Orlando Cepeda
Orlando Cepeda

There was no waiting for The Great One, who retired from hockey in April. The 10th player in NHL history to bypass the standard three-year waiting period for induction to the Hall, Gretzky called his selection the "icing on the cake." The other players who went straight in were Dit Clapper (1947), Maurice "Rocket" Richard (1961), Ted Lindsay (1966), Red Kelly (1969), Terry Sawchuk (1971), Jean Beliveau (1972), Gordie Howe (1972), Bobby Orr (1979) and Mario Lemieux (1997).

If you're in Toronto, make sure you attend this event. It'll be historic - for Gretzky and fans!

About 30 of the top NFL draftees - including 15 first-round picks - gathered in Orlando, Fla. May 23-26 to pose for pictures, sign cards and memorabilia, and give interviews to the media. This season's hottest rookies, including Tim Couch (Cleveland), Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia), Akili Smith (Cincinnati), Edgerrin James (Indianapolis), Torry Holt (St. Louis), Champ Bailey (Washington) and David Boston (Arizona), were among those who donned their NFL uniforms for the first time.

In the world of baseball, don't be surprised if autograph values for Jose Canseco rise by as much as $15-$20 to about $50 by the end of the year. After doubling his home run production from 23 in 1997 to 46 last year and to a league-leading 28 through June 27 this year, the Devil Rays DH is once again the talk of baseball.

Ironically, Canseco's big splurge this season comes a year after his former Bash Brothers teammate with the Oakland A's, Mark McGwire, hit a record 70 homers in '98. Obtaining the autographs of both sluggers on the same baseball would make an even more desirable collectible than before.

Upper Deck has taken the autograph card industry to a new level by inserting cut signatures of deceased ballplayers into its baseball card products. All-time greats like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Satchel Paige, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Roy Campanella, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott are featured in Upper Deck's latest Century product (five cards per pack, $4.99 SRP).

The signatures, which come from checks, official documents, or sometimes just a piece of paper, are mounted into a space on a regular-sized trading card, then inserted into random packs for collectors to find.

Despite a nagging leg injury, Tony Gwynn was closing in on 3,000 career hits as we went to press. When the Padres outfielder finally reaches the coveted mark, he will join 21 other members in the exclusive 3,000 hit club. Also on track to make it this year are Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr. Three future Hall of Famers!

The Baseball Hall of Fame Class of '99 made its first appearance in Atlantic City June 25-27, posing for pictures and signing autographs for fans. Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda, who will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 25, signed autographs at varying prices.

Cepeda's rates were $30 for flats and balls, $75 for bats and jerseys. Yount charged $60 for flats and balls, $75 for caps, and $125 for bats and jerseys. Brett's prices were $75 for flats and balls, $95 for caps, and $150 for bats and jerseys, while Ryan's autograph cost $75 on flats, $95 on equipment, and $125 on bats and jerseys.

An electrical explosion about 100 feet from where fans were seated caused no injuries, but forced postponement of a recent game between the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals. Fans were unaware of the explosion and ensuing fireball, which occurred in a secured room on the third base side of Kauffman Stadium, according to Royals General Manager Herk Robinson. Several players on both teams, including Chad Kreuter and Kevin Appier of the Royals and Michael Tucker of the Reds stood near the dugout and signed autographs during the delay.

More and more players are signing autographs before games, as evidenced by images on recent baseball cards. Among them are Eric Davis and Donovan Osborne of the Cardinals and John Rocker of the Braves.

In a recent conversation with ESPN's Mark Schwarz, Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz had some blunt things to say about autograph seekers who approach him. Responding to a question from Schwarz concerning an alleged death threat he received in New Jersey recently, Malone said: "My mom, my sisters and my brothers got the news three days late in Arkansas and Louisiana. They just went ballistic, but to me it really wasn't a big deal until I started to think about it. And that's when it kind of clicked in.

"Now I find myself seeing a person walk up to me for an autograph (and) I say, `No.' I'm always looking around, so it did change me some. It changed me into that person that I never wanted to be. Eventually it's going to happen, at some point, in some arena. Something is going to happen to some athlete that somebody doesn't like or he didn't sign them an autograph and a guy - snap."

This article has been reprinted with the permission of Autograph Collector Magazine

Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn
Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco