Orel Hershiser and Bob Gibson: Opposite ends of the autograph spectrum

During Thanksgiving I got an early Christmas present when my sister gave me this autographed ball of Orel Hershiser. My sister works in the financial industry and she met Hershiser at a conference. Turns out he is involved with a company whose main line of business is providing – of all things – bridge loans of 90 to 120 days.

Of course anyone who has followed the Mets is all too familiar with the concept of bridge loans, as the club took one out last year. Regardless, Hershiser is more than just an ex-jock putting a highly visible face on a product. It turns out that he is one of the movers and shakers for the company. During this particular conference, my sister said that he got there at the crack of dawn and stayed the entire day.

When it was finally his company’s turn to present, Hershiser delivered a strong performance. My sister said he was either well-versed or well-coached. I told her that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was both. Hershiser always had a reputation of being an intelligent pitcher, one who succeeded at least as much with “smarts” as with “stuff.” And of course it’s easy to imagine that with his television work that he’s used to receiving coaching on how to present material verbally to an audience.

I have a pretty nice-sized baseball card collection but I never got much into autographs – basically for two reasons. My brother and I used to write to the ballplayers and request autographs through the mail with a SASE. We got a handful this way but we stopped this practice after we received a reply from Tom Seaver and compared it to the signature that was in the team’s yearbook. The signatures didn’t match up and it wasn’t even particularly close.

While that soured me on the process of collecting autographs through the mail, I would still try to get them at the ballpark. Generally this consisted of getting to the park early and then going down to the edge of the field and yelling obnoxiously at everyone in a uniform who walked by to come over and sign. And it’s not like it was just me – there were a bunch of kids right there with me doing the same exact thing.

I couldn’t put into words at the time what this phenomenon was all about – it’s just what we did. Looking back on it, for me it was never about the signature but instead it was about being next to the players. I’d so much rather have a picture of me next to Duffy Dyer than have a scribble of his on a piece of paper. Perhaps if it was a famous author – then you could pretend that you held a piece of his writing. But for a ballplayer?

The final nail in the coffin came several years later. The team’s program at this time contained a very nice picture of manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Gibson. Two former teammates were going to help turn things around as coaches of a particularly decrepit team. If memory serves, Gibson was not officially the pitching coach for Torre. Rather he was listed as the attitude coach. And as I can attest, Mr. Gibson certainly had an attitude.

I got Torre to sign my program before the game but Gibson would not come anywhere near the horde of us yelling for him. Undeterred, I stayed after the game, convinced that I could get Gibson’s autograph. There weren’t nearly as many people then and I was sure that once he saw that I was a diehard that he would be glad to oblige.

Back then, only a handful of people would stay after a game trying to catch signatures and you could stake out your own territory, at least until the point when you convinced someone to come over, at which point a crowd would develop. So, I had my space and continued the game.

I did succeed in getting Gibson’s attention and I even got a reaction. However, it was not a smile and an outstretched hand to take my pen. Rather it was a terse invitation to perform an impossible solo sexual act.

You could say I was surprised. If in the afterlife we get the chance to review moments of our just-completed life, I no doubt will go to this time to see if I cried or not. While I certainly heard the phrase before, I never heard it uttered by a grown man towards me. I’ve never asked anyone for an autograph since.

I’m glad to have this Hershiser autograph. It’s the first signed ball in my memorabilia collection and I think it’s a pretty nice display piece. It also prompted me to go back and review Hershisher’s tenure with the Mets. He only played a single season in Queens, but he gave the team everything it needed from a back-end starter, as he won 13 games and posted an ERA+ of 97 in 179 IP as a 40 year old.

That was the magical 1999 season, the one which while it ended with a playoff loss to the hated Braves, that nearly every fan remembers fondly. The 2000 team went further but it did so thanks to the mercenary Mike Hampton. The ’99 team seemed to be more fun. And Hershiser was part of the reason why.

Hershiser was not on the 2000 team that went to the World Series. Instead he left after 1999 to finish his career where it started, in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. It worked out good for the Mets, because in 10 games in LA, Hershiser went 1-5 with a 13.14 ERA before he retired in late June.

Now I’ll try to remember Hershiser fondly for his exploits with the Mets in 1999, rather than the pitcher who dominated them in the playoffs in 1988. That performance was so dominating that both of my parents – neither one a sports fan – recognized his name and asked if he was a Hall of Famer.

Hershiser also has a tie to the current Mets. After his playing career, he served as a pitching coach for the Texas Rangers, where he was one of the people responsible for turning R.A. Dickey into a knuckleball pitcher.


Addendum – My sister sends along the following information: “Hershiser Wealth Management Group. He was selling the Hershiser income fund, a first mortgage/trust deed fund.”

