My first one was from Walt “No-Neck” Williams of the White Sox. Then four Chicago Blackhawks: Bobby Hull (a real boyhood hero), Tom Reid (who was forced to retire due to contracting Gunk), Gilles Marotte and Bobby Schmautz. They were followed quickly by Chicago Bears legends Gale Sayers (the best running back ever…until the injury) and the late Brian Piccolo (“heart of a giant”). I’m talking about philography — the hobby of collecting autographs.
I’m not a professional collector, a serious collector or really even a collector of autographs at all. But I do have a fair number of them that I saved over the years as a keepsake or reminder of a brush with greatness or some other interaction with a well known person.
Like any kid I would stand along the rail at Comiskey Park whenever players were signing before games (they used to do that, really). That’s how I got No-Neck’s autographs — plural, several times. He would sign with a large “W” and then stack “alt” above “illiams” next to the “W”. He didn’t sign “No-Neck”… I don’t think he liked the nickname.
According to Wikipedia, Williams got his nickname as a result of a typhoid injection as a baby:
“Williams was nicknamed No-Neck due to his relatively short stature (5 feet 6 inches) combined with a muscular, compact torso and a short neck. His odd physical appearance was the result of a typhus injection he received as a baby. After his hometown of Brownwood was hit by a flood, the government gave typhus injections to prevent the spread of the disease. Williams was so muscular even as a baby that, they couldn't reach a vein except in the back of his neck. He developed a crick in his neck, which then stiffened and shrank.”
But No-Neck was always willing to sign and I’m sure that, along with his diminutive size (5-feet-6) and catchy nickname, was part of the reason he was a fan favorite. It surely wasn’t due to his .232 batting average while playing for my White Sox.
The Blackhawk as described by Shorewood’s own Lloyd Pettit were my favorite team in any sport as a kid. So the autographs I received including the legendary Golden Jet before a 1968 game against Montreal were pretty special. I stood on the edge of the boards and held the program over the glass, while players shuffled along during pre-game signing their names.
During that game a fan behind me pointed out Sayers and Piccolo sitting two rows back. It was a Sunday night and they had played earlier that day. The running backs later immortalized in Brian’s Song were kind enough to sign my Blackhawks souvenir program, which has sadly disappeared.
I later secured penned proof of my meeting Sox utility infielders Syd O’Brien and Bee Bee Richard as well as “Fat Tub of Goo” Terry Forster and many other White Sox players from the late 1960s and early 1970s. I also received a couple celebrity signatures not intended as autographs. Late Blackhawks center Pit Martin sold his personal complimentary tickets to my dad and my mom gave me the endorsed check, which he signed by his given name of “Hubert”. A series of exchanged letters with former White Sox owner Bill Veeck were a lifetime thrill signed by the immortal baseball maverick.
Veeck’s Corner is a featured part of famed Chicago eatery Miller’s Pub, which has the best public collection of celebrity autographed 8 x 10 glossies I’ve ever seen. Many of the hundreds of photos feature Millers Pub’s Jimmy Gallios and Nick Kladis with celebrities that dined on their famous ribs at Miller’s in the '60s and '70s. One of my favorites is a dolled up photo of longtime White Sox organist Nancy Faust. The walls of Milwaukee’s 4th Base Tavern are also lined with vintage sports memorabilia including many autographed photographs.
I stopped asking for autographs in 1978 when as an 18-year-old I felt uncomfortable asking White Sox Afro-enhanced designated hitter Oscar Gamble for his signature. Standing outside the Comiskey Park locker room Gamble looked at me after the request with an expression of “aren’t you a bit old for this?” He signed, but that was pretty much it for my autograph asking.
I’ve received some autographs since then, but they’ve been acquired as gifts. Without asking, I’ve received autographed 8 x 10 glossies of television actors I’ve promoted at Milwaukee Wave games. Dawn Wells (Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann), Brandon Cruz (Courtship of Eddie’s Father Eddie), Ken Osmond (Leave It to Beaver’s Eddie Haskel) and Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster) were wonderful to work with and their signed personalized photos bring back good memories whenever I see those pictures.
Alley Mills (Norma Arnold, "Wonder Years") and Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks) were a little less gracious and the memories are less special, but their autographed photos are still around here somewhere.
I was reminded of these photos last week when I randomly saw autographed pictures of legendary Wisconsin race car driver Dick Trickle in not one, but two different businesses in the SAME day! In the morning I saw Dick’s signed pic along with signed photos of Arie Luyendyk, Lyn St. James, Tony Stewart and other racers in Prestige Auto Works’ waiting room. There was also a large autographed Brett Favre poster … but that’s been relegated to a dark corner away from regular traffic.
That waiting room, by the way, is one of the best rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure to wait in. Along with the many autographed photos, they have complimentary soda, coffee, hot chocolate, Oreos and assorted snacks. Prestige offers complimentary use of a computer and cable television, a children’s play area all in a comfortable setting. I was a little disappointed when they said my car was ready!
Later that day I found myself at Champion’s Chicken on the northwest side. Along with delicious chicken and a very large chicken statue, Champion Chicken boasts a fine collection of autographed race car driver photos. Included in the display is a framed Slinger Speedway flyer autographed by stock car legends Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Rickie Bickle, Chris Wimmer, Scott Wimmer and, of course ... Dick Trickle.
Other highlights of my week:
- Following up on my about sign mistakes, I found two more this week. Driving through the rural Kenosha County town of Kansasville, WI, I discovered that its official entering-town sign is misspelled as “Kanasville”. On the East Side of Milwaukee I noticed that Gilbert’s Liquor Store on Oakland Avenue was “Establised” in 1917 … oops.
- The Whitefish Bay Holiday Stroll / Parade was a blast Friday night. It featured a team of basset hounds — the last of which was a bit too tubby to make it more than a block, real reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, Gussie, a clown who scared a cute little girl next to me and the Dancing Grannies! The stroll was followed by pony and train rides and open houses at various businesses on Silver Spring Drive. The entertainment included performances by very talented red-capped Nutcracker dancers from the Milwaukee School of Ballet appropriately at Red Cap Luggage & Gifts and a really good vibraphone and steel drum combo in Winkie’s basement, aka Heaven on Earth!