People like to help, but maybe it’s getting out of hand
By Adele Cooke
Users of our website www.vipaddress.com are often big-time collectors of celebrity autographs. One way collectors can add to their collections is through auctions of memorabilia at celebrity auctions.
Paying for autographs is an increasing phenomenon in the autograph field. You can pay beaucoup bucks for signed memorabilia from hundreds of autograph dealers or auction houses. And hopping on the pay-for-an-autograph bandwagon are many, many charities.
In some cases you might be asked to pay directly to a celebrity. If you collectors pay directly to a v.i.p., you might not mind the fee if you know it goes to a worthwhile charity. A few celebrities – including some of the real superstars in the entertainment and sports fields – ask for donations to their favorite charity in return for an autographed item.
I have personally never minded this aspect of a famous person asking their public to help worthwhile causes, but recently I, along with a number of other collectors, are beginning to wonder if it might not be getting out of hand.
The late baseball manager Sparky Anderson may well have been trying for an all-time record several years ago when he scheduled an auction of baseball uniforms and equipment – some of which were to be autographed – as part of a $500,000 scheme to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and the children’s wing at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. The auction of game-worn and autographed jerseys, bats, caps, balls and other equipment was targeted as part of an overall $2.5 million campaign in support of the two hospitals.
Average collectors, as opposed to people or corporations with big bankrolls, should cast a concerned eye at the operation. After all, how many collectors are willing, or have the ability, to pay $1,000 for a jersey of Reggie Jackson … or Pete Rose … or Wade Boggs … or any superstar in any sport? I don’t know how much Anderson raised with his auction, but it was too rich for my blood.
Cynics may acknowledge that worthwhile charities are one thing, but how long, they might, and should, ask before dealers start asking comparable prices and superstars start reaching for the extra bucks for signed items when they show up at shows?
It won’t be long before we see ads and hear sales pitches from autograph dealers that Joe Superstar’s signed cap, uniform, bat or glove or an Oscar-winning actor’s signed scripts or clothing worn in a movie are going for thousands of dollars “so we’d better buy it cheap (for slightly less than it recently was sold at such-and-such auction) because it surely will go up in value.”
EVENTS AND CHARITIES
Even though All-Star games are generally meaningless as sporting events, we’ve all gone out to All-Star baseball games which help raise money for major league pensions, charity-sponsored garden parties to shake hands and ask for autographs, college All-Star football games which bring in funds for the Shriners’ crippled children hospitals and even All-Star basketball games sponsored by people like Magic Johnson (to raise money for the United Negro College fund) and Byron Scott (to help Camp Ronald McDonald).
But there’s a big difference in asking the average collector who has limited funds to pay $5 or $10 for a signed photo or $15 for a signed ball and asking her or him to pay $1,000 for a signed jersey or $100 for a seat at a sporting event (in which one usually can’t get to the athletes to ask for even a single autograph).
The late Football Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes readily sent out signed items, but then asked collectors to send along a $5 donation to the Woody Hayes Cancer Fund in care of the Ohio State Athletic Department. Fighting cancer is indeed a worthwhile cause (it took Woody’s life) but Hayes sent the signed photo first and asked in an accompanying letter for the donation. Not many superstars have such courtesy to, or trust in, their fans. The late baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg asked $5 donations to the Pet Adoption Fund, an organization which saves lives of homeless animals and finds people to adopt them.
Many celebrities think along these lines. Former baseball stars Johnny Vander Meer and Dom DiMaggio asked a $5 fee for each item signed and requested that checks be made out to the Falls Church Virginia Ole Timers Baseball Association, a group which assists in medical costs for retired players in financial need.
Are there others doing similar things? You bet there are, and their ways – and the charities which they try to help – are a real variety. The bottom line, though, is that you pay for the autograph – and some, if not all, of the money goes to charities or worthwhile projects.
Signed photos of Rollie Fingers are often advertised for $10 and a portion of the fee goes to the Help for the Brain Injured Children charity.
Pitcher Jerry Reuss sells color 8x10s of himself for $5 with all proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And when the checks are made out to the cystic fibrosis charity, fees are tax deductible. The foundation also holds annual silent auctions. One auction a few years ago included signed balls from Joe DiMaggio, Darryl Strawberry and Sandy Koufax, an autographed bat from Tim Raines, a bat signed by the Cincinnati Reds and team autographed jerseys.
A sports memorabilia show in Los Angeles brought out two of sports all-time greats to sign autographs. Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the headliners at a show in which some of the money went to the Jewish Big Brothers of Los Angeles County.
Sparky Anderson said “all” money from his charity auction went to the Detroit hospitals.
But there’s a big difference in an autograph for $3, $5 or $10 and an autographed Jackson jersey for more than $1,000. Maybe someone should think of a way in which sports stars can offer a little charity to the average, less affluent collector!
One of the more unusual approaches to charity was in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in which neckties autographed by members of the Milwaukee Brewers were auctioned to help raise funds for the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Project in nearby Neillsville. Signed tie collectors coughed up some $3,500 for the project. For those interested in details, a tie signed by 20-game winning pitcher Teddy Higuera received the highest bid at $405. The charity show’s promoters deserve a lot of praise for a novel idea which not only aided a good cause but also does not contribute to inflation of prices for average collectors of limited means.