Kevin’s Hot Corner

Mark McGwire Story

A few days after baseball’s 1998 regular season ended, I got a call from Whitey Ford’s oldest son, Tommy.  Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had both just surpassed Roger Maris’s record for most home runs hit in a season, 61, a mark that had stood for 37 years.  The home run chase that summer had been an epoch one that captured the nation’s attention.  Big Mac reached 61 and 62 first; however, who would finish the year with the most 4-baggers was not clear until almost the last game.  At the end, Sosa hit 66 but McGwire had banged out 70 to set the new record.

And it was the number “70” that Tommy was calling about….

“Kevin, you know Mark McGwire just beat Roger’s (Maris) home run record, finishing with 70, right?”

“Yes,” I responded. “Well,” Tommy continued, “Dad’s birthday is on the 21st of this month.  He turns 70.  The family and I have been talking about what to get him for his big day.  We want something really special for the occasion.  And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if we could give Dad a baseball from Mark McGwire signed and inscribed, ‘To Whitey, we both hit 70 in 1998.’ I know Dad would get a big kick out of that!  Can you help us make that happen?”

“I’m not sure, but I’ll try my best.”  I said.

The truth is, as much as I thought this was a great idea, I had no idea how to get to McGwire.  He was the country’s No.1 sports icon and at the top of his fame, with endless demands for his time and attention.  I already had a long waiting list of customers who had asked me to find them a McGwire signed baseball.  But he had not done an autograph signing in many years, and the supply of authentic examples in circulation was virtually nonexistent.  Anyone who had one, it seemed, was unwilling to sell.  To date, I had managed to find only one during the home run chase and had sold it for $1500—an astounding sum at the time for a living baseball player’s single-signed baseball. I might have sold a dozen more at that price, too, if I had them.  And of course, to get one with this special inscription was a whole different matter.

The Fords knew countless people in baseball, but for some reason they chose me to help with this special task, and I was determined not to let them down.  Besides, I figured that McGwire would likely be happy to accommodate the unique request, if only I could get to him.

After giving the matter considerable thought, I finally remembered that George Will had written the (now all-time) best-selling baseball book, Men at Work, in which he features Tony La Russa in “The Manager” chapter. La Russa was now McGwire’s manager.  By then I had also come to know George personally, and I knew that he and Tony had become good friends.  If anyone could help me, it was George.  So I phoned his assistant, Mary, who helped me set up an appointment to make my pitch.

When we met, I was still in my seat across from him when George speed-dialed Tony La Russa on his desk phone.  Clearly, George was delighted to participate in our endeavor, and so was Tony who agreed to help.  In less than a week the baseball pictured here arrived at my home in a Fedex box.  I immediately repackaged it and sent it to Tommy, who presented it to Whitey on his 70th birthday.  Shortly thereafter, Whitey called to thank me for my part in acquiring his special gift.

In 2008, Whitey decided to sell most of his baseball possessions, including this baseball, in an auction held in New York City during that year’s All-Star game festivities.  Regrettably, I missed winning it then. I thought I had forever lost a chance to own it until this year when it surfaced again for sale by a different auction company. I was determined to win it this time, and did.  Owing to its history and my small part in its origination, I am proud to have this ball now among the favorite items in my collection!

  • Joe DiMaggio

    (Born November 25, 1914, Martinez, California – Died March 8, 1999, Hollywood, Florida)

    “I’ll be happy to sign your photo.”

    Of the many players who signed through the mail in my youth, Joe DiMaggio was arguably the most iconic. As if his records, championships, and marriage to Marilyn Monroe were not enough, Simon and Garfunkel further immortalized the legend in one of my favorite songs, Mrs. Robinson, with the unforgettable line, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio…?”

    In fact, Joe had gone back to his native California, where he retired from baseball.

    I sent him a request with some items to sign, and to my surprise and delight he signed EVERYTHING I sent! Like countless other fans, I couldn’t get enough of Joe, so I repeated the process, sending him between five and ten items each time. The average turnaround back then for less famous Hall of Famers was about two weeks. But Joe’s return rate was dependably swift, usually within seven days. I found this remarkable, especially for someone of his stature, whose mail I surmised, was probably mountainous—not to mention other demands on his time. Still, by the time I left high school my collection boasted 70+ Joe DiMaggio autographs, more than any other player, and included one of my favorite pieces.

    In those days, getting high-quality images for signing was not easy, but I managed to find a gorgeous black-and-white 8” x 10” glossy photograph of Joe, which I bought for $1.00. The cost was no small sum for me, but I knew my investment would become a priceless possession once Joe added his name to it. I wasted no time sending it off with a special request for him to sign and personalize it to me. Like a boomerang, it was returned a few days later, beautifully signed with the sentiment, “To Kevin Best Wishes Joe DiMaggio.” It was instantly one of my most prized keepsakes, especially because Joe had personalized the image just as I had requested.

    Or did he?

    Years later, around 1990, I read that Joe DiMaggio had stopped answering his fan mail decades earlier, and the duty of signing Joe’s name to the endless stream of material that fans like me had been sending all that time was outsourced to his sister, Marie. Not surprisingly, the article stated that the chore of signing autographs for her brother was a “full-time” occupation. Marie was not only diligent in returning those items to their unwitting and thankful recipients as fast as a Joe D line-drive, she was also reasonably good at replicating his rather unremarkable writing style.

    Could it be that my coveted collection of Joe D material was, in fact, a hoard of “Marie DiMaggio” autographs masquerading as the Yankee Clipper’s? Say it ain’t so, Joe!

    The possibility prompted my first in-depth analysis of a player’s writing. Using samples I knew to be signed in person compared to those obtained through the mail (including my entire boyhood stockpile), I noticed subtle but distinct differences and consistent distinctions between the two groups. The examination was revealing, and my verdict was as disappointing as it was conclusive: Marie DiMaggio was the creator of all the “Joe DiMaggio” autographs I had received through the mail. Joe signed none of them, including my prized 8”x10”!

    Joe’s ghost autograph signed by his sister, Marie DiMaggio.

    This episode introduced me to the terms “ghost signed” and “secretarial” autographs. Neither are genuine as represented, but are instead nonmalicious forgeries created by a person who is authorized to sign someone else’s name. Both terms are often used interchangeably, since the signer in both cases is empowered to produce a nonauthentic signature. Forgeries, of course, are also nonauthentic signatures. Unlike their aforementioned counterparts, however, a forgery is unauthorized and created with malicious intent to deceive and/or defraud a third party.

    Forgers also do their best to mimic the autograph they try to replicate. A designated ghost signer may or may not attempt to copy the genuine signature style they are authorized to sign. Whether or not Marie consciously attempted to duplicate Joe’s signature, she was good at it. So good, in fact, that some of her work is still bought and sold today as her brother’s genuine autograph.

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    "Kevin Keating's love of baseball has a purity that matches its longevity. It has brought him into charming contacts with many of the sport's greatest stars. To read his charming stories is to experience first love a second time."
    - George F. Will, Author, Men at Work

    Waiting for a Sign Volume One

Sneak a Peek of Waiting for a Sign

Here is the enviable life story of this baseball superfan recounted in a mosaic of never-before-told stories resulting from his many autograph encounters and friendships made with some of the game’s biggest stars.