The Cracker Jack Old Timers Classic is giving me a lot of problems.
I collect autographs, so by all rights I should be thrilled at the prospect of having so many stars assembled at RFK Stadium on July 19 for the 8 p.m. game. Within two hours, I should be able to add handsomely to my collection. After painstakingly collecting 700 signatures, one at a time, I could get 67 more in one fell swoop.
But I don't know any of these players. Sure, I recognize the names: Aaron, Mays and Banks. But the players I want autographs from aren't fat and out of shape or aged and arthritic. In an 8x10 photograph, you don't age.
An old-timers game is not baseball at its finest, nor baseball's finest at their finest. But for an autograph collector, the game portrays the sport in both its best ( the opportunity to get a signature of a previously unattainable all-star) and worst lights.
Certainly, one of the best things about it from my point of view is the savings it represents. I collect autographs through the mail; for the past three years, I have written 10 letters a week to former stars.
This system brings me about a 90 percent return rate and a great appreciation for the cost of a stamp. Many former players take the time to write back (Hall of Famers Joe Sewell and Jocko Conlan each have written several times and even ask about my family). Stan Coveleski (Indians '20s) even sent an old jersey.
The signatures I have gotten from Aaron, Mays and Ted Williams don't thrill me as much as those from someone like Hal Newhouser, Murry Dickson or Ted Schrieber.
When I sent Schrieber, a little-used infielder with the 1962 Mets (not just any Mets, but the 1962 Mets), a baseball card to sign, he kept it and sent back a $10 check and letter explaining that he had never seen a baseball card of himself, and did I have one he could give his mother?
My system spares me the pain of reality. In my photos, Roger Maris stands at home plate, watching No. 61 clear the right field wall, bat loosely in his right hand and a hint of a smile.
The picture doesn't show him weighing 200-plus pounds and working as a sales representative for a Florida beer company.
Which brings us back to the upcoming game. The Warren Spahn I know is frozen in mid-delivery, peering over his right shoulder. If there is another one, I'm not sure I want to meet him. At least not in front of 30,000 people.