By Chuck Kaufman
utograph collectors will be flocking to shows featuring Peyton Manning this spring. Could it be that the quarterback the world has been waiting for, the one for the ages, the next Unitas, has finally arrived? Manning generally has always piled up the yards, but most remarkably, perhaps, is he's the first quarterback to throw 25 touchdown passes in six consecutive seasons. And now he has team success to complement those individual stats. That's the kind of performance that makes a regional star into a sports legend.
Just as Manning is taking off, Brett Favre simply continues to soar. He has seven seasons with 30 or more touchdowns and just eclipsed Unitas for career touchdowns to move into second place all-time, behind Dan Marino. Favre does plenty of signings and even has his own website to peddle an assortment of autographed memorabilia. On the other side of the ball, Bruce Smith has become pro football's all-time sack leader, but he may not get autograph market share until he's inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sacks are explosive plays, but they're subtle accomplishments, like middle relievers with low earned run averages.
John Elway and Barry Sanders, lock Hall of Famers for this summer's induction ceremonies in Canton, have long been desirable additions to football autograph collections. Indeed, they are all-time greats or, as we like to call them, players of the ages. But the list of 25 modern-era semifinalists includes others that have the credentials and stats that support election into pro football's shrine. Without going into all of the minutiae, we offer only their names. The reasons for their election should be obvious, otherwise they'd be undeserving of Canton consideration.
They are: Ray Guy, heck, the award for top punter is named for him; Rayfield Wright, Dallas Cowboys tackle and perennial pro-bowler; Roger Wehrli, St. Louis Cardinals defensive back; and George Young, administrator, general manager, scout and coach with the Giants, Colts and Dolphins. Meanwhile, Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is years away from Hall of Fame consideration, but he joined a far more exclusive club by entering the 2000-yard season club. The club could have more members as it requires averaging 125 yards per game. That's no small feat, but given the monster games that some of today's finest runners have, it's clearly reachable. Current membership includes Sanders (1997), O.J. Simpson (1973), Eric Dickerson (1984) and Terrell Davis (1998)
Trades have a way of breaking up great pitching staff. Of course, Andy Pettitte's trade to the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens' retirement mean an extreme makeover for the Yankees. More radical is the staff of the Atlanta Braves, now that Greg Maddux has left the South. Only John Smoltz remains from the staff that also included Tom Glavine, among a few others whose stints with the Braves were stellar but short.
For collectors who often view sports as time capsules, these developments set the stage for future reunion shows. Imagine one show with the pitching staffs of the heyday Yanks and Braves. What a Cy Young Awards ball that will be. In a related note, the Cy Young notation apparently is popular with autograph collectors. Notations such as Maddox's "4 X C.Y." have attracted winning bids in the $200 range on the Major League Baseball website. Pedro Martinez's "3 X CY" notation" and strong vertical signature took bidding to $350. No doubt Clemens "6 X CY" notation will test the marketplace during the spring and summer.
Speaking of Greg Maddox, known for pinpoint pitching, the future Hall of Fame pitcher always has had one of the most illegible (read: worst) autographs in baseball. It's maturing to a new point of minimalism. When you encase a signed baseball in one of those plastic boxes, make sure to label it "G. Maddux." Otherwise, years later, you or your beneficiaries will never guess who signed that ball. Yeah, it's that bad.
Are you looking for autographs among the newest crop of future stars? Last year, the folks who project star rookies noted Hideki Matsui, Hee Seop Choi and Mark Teixiera, but flying under their radar were Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. So, where's collector interest among new players as the 2004 season approaches? Scott Jordan of Just Minors, a Georgia company that targets top minor leaguers for collectibles, said autograph seekers this year are most excited about Joe Mauer and B.J. Upton.
Mauer gives the Minnesota Twins some security at catcher. He was the top pick of the 2001 draft and a Minor League Player of the Year. Upton, the first overall pick in the 2002 draft, ended his first year out of high school at AA.
Other players worth watching and pursuing are Dallas McPherson, power-hitting third baseman with the California Angels; Jeff Rancoeur, outfielder with the Atlanta Braves, Delmon Young of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Jeremy Reed, outfielder with the Chicago White Sox, Alexis Rios, an outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Laynce Nix of the Texas Rangers.
Chuck 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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