Sunday, January 25, 2015

On Handwriting Worse Than Mine: Monte Irvin and the Uses of Nostalgia

So I'm looking at an old American Cancer Society event program that my folks got for me, back when they were officers in the New York chapter. The program is from an old banquet where they celebrated various sports figures, and my dad got various of the attendees to autograph it for me. There's five or so signatures in there, along with a couple of inspirational messages from figures that eleven year old me probably wasn't in any position to appreciate. But that didn't matter; my folks got it for me, and I've kept it and treasured it for thirty-plus years.

Tonight, in conversation with a friend about sports memorabilia, I pulled it off the shelf to show him. That was the course of the evening, really, swapping back and forth cool stuff to look at; tarot decks,  mostly, but also books and sports tchotchkes and distilled grain beverages. Bullshitting stories, too - the time friend Dan's sister got Randy Johnson's mythical autograph, and watching Ichiro golf a home run off Mariano Rivera, and IDing a 1957 Braves autographed baseball by cross-referencing the dates a couple of the scrubs who'd signed were up and in the Show together. (Scrubs. Hah. The worst of them made the big leagues; such scrubbiness is to be envied and admired.)

A good time indeed, but after company left I found myself looking at that program again. Thumbing through the pages, seeing who'd been honored and who'd been involved. Some blasts from the past in there, and some surprises - the late Dick Schaap, and Tom Watson, and Bjorn Borg, and a whole passel of others. Memories of reading Sports Illustrated religiously as a kid when those names filled the pages, memories of storing back issues in an old wooden cabinet in my room and being prepubescently annoyed with every iteration of the Swimsuit Issue for interrupting the flow of sports stuff.

And now, trying to master the trick of deciphering 30 year old autographs. Monte Irvin's is easy, and I'm weirdly proud of the fact that even back then, I knew that Monte Irvin was a big deal. My friends, not so much - none of us ever got Monte Irvin cards in our Topps wax packs, after all.

Pete Rose is easy to decipher as well - he offers no messages, just a signature, with the big looping "P" and "R" that serve as exclamation points. I've got another Rose autograph, on an index card passed into the Phillies' dugout during Fan Appreciation Night in that fateful 1980 season. Dad somehow got the card into the dugout during the game, and it came back with five signatures: Rose, catcher Bob Boone, infielder Ramon Aviles, second baseman Manny Trillo, and shortstop Larry Bowa. Another card came back with pitcher Dickie Noles' signature on it, and I thought Dad had worked magic. But more important than the autographs was the fact that the Phillies won the game against the dreaded Montreal Expos, taking it on a Bake McBride home run in the 10th after lumbering left fielder Greg Luzinski had saved the game with a stumbling, magical catch. The pennant, and the Phillies' first World Series win, got a step closer that night.

Digressions. One of the key perils of nostalgia, it seems.

But there are other autographs. One, I'm pretty sure is Yogi Berra's. It is, of course, sideways to the rest. One would expect no less of the man who made the malapropism literature. 

The other two? I have no idea. There's one that I think starts with an A and has a double T in the last name, though I can't find anyone in the program book whose name matches those criteria. The L to start, perhaps, before it devolves into a shapeless squiggle. It's a mystery. A puzzle, really, one that I could perhaps solve if I threw myself into it, searching for images of the signatures of everyone who appeared at that event, trying to find a match.

Or I could just let the mystery be, and keep it as a reason to keep pulling this thing off the shelf. And revisit again a great thing my folks did for me, once upon a time.
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