I love autograph stories. When a friend found out I wrote for Autograph Magazine, he told me about a guy he knows who runs an art gallery in North Park. This guy’s mother sewed clothing in Hollywood, occasionally for starlets, and she asked Marilyn Monroe if she’d sign an autograph for her seven-year-old son. Monroe said she’d bring an autograph the following day, when she picked up her dress. Well, she brought a baseball instead, signed by her husband, Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. She thought a boy would like that better. Luckily, the mom insisted Monroe sign it too.
I told this story to a few guys I play racquetball with. I ended by saying, “I told the guy that if he ever wanted to sell it, or trade it for something, to call me.”
Gavin laughed. “Trade it for what? A house?”
Greg then told a story that blew me away.
“In my youth, I became intrigued with and attached to a vintage, early-1950s black-and-white baseball photograph of my Marine Corps Officer father, Ed Pointek, and his fleet Marine Force Pacific All-Star Baseball team members. It also featured select Major League Baseball All-Stars who were part of Ed Lopat’s Barnstorming Major League All-Star Goodwill Tour of the Asian Pacific.”
In the summer of 1980, Greg lived across the street from his dad in Leucadia. His father was vacationing on the East Coast, and Greg grabbed his mail.
We played another game of cut-throat on the courts. As we wiped sweat off our faces, Greg said, “One day, in 1981, while placing the mail inside his house, I noticed that old photo sitting out on his dresser. And I realized what I would bestow upon my dad for Father’s Day. It seemed at first a daunting prospect — but I planned to acquire the signatures of each Major League All-Star that appeared in the photo.
“Believe me, I feared lots of scenarios where things could go wrong. I included a gracious cover letter, the 11”x14” to be signed, an 8”x10” copy as a gift, and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope. But I wondered…What if only a few of the players sign? Or if someone else keeps the photo for themselves, or if it is lost in transit.”
I asked how he’d pulled it off without his dad getting wind of the surprise.
“I took the original out of his house and to a photo-processing business. I had one made to 11”x14”, and many 8”x10”s reproduced, and then I returned the original. I sent a letter detailing my plans to Billy Martin, the manager of the Oakland A’s at the time. He’s also prominent in the photo. I asked for his signature, and for assistance in acquiring identities and addresses of the other major-league pros in the photo. I included an 8”x10” copy for Martin to keep.
“Martin signed the photo and wrote on the reverse the names of the major-leaguers pictured. He also contacted the commissioner’s office on my behalf and said they’d give me the addresses. I contacted Monte Irvin, Hall of Famer and assistant to the commissioner, who provided me with addresses for Eddie Lopat, Jim Hearn, Jackie Jensen, Eddie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Robin Roberts, Hank Sauer, Bobby Shantz, Enos Slaughter, and Yogi Berra.”
One of our racquetball buddies threw out the old Yogi line: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“It almost was over,” Greg said. “My father had returned from vacation in the interim. He often collected my mail while I was at work. So I enlisted the aid of my uncle, Leo Daniel, who allowed me to use his home address for the return mailing.
“To my surprise, all of the players signed, and I was thanked for sending along a photo they had no idea existed. The last signature was that of Yogi Berra. So, through a serendipitous confluence of events, the now-complete photo arrived at my uncle’s house three days prior to Father’s Day. I notified my father that I wanted him and Uncle Leo at my house Saturday evening for a drink and then a festive dinner in honor of Father’s Day.
“With beers in hand and jovial laughter, I reached into my pocket, and presented my father with a red Swiss Army Knife, and said, ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ He said, ‘Thanks for the knife. Give me 20 minutes to take a shower and I’ll be ready.’
“As he began to step out the door, I said, ‘Wait a second, I forgot something.’ I handed him a gift-wrapped box containing the signed and framed photo. My father said, ‘What’s this?’ I said, ‘It’s the other half of your Father’s Day gift.’
“He opened the box, peered at the photo for what seemed like an eternity, and said, ‘That’s my old baseball photo. What is all this stuff written on it?’
“I said, ‘It’s signed by all but one of the members of the Major League All-Stars you once played against in that Hawaiian exhibition back in the early ’50s. The only signature missing is Nellie Fox, who is deceased.’
“Tears welled in his eyes. He turned, bolted out the door, and walked briskly down the road with me in close pursuit.
“ ‘Dad,” I said, “ ‘are you okay?’
“ ‘I’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘I just need a moment. It’s a bit overwhelming, all those signatures. I’m so touched. I just need a moment. ’ ”