Autographs have always been an extremely popular collectible. In many cases, they give a person a firsthand experience with the signer and make a nice keepsake.
Collectors come from all walks of life. Doctors, lawyers, policemen, office workers, handymen, and journalists collect.
The Diamondbacks have several collectors, two of whom are among the most rabid in baseball. Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson are known to save some autographs and other collectibles. But, when it comes to collections, Carlos Baerga and Mike Myers are the real champs.
"I've been collecting ever since I came to the major leagues," said Baerga, who made his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1990. "I have a lot in my house in Puerto Rico. I have stuff from Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Pete Rose and a lot of other players."
In his locker at Bank One Ballpark, Baerga has a 16-by-20-inch color photo signed by Rose and an 8-by-10 of Johnson in a batting pose that he signed. Baerga said he also has a jersey autographed by Rose who, on Aug. 9, was in the Valley for a card show appearance.
"I just try to collect the history of the game," Baerga said. "I've had the opportunity to play with guys like Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray and Paul Molitor. You never know who's going to make the Hall of Fame."
For Myers, who grew up idolizing the Chicago Cubs, collecting has been a big thing since childhood.
"I was a real die-hard Cubs fan," Myers said. "I still am one. One of my favorite autographs is a photo of (Hall of Famer) Hack Wilson. He's getting brushed back, he's leaning back. My grandfather loved him. I heard all kinds of stories about Hack Wilson. He was one of my favorites.
"I have a ball signed by Sandy Koufax, and I was able to talk to him. I always liked Steve Carlton when I was growing up, and I met him at a charity event and got him to sign something.
"I don't have Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb yet. I'm waiting for the perfect thing to come along. Usually, the perfect thing is a little expensive."
Some things are priceless, such as the moment Myers had after getting an autograph from Rose at that show.
"I was talking to him and, out of the blue, he goes 'So, all right, how would you pitch me?' " Myers said. "I said 'Probably the same way I do everyone else — just throw it up there and hope you hit it at somebody.' That was a neat moment."
Baerga agrees that collecting will help him remember his major league career. But, he has extended his hobby beyond baseball.
"I have footballs, helmets, bats, jerseys, all kinds of stuff in all sports," he said. "I have a Michael Jordan signed jersey. I got a ball signed by Ted Williams. I have a painting signed by many of the 500 home run club and a lot of them have died.
"Not that many people know how special collecting is to some players. To have a restaurant like Gonzo's or a nice office or home filled with it where people can come and say 'Wow, look at all this stuff!' is fun. It's all a great thing to have. I can look back when I'm retired and have the memories. It's a great thing to pass along to your children, too."
Not all items players collect are of the all-time greats. Take one of Myers' favorite pieces.
"A guy I watched growing up at Wrigley Field was Ivan DeJesus," Myers said. "I have a ball signed by him. He was my favorite player, No. 11 at shortstop for the Cubs. He was coaching in the Florida State League when I was down there for rehab. I was able to talk to him and tell him he was my favorite Cub, and he was blown away. Meeting him like that was great."
Player-collectors have empathy for fans who seek autographs. They realize that not everyone who wants an autograph is a dealer, especially if a person only tries to get an athlete to sign one item.
"I understand exactly where collectors are coming from," Myers said. "I wouldn't want a player I go up to and ask for an autograph to say no, either. I try to accommodate as many people as I can. I know we don't have all the time in the world to do it, but I try to take five to 10 minutes and sign and talk to people."
Baerga agrees. "I realize all the stuff people have to go through to get an autograph today," he said. "They want to meet their favorite player and get something signed. There's nothing wrong with that. I have a lot of things signed by Roberto Clemente, but he died when I was 2 years old. I wish I could have gotten him to sign something in person. That's a great part of it."
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