of goalie masks, sticks, jerseys, pads, gloves and blockers. When it was reported that Brendan Shanahan was coming to St. Louis to explain new NHL rules and procedures concerning major penalty reviews, Kevin quickly found out when he was coming in and where he was staying and then called me, well aware I have a game worn Shanahan jersey. We arranged to meet at the Ritz in Clayton around 7 a.m., not aware of the exact time Shanahan would be leaving the hotel to meet with the Blues. Wearing coats and ties with our memorabilia hidden away in attaché cases, we sat in the lobby as if we belonged there, waiting for Shanahan to come down. After almost three hours, Shanahan did indeed exit an elevator and went to the checkout desk. We approached him, introduced ourselves and politely asked if he would sign a couple of items for us. When security saw us and came over to kick us out, Shanahan waved them off and said he would be glad to see what we brought for his signature, especially my jersey (pictured). He even posed for a couple of quick photos. (Of course, now I have to go to Toronto and find a way to get my picture with him signed, or wait to see if he travels with the team when the Leafs visit on January 17, 2015.)
The bottom line is that to seriously collect autographs, one has to have lots of time and patience and sometimes shell out some seriously hard cash. Do you like Wayne Gretzky? You can send a jersey to Gretzky to sign, but it will cost around $400, not including postage and handling. An authentic signed Gretzky Blues jersey (not game worn) averages $1900. Right now you can purchase a 1990 Gretzky signed All-Star jersey on eBay for only $39, 999.00 (+$250 shipping and insurance) if that tickles your fancy. Of course, you might get lucky and make an offer for $34, 750.00 and get it.