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By FRANK BARNING
"Mantle signs for $1,000 per hour in New York" was the front-page banner headline on the April 1979 issue of Baseball Hobby News.
Readers were, to put it mildly, shocked that the promoters would pay anyone that much. Some thought them to be "crazy" because Mickey Mantle was signed to appear for three hours. Including the Hall of Famer's fee plus other overhead, the promoters had approximately $10,000 at risk.
The BHN story referred to the great Mantle's first two baseball card appearances. The first was at Hofstra University on Long Island, my alma mater by the way, on September 9, 1978.
His second show was on April 1, 1979 at the Prince George Hotel in New York City. We were fortunate to have attended both of these events which were significant in the history of the hobby. Probably encouraged by the success of the Mantle shows, Jim Cumpton and John Mehlin soon hired Joe DiMaggio to appear in Kansas City. They contracted with Mantle for their August 1980 Kansas City convention.
Over the years that followed, Mantle and DiMag went on to make more money signing autographs than they had earned playing baseball. Mantle appeared at numerous shows over the following years and was usually a gracious guest, especially with kids. His adult sons sometimes came with him, often having a dealer table and selling photos of their illustrious father.
DiMaggio, always immaculately dressed, was as cold as an iceberg, hardly ever making eye contact with fans. He made money for promoters but tried to squeeze every dollar he could out of them and always demanded first-class airplane tickets. "I had him several times," a Pennsylvania promoter complained. "He never once asked about me or my family. Other superstars, such as Tom Seaver, were very personal and seemed interested in who I was, not just how much money I could pay them."
Despite different people skills, collectors who paid for autograph tickets and then stood on line at Mantle and DiMaggio shows, were thrilled to have the opportunity. If you were interested in investment value, those early show autographs were a bargain.
The "Mantle Shows" as they became known back then, were the creation of Long Islanders Tom Catal, Bob Ragonese and Vinnie Trocino. Tony Spaneo and Harmon Cooper soon became part of the group. Catal, who had been a minor league pitcher, was the lead guy and at the time a close friend of mine because of our collecting interests.
I remember standing with him at his first Mantle show, at Hofstra, prior to Mantle's arrival. He was as nervous as a bridegroom a few minutes before his wedding. Catal was scared to death that the great Yankee would be a no show and that refunds to the long line of collectors would have to be made, plus his table holders would have screamed. The Mick did arrive on schedule and for the hobby the rest is history.
Our next blog post, or maybe the one after that, will be the highlights of the BHN "Mantle signs for $1,000 per hour in New York" story. You will not believe how inexpensive autograph tickets and dealer table prices were.