In the late 1970s, young Steve Grad went to two baseball games that would prove to have a profound impact on him. "I went to my very first baseball game at Comiskey Park to see the Chicago White Sox play the Minnesota Twins," Steve recalls. "Although I was a huge baseball fan, I had yet to make the important choice that every Chicagoan must make – to be a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. If you live in Chicago, you know that you have to live and die with one team or the other – never both. Soon after going to that game, we went to a Cubs game. After leaving the stadium, my brother, mother, father and I waited outside the player parking lot hoping to get some autographs. All of a sudden, we noticed that the player driving out of the lot was Dave Kingman. We were all excited thinking we would get his autograph but instead, he just drove past and gave us the finger. From that moment on, I was a White Sox fan!"
Steve spent the majority of his childhood in Orland Park, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago. "I always loved baseball. Summer meant playing baseball and winter meant counting the days until I could play again. My family spent our summers in Delavan, Wisconsin, a small town just over the Illinois border. Those days were filled with playing baseball, fishing, water skiing and listening to the White Sox on the radio."
In the mid-1980s, while attending Carl Sandburg High School, the then-15-year old Steve was looking forward to another relaxing summer vacation. His father, however, had other plans. "My father took me to work with him and I had no idea what I was in for. It was at that moment that my life of luxury and having no worries or responsibilities ended. I started working that summer and, when I look back, I see that was really a life-defining moment for me."
Throughout the end of his high school career, and while attending Chicago's Roosevelt University and Columbia College (where he majored in Broadcast Journalism), Steve worked in radio broadcasting and eventually landed a gig at one of Chicago's top rated radio station. "I covered news, sports, political elections, and was a traffic reporter," Steve says. "I was also a sidekick on a morning show called Mancow's Morning Madhouse where I did traffic reports before moving on to the sports desk. My nickname back then was Psycho Steve."
After his two-year run with Mancow, Steve went on to work for the One-On-One Radio Network, now known as Sporting News Radio, the nation's largest nationally syndicated sports radio network. "I started as an anchor/reporter, and then went on to co-host my own talk show that was broadcast in over 400 markets – The Steve Grad Show – how original huh."
While working in radio, Steve had also become fascinated with autograph collecting. "Although my first experience in attempting to get an autograph was less than positive, that changed in 1980 when I obtained my first autograph – the signature of White Sox pitcher Rich Dotson. I was out at the old Comiskey Park and saw him down by the left field line signing for fans. My brother and I grabbed a piece of paper from my mom and ran to get his signature. That's when it all started for me."
The following year, Steve attended his first autograph show where he added Bob Feller's signature to his collection. "It was at that show that I got to know my neighbor a little better. Up until then, I never knew the guy who lived across the street from us was Dan Knoll, who is one of the most respected authorities on game-used equipment. He taught me about autographs, how to collect them, store them, and all about values and authenticity. I started chasing autographs at the ballpark on a consistent basis and then moved on to team hotels. I also started to get autographs from celebrities, politicians and every conceivable sports personality."
In 1988, Steve turned his passion for autographs into a small business. Partnering with his brother, Bob, he would set up at local Chicago sports shows, selling autographs and sportscards. Then, in 1993, while in New York for an auction, Steve met Bill Mastro. By that time he was getting a bit bored with radio and decided to turn his full-time attention to running his autograph and sportscard business. Six years later, Steve sold his business and went to work for Bill Mastro at MastroNet. "That was a life changing job, that experience was priceless," says Steve. "I have always been a quick learner and was soon authenticating autographs and assisting in the authentication and acquisition of memorabilia for MastroNet's sports and non-sports auctions and catalogs."
With the experience he gained at MastroNet, Steve became well-known within the industry, and in 2002, was offered a staff position with PSA and PSA/DNA. Starting as senior authenticator, he today serves as the lead authenticator where he examines millions of dollars worth of entertainment, historical, and sports autographs.
"I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dan Knoll and Bill Mastro," says Steve. "If it hadn't been for them, I may have never had the chance to do what I'm doing today. While everyone can achieve anything they want, without Dan and Bill, it would have been a tremendous uphill battle for me."
After living in and around Chicago for 31 years, Steve's position with PSA took him to Pennsylvania and, two years later, to Lake Forest, California. Today, as he is about to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary, Steve and his beautiful wife Claire have two daughters – Mikayla and Isabel. "Our family also consists of four cats,' says Steve. "Pudge, named after Carlton Fisk, Gi Gi, Roxy and Emerson."
Through his regular travels throughout Europe, Canada, and the U.S. over the last twenty years, Steve has collected over 100,000 in-person autographs. His personal passion is in collecting Star Wars autographs. "I'm in complete geek mode around my Star Wars autographs," laughs Steve. "I have assembled one of the top Star Wars autograph collections in the world and have been lucky enough to meet almost every major character. It's my ultimate goal to have a signature from every person that was involved in all six movies. I have a long road ahead of me in reaching that goal, but it sure is fun."
When he's not traveling or working, Steve loves to read. "I'm still working on the last Harry Potter book and I'm also about to dive into a book called Blink. I watch every Chicago White Sox and Bears games I can. I recently bought a Slingbox that enables me to watch games from wherever I am on my laptop. I also enjoy taking my daughter to school in the mornings and what I really enjoy most is time on the weekends with my family. I grill at least twice a week and I also try to work out four times a week, though it's really difficult to find the time to do that."
Steve considers himself to be one of the biggest Carlton Fisk fans on the planet. "I collect his autograph, game-used equipment, and unique items relating to his career. I have known "Pudge" for many years. I used to live close to him and would visit him regularly in the off-season. We have developed a friendship over the years which has resulted in my having over 250 things signed by him including photos, baseballs, programs, you name it. My favorite Fisk item, however, is a letter he wrote when he was 11-years old. I bought it on eBay for just $12!"
Another one of Steve's passions is Metallica. "I love their music and have a tattoo of their legendary "scary guy" logo on my left arm," says Steve who has seen the heavy metal band in concert many times. "I have met the band members too many times to count and I have been lucky enough to assemble one of the most comprehensive Metallica autograph collections."
Steve also collects Rock & Roll autographs and has met and obtained signatures from just about every musician and band from Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton, to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, U2, B.B. King and Kiss. He also loves to chase down signatures from the stars of his favorite flicks such as Office Space, Clerks, The Big Lebowski, Eight Men Out and Star Trek.
As for his work with PSA, Steve is proud of what he and the company bring to the hobby. "We serve as the 'go to guys' for authentication," he proudly states. "There is no dealer, auction house or collector in their right mind that doesn't use our services, and that is because we deliver. Whether it's with sportscards or autographs, PSA and PSA/DNA give the item instant credibility."
Steve said that he also believes it is important for people to understand what he does. "It is not an exact science," he says. "You can't earn a degree in autograph authentication. In this business, knowledge is acquired one way – experience. I have a passion for autographs. I took that passion and channeled it by learning everything possible about autographs and authenticating. In some cases, I will visit an auction house and physically review thousands upon thousands of autographs. If people knew the volume of autographs that I view in any given year, it would give them a better understanding of what I do and how I do it. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a great staff that is very knowledgeable. To be good at this job, repetition is the most important thing. Constantly viewing autographs, handling them, viewing them is what helps you stay on top. You have to stay active. I keep an exemplar database that has over 50,000 signatures of sports stars, celebrities, and notable people throughout history. I am constantly updating it. My job is a never ending homework assignment of sorts but I love it because I know that my effort has a positive effect on the hobby. That is what makes my job satisfying"
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