One of the most fun things about looking through my childhood autograph collection is remembering the stories which accompany those autographs and recognizing how those stories often reflect the time in which I acquired the signatures. When I was in Philadelphia in 1989, while Will Clark was the star face of the franchise, Kevin Mitchell was the breakout star everyone was excited about. And for good reason. Kevin had a monster 1989—especially if home runs and RBIs are your thing—and he and Clark were a fantastic team in the three and four spot in the lineup.
I optimistically brought two Mitchell cards with me to Philadelphia. One was his 1987 Topps rookie card* the other was his 1989 Score. As I camped out in the lobby along with the rest of the autograph seekers, I was one of the few Bay Area locals so with the lesser-known players I often was the first to react. But we were all looking and waiting for Kevin and I would’t have any advantage there.
*I never really considered the Traded cards true rookie cards. And even in the height of the RookieRookieRookie craziness, I didn’t buy in to chasing rookie cards as some sort of investment. I did however like the idea of getting rookie cards signed.
When Kevin did finally appear in the lobby—he was the last player to leave the hotel—it was obvious to everyone that he wasn’t going to stop or sign. He had that determined look and hasty walk and I don’t think anyone dared to even approach him until he’d gone most of the way through the lobby. It took a beautiful woman to asked him first. And he stopped. Of course he stopped. And then the crowd descended and he signed and signed and signed for everyone. I got my Topps card and went back in two more times, once for my Score card and then once again for the team ball.
I was, of course, super pleased with myself. THREE Kevin Mitchell signatures! And then my mom, and some of the other adults who were watching everything too, chided me for missing Hank Aaron. Unbeknownst to me, there was also an Equitable Old Timers game that weekend and Hank Aaron, cagey veteran that he was, had used the mob surrounding Kevin as cover to slip out of the lobby unbothered by anyone.
This put a damper on my mood that weekend and it took me a long time to accept my choices. My mom felt bad about teasing me too. I was 11 and Kevin was legitimately one of my heroes at the time. It’s easy to snark on kids being ignorant of the past. It’s much harder to accept that today’s heroes are the ones that resonate.
Do I wish I’d gotten Hank Aaron’s autograph instead of Kevin Mitchell’s? Sometimes. Still. But Kevin’s is the most 1989 of anything I got that trip. The story is better this way too.