Throughout the last few years, I have had the honor to meet approximately two-thirds of the living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Often, I meet this legendary gentlemen at card shows, where, of course, they are required to charge fees for their autographs. However, at other events, I have witnessed some of the living immortals of Cooperstown signing autographs-absolutely free of charge.
Of course, there are some Hall of Famers who either make very few public appearances, or are not willing to sign for free. Here, for your reading pleasure, are the men who WILL sign for free-if you know where and when to ask.
REGGIE JACKSON: "Mr. October" has never really been the friendliest man in baseball, but he will still reluctantly sign autographs for his admirers. Jackson works as an advisor for the Yankees, and he travels with the team on some of their more crucial road trips. Also, for those of you who will be here in New York, he typically will be in town for the Yankees' weekend series at home. When it comes to autographs, Jackson will sign almost any item you want him to-on one condition. He will sign ONE ITEM EACH-and just his name, no inscriptions.
AL KALINE: While the great Tigers outfielder works as an advisor to the general manager, he does not travel on road trips. At spring training, however, Kaline is in attendance for every practice and game. Unfortunately, he can be quite prickly at times. He will not sign bats or jerseys, and when I asked him to add an "HOF 80" inscription, he yelled-and I quote: "Write it your damn self." Other than this, however, Kaline will almost guaranteeably sign-no matter how grouchy he may seem.
JOHNNY BENCH: One of the most iconic catchers in baseball history, Bench doesn't have any official affiliation with a team. He makes many appearances at motivational speeches and charity events, however. He will sign anything you ask him to, with any inscription-but don't expect him to be very talkative, or to sign more than two items tops.
JOE MORGAN: Another legendary member of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine", Morgan spent the past 20 years as a broadcaster for ESPN before his sudden dismissal earlier this year. When he was arriving at the ballpark for a broadcast, he would always sign. However, Morgan would insist on personalizing-and THAT would be the inscription, no statistics or awards.
GARY CARTER: I debated whether or not I should put Carter on this list. He is the baseball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and the team travels throughout Florida. But while he is one of the friendliest athletes you would ever want to meet, and will sign most items free of charge in person, he does charge a $25 fee to sign a baseball card, which he donates to a variety of charities. I must add, sadly, that Carter is suffering from brain cancer at the present time-however, there is hope as his tumors have shrank. Baseball fans everywhere should keep him in their thoughts.
BERT BLYLEVEN: The newest Hall of Famer, Blyleven is currently a color commentator for the Twins. He is also a guest coach at the team's spring training workouts. He will only sign at the hotel during the regular season-never at the ballpark. The good news, though, is that Blyleven is extremely gracious and kind, willing to sign multiple items, and will pose for pictures and joke with fans for what seems like ages. He does personalize every item he signs to avoid sale, but he will sign inscriptions. Before his induction, many asked him to sign "3701 K's", one of the highest strikeout totals in league history. Now, of course, "HOF 2011" will probably be more popular. For his kindness, Blyleven is "hereby circled."
JIM PALMER: The legendary Orioles pitcher is currently a broadcaster for the team, and broadcasts about half of the team's games each year, splitting color duties with Mike Flanagan. Palmer is a complete gentleman all the way. He will sign anything, everything, inscriptions, the whole nine yards. Sometimes when there is a crowd, and he doesn't have time to sign for everyone, Palmer will even hold mock trivia contests regarding his career. The prize, of course, is a signature from a Hall of Fame pitcher with a Hall of Fame personality.
RALPH KINER: Kiner has been the voice of the Mets since there have been the Mets-the only baseball broadcaster to stick with a team longer is the great Vin Scully with the Dodgers. These days, due to his age and health, Kiner only broadcasts home games-and usually only one or two per month. When he does show up to Citi Field, he is willing to sign for everyone, time permitting. His handwriting can get shaky though, especially on bats and baseballs. I would recommend asking him to sign a flat item to make it easier for him. Either way, Kiner is a class act that is rarely seen in baseball these days.
TOMMY LASORDA: While the former Dodgers manager doesn't travel with the team every series, he is still a regular, and will sign autographs willingly. However, at spring training, Lasorda is unique, as I haven't seen that many legends of his stature set up a table every day just so he can sign autographs. He will always accommodate the waiting children first, and it's a very special moment to see his rapport with the youngsters. Lasorda just may be the nicest Hall of Famer of them all.
DON SUTTON: The ace on Lasorda's pitching staff for many years, Sutton is now the radio voice of the Braves. At the hotel, he will ask the waiting fans to form a single-file line so he can sign autographs. Before signing, he announces to the fans that he will sign one per person, and if he catches somebody sneaking back on line, he will head onto the bus immediately. After stating the rules, Sutton is so warm toward his admirers, making jokes with everyone, asking fans about their lives, and posing for pictures. And, of course, when I asked him about where he learned to deal with his fans with such class, he immediately said "Tommy Lasorda." Yeah, that's pretty accurate!
Just to let you all know, if you're uncertain about whether or not a certain legend will be traveling with the team in your town, most Hall of Famers, and definitely all broadcasters, register at the hotel under their own names. You can always call the switchboard and ask for the person. They often won't answer in their rooms-but at least you know the "trick!"