By Chuck Kaufman
ould someone please pipe in "Thanks for the Memories," Bob Hope's theme song? Now let's all take a collective sigh. Ahhhh.
I can sense an interest among collectors who have a penchant for history starting to build. Oh, not the way it built for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants or the Washington Senators. Not even the way it built for the St. Louis Browns, who lost their moniker, though the team moved on to Baltimore.
There's probably not a fraction of passion for the Montreal Expos that there is for any of those teams. Okay, you gotta love those ticket holders who wrapped themselves in aluminum foil, while protesting the owners' approval of contraction.
In its 32 seasons, it never produced a Rookie of the Year and produced only one Cy Young Award winner. It did win a division title in 1981, but pennant fever hardly reached epidemic proportions in Montreal. The Expos were an easy team to forget. Oh yeah, they did have an oddly designed ball park in Olympic Stadium, home in 1982 of the first All-Star Game to be played outside the United States. And how 'bout that stylized, curly, red, white and blue "M"? Very French.
If you thought attendance was low for the Expos, consider the level of interest among collectors for Expo memorabilia. A search of major auction catalogs over the past half dozen years revealed few Expo items.
That could change just as the history of this franchise goes the way of the dinosaurs. To be sure, even the least storied teams have a history. One might expect the first home run in franchise history, for example, would have been hit by Rusty Staub or Ron Fairly. Nope. It was hit on opening day, April 8, 1969, by Dan McGinn, a pitcher, off of Tom Seaver. The Expos won that day, 11-10, as did the other three teams that joined the big leagues that year, San Diego, the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots.
A little over a week later, Bill Stoneman recorded the franchise's first no-hitter. Ross Grimsley became the Expos only 20-game winner in 1978. Tony Perez, Gary Carter and Ellis Valentine hit the Expos' first back-to-back-to-back home runs on June 17, 1979. Maybe there's a theme show brewing here. Collectors' minds are already thinking about notations to add to these players' autographs.
If you like those, you'll like these:
· Pete Rose notched his 4,000th hit as an Expo in 1984;
· Chris Speier got eight RBI and hit for the cycle as an Expo on Sept. 22, 1982;
· Al Oliver was the first Expo to hit a batting title in '82. He hit .331; Tim Raines did it in 1986 (.336).
· Dennis Martinez pitched a perfect game as an Expo in 1991.
· Expo Spike Owen earned a National League record by playing 63 consecutive games without committing an error.
· Expo Pedro Martinez won the Cy Young Award in 1997;
· Vladimir Guerrero became the first Expo to hit 40-plus homers (42) in 1999.
In 1992, the Expos had Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker and Moises Alou in its outfield. If nothing else, Montreal was a nice wasteland for a lot of good ball players.
Cooperstown is hardly flush with Expo items. Veteran Hall of Fame Curator of Collections, Peter Clark, identifies just a dozen or so items; including an autographed game ball and cap from the no-hitters of Bill Stoneman and Charlie Lea; a ball and cap from Dave Palmer, who was credited with a perfect game in 1984, though the five-inning game was shortened by rain; Pete Rose's 4000th hit bat; and Tim Raines' 500th career stolen base.
It doesn't have a seat from Jarry Park, but does have a team ball and a couple of tickets from the first game there. Of course, Guerrero is featured in the Hall of Fame's "Today's Stars" exhibit.
Well, with contraction knocking out the Expos and the 2002 season about to begin, let the reunion shows begin, not for championship teams, but for random clusters of Expos. Maybe Rawlings can put on an Expos Gold Glove show, with Carter, Walker, Grissom, Guerrero, Andres Gallaraga, Tim Wallach, and Orlando Cabrera.
No doubt the auctions will start receiving Montreal items, game-used bats, game-used uniforms with one of baseball's all-time funky logos, team balls, seats from Jarry Park, and who knows what from Olympic Stadium. Get ready. Here it comes.
I imagine dealers and collectors will be going door to door in search of Expo memorabilia. This is what history does to collectors. This is also what extinction does to collectors. Get ready, here comes the Expo gear, which earned the title "vintage" overnight at the age of 32.
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Before everyone gets too crazy about blaming the Internet for the country's economic woes - well, it has contributed to hundreds of thousands of layoffs - let's remember that the Internet is working fine for the autographed memorabilia business. If it weren't for the Internet, show promoters would probably be more hard-nosed with the modern superstar in negotiating signing fees. As it is, promoters know they can sell tickets not only at shows, but take the remaining inventory and sell it on eBay or through the Internet auctions of other companies.
Still, it is amazing to think that Bernie Williams recently did a signing for $100,000. In order for memorabilia companies to pay that, they have to jack up the price of each autograph.
Thank heaven for our free enterprise system, where consumers have as much power as business owners. I don't mean to pick on Bernie, as I'm sure his handlers are celebrating the big deals they strike in the business world, but long after Bernie roams Yankee Stadium, he will be glad to sit at an autograph table and sign for $25 or whatever $25 is worth in 20 years.
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When Topps released its 43rd annual Rookie All-Star team, I couldn't help but think what a truly top group it was. Of course, everyone is agog over Ichiro Suzuki and his lusty number of hits (242) and .350 batting average. As all fans know, many rookies who win top recognition have a way of fizzling. Others pan out quite nicely.
The Topps Rookie All-Star team began in 1959 with Willie McCovey being the first of nine future Hall of Famers named to the squad (others include Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Kirby Puckett, Tom Seaver and Billy Williams). The Rookie All-Stars each have a trophy on their 2002 card in Topps Baseball.
Yet, top rookies usually got a few more bucks at autograph shows because of solid first seasons. Yet, when I look at Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn and pitchers Roy Oswalt and C.C. Sabathia, there's no reason these fellas aren't going to string together outstanding years. A few extra bucks for autographs now may well be worth the investment. They are keepers.
Charles Kaufman, autograph columnist for the Sports Market Report, is also editor of Sweet Spot magazine, a bimonthly publication devoted to vintage and autographed sports memorabilia, and www.sweetspotnews.com.
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