October 20, 2011
Part 2 - Hobby history: Card show promoters paid Mickey Mantle a shockingly high $1,000 per hour in New York in 1978.
By FRANK BARNING
Our October 1 story is continued here. "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. It shocked collectors and dealers because few of us imagined that the hobby could support a baseball card show with such a high-priced autograph signer.
In early 1978, Long Islander Tom Catal and his friends Bob Ragonese and Vinnie Trocino had gotten together to trade baseball cards. All of a sudden, they decided to promote a show, something they had not done previously.
Catal's opinion was that to have a successful show on Long Island," we had to have a superstar as an attraction." Back then, show promoters and collectors were happy to have former or current players from the local major league team as autographers. The concept usually worked, but Catal had a vision of the future that just about no one else had.
Catal called Pete Rose and also considered Willie Mays, his boyhood idol. The final decision was that The Mick would be the best drawing card considering the location he and his friends (and soon to be partners) had in mind. The venue would be Hofstra University on Long Island, where the New York Jets had trained for many years.
Through the New York Yankees, Catal obtained the phone number of Mantle's agent in Dallas. They discussed Mantle's fee and Catal brought back the $1,000 per hour figure to Ragonese and Trocino.
"We talked it over, decided that we would try it, and we did it," reported Catal. Mantle signed a contract for three hours and a total of $3,000. Those numbers was shockingly way beyond anything our hobby had ever experienced.
Mantle appeared on Saturday, September 9, 1978. A total of 1,800 people attended and another 700 on the Mantle-less Sunday. A newspaper strike in New York City hurt attendance. Catal lamented, "It might have cost us 1,000 admissions. It wasn't a financial bonanza for us. We broke about even." But they established themselves in the hobby as people who could run a big-time quality show.
In this day and age, more than 30 years later, it is difficult to imagine that a Mantle autograph was only $3 per person. At the time, it was reportedly the highest in hobby history. Twenty five or so people complained about the price and the partners graciously cut the figure for large families. One man came with 18 children, but they weren't all his. "He borrowed most of them and got 18 things signed," Catal reported.
"Mickey seemed to have a good time at the show. In fact, he signed for an extra 45 minutes and didn't charge us for the time." It was the beginning of a business relationship and friendship between Mantle and Catal that would survive for many years.
There was some fear on the part of the promoters that Mantle would not show up at Hofstra. Obviously he did, but we will tell you about their apprehension in part 3 of "Mantle signs for $1,000 per house in New York". Stay tuned.
Coincidentally, today would have been Mickey Mantle's 80 birthday. He passed away in Dallas on August 13, 1995 at age 63.