By FRANK BARNING
"You have to sign up for a table at the Plymouth, Michigan show," was a suggestion made by hobby friends when Baseball Hobby News started to become established in early 1979. That advice was heeded and it soon became an annual stop for Vivian and me.
Carol and Lloyd Toerpe ran the show and they would soon win their bid to host the second annual National Sports Collectors Convention the following summer. The 1979 three-day Plymouth show attracted approximately 7,000 people and other major shows were seeing a markedly larger interest from collectors.
Our little hobby was starting to take off. The growth spurt was helped by the interest of media, with TV crews appearing at the big shows. If a show made the evening news on Friday, large crowds for the weekend were virtually assured. It was an exciting time.
I have written in the blog about the first baseball card that I had ever seen, a 1951 Bowman Mickey Grasso in the spring of that year when I was 10-years of age. The first baseball autograph that I had ever witnessed was around the same time. It was on a scrap of paper signed by the Detroit Tigers' classy third baseman George Kell who retired in 1957. In 1979, Kell was in the midst of a nearly 35-year run as a Tigers broadcaster.
Kell signed autographs at our first Plymouth show and Carol Toerpe arranged for us to have the photo shown above taken with the future Hall of Famer who died at age 86 in 2009. It wasn't cool, but I just had to tell Kell that his was the first baseball autograph I ever saw. It belonged to Alan Hevesi, the older brother of my childhood friend Dennis Hevesi. Dennis has won a Pulitzer Prize while writing for The New York Times and Alan was a well known New York political figure.
Kell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1983. A memorable quote from his induction speech goes as follows: "I have always said that George Kell has taken more from this great game of baseball than he can ever give back. And now I know, I am deeper in debt than ever before."
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Our next blog story will be about meeting another Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer, Charlie Gehringer, at another Plymouth show.