10 comments for “Orel Hershiser and Bob Gibson: Opposite ends of the autograph spectrum

  1. November 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Wow, what a tool bag.
    I remember trying to get Alex Escobar to sign during batting practice. He just smiled and kept going. Too bad his career didn’t go with him.
    Rick Reed signed one of my balls once. Unfortunately it was an absolutely disgusting ball and someone cleaned it in the sink. When I handed it to him, he looked at me and asked why it was so heavy. I guess pitchers are attuned to those minutia.

  2. November 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I’m surprised Reed didn’t ask you if you showered with the ball. I mean, outside of water, how else would it get so heavy?

  3. November 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    I guess I must of been standing next to you looking for any autograph.I remember my dad telling me you have to be forceful.There were about 10 kids shouting as the players walked by.My dad took the program guide away from me and shoved it right in front of Jerry Grote. To my amazement he stopped,took the pen from my dad and signed the program. He didn’t say a word and when he finished he just gave the program back to my dad and walked away.Interestingly I remeber the Mets were playing the Cards that evening and Tom Seaver was to face Bob Gibson. The Mets won the game 1-0. Even though it was a long time ago,some memories last a lifetime.

  4. Doug Parker
    November 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    The only autographed ball I’ve ever owned came by way of my sister as well. It was Rey Ordonez, or as she told me with some pride back on Xmas of ’98, “one of the stars of the Mets”…

  5. AJ
    November 24, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    I only collected one baseball autograph in my life. It was from Ed Kranepool, and he signed it for me at the “Father & Son Sports Night” at Our Lady Help of Christians church in Staten Island, on the night of January 7th, 1967. It was the only thing like that my Dad and I ever did together. The signature was on a piece of lined memo pad paper, which was later laminated in plastic to protect it. I still have it. I have no idea where it is, but I know for a fact I never threw or gave it away. I would have been 9 years old at the time, and when I stood next to Kranepool I couldn’t believe how big he was. He was like superman in my eyes. That was a magical night, not only because I got to stand next to a real live baseball player, but because I saw my Dad drink beer. He’s 92 years old now, and that was the only time I ever saw him drink alcohol of any type. He had one glass, and nursed it through the entire night’s proceedings. All the dads were drinking and some of them were getting boisterous, and I suspect my Dad had that beer just so he could sit in front of it and look like he was drinking, so as to avoid having people asking him if he needed a one.

    I’m like you, Brian – since that time of my life I never have cared about getting anybody’s autograph. But getting that one that night was a big deal, and I’ve always thought well of Ed Kranepool ever since.

    • Jay Simon
      November 25, 2012 at 2:14 am

      Can’t let a Bob Gibson and The Mets story go by without mentioning that it was Bob Gibson and Joe Torre, who were evaluating a certain pitcher the Mets had drafted in the 12th round of the 1981 draft out of high school (Lenny Dykstra was drafted in the 13th) at The Astrodome. Clemens remembers Gibson shrugging and walking away, seemingly unimpressed. Clemens wanted a $25,000 bonus. Gibson and Torre told management that the pitcher was not worth the bonus. Mets made an offer, but not enough to get him not to go to the University of Texas and he then get drafted in the first round two years later by Boston.

      So thanks to Bob Gibson the Mets in 1984 (OK, if Clemens were around, I doubt would have also brought up Gooden just yet), on, rotation was not Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens (and Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda).

    • Jay Jay SimonSimon
      November 25, 2012 at 3:05 am

      I also should mention Joe Torre/Bob Gibson were the manager and pitching coach combo when Tim Leary blewout his arm on a cold spring day in Chicago in 1981.

      And that is probably why Dwight Gooden’s first start was in the Houston Astrodome.

  6. Cards fan
    November 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Grown men don’t ask other men for autographs. How hospitable do you think Hershiser would be if his life was anything like Bob Gibson’s? Next time I see Hershiser, I’ll ask him to please give up the broadcast booth? We’d all be a little happier and he’d have more time for autographs.

    • November 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Cards fan – thanks for reading and commenting.

      Just for clarification – I was a teenager, not a grown man, when I asked for Gibson’s autograph.

      I have no doubt that Gibson experienced a lot of horrible stuff in his life. That doesn’t excuse him for being miserable to a kid who had nothing to do with any bad thing that ever happened to him. He could have just ignored me like he did earlier in the day. Instead, because there were no adults around, he decided to be a prick.

      I met Minnie Minoso once. I’m willing to bet that Minoso experienced just as much bad stuff – if not more – than Gibson. And you know what? Minoso couldn’t have been any nicer.

      • Chris Water
        November 26, 2012 at 10:43 pm

        Gibson was and is a total jerk and is probably a sociopath, no matter how much Torre and McCarver and the like try to paint him as a misunderstood individual. There is no excuse for being so much of a prick to a kid. Dick Allen is criticized a lot, but if one was polite in asking, he always was very nice in his response.
        Gibson really has no excuse, which is really sad because he is a bright guy and very sharp if he gets that huge chip off his shoulders.

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