Signature performances: athletes' writing wrongs

You'll get your autograph, but don't expect service with smile from these stars

Sports Plus

August 11, 2002|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

Sam King of the Sunday Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., tells a story of a time he asked ESPN announcer Dick Vitale for three autographs.

As Vitale rapidly wrote them out, he asked King what he was going to do with them.

"He turned a bit red, wadded them up and tossed them on the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center when I told him I could trade them for one autograph of Tim Brando," King recalled, referring to another TV broadcaster.

King enjoyed his little joke, which he played in different versions on former baseball manager Tom Lasorda and bass fisherman John Fox, and was entertained by the celebrities' colorful responses.

But most of the time when people ask for autographs, they're doing it in earnest, and when they're brushed off, the snub can sting. It can sting even more when they've just paid a fee to stand in line for the right to get the signature.

Tom Bunevich, who ran autograph shows for 14 years before leaving the business in 1997, has just written a book called Sign This. From it, here are his 10 biggest jerks, with a brief synopsis from the New York Post's Phil Mushnick:

1. Willie Mays: Doesn't bother to make eye contact or even brief conversation with customers. Only there for the dough and he doesn't care who knows it - even if he leaves lifelong worshippers ex-worshippers.

2. Rickey Henderson: Slows his signing pace so that he can be paid OT for those still in line. Doesn't meet the terms of his engagement.

3. Errict Rhett: Walks away from lines for frequent social and bathroom breaks. Once in the house, changes appearance terms to pocket extra cash.

4. Mike Schmidt: Creates a cold, calculated autograph assembly line. No dialogue, no eye contact. "He just wanted to get things over with and get out of there."

5. Darryl Strawberry: His signature became just a D and an S followed by scribble as sessions wore on. Created a second customer line - for complaints. "A real jerk."

6. Reggie Jackson: "The most arrogant athlete I've ever met." Bunevich claims Jackson left him with a bloated hotel bill.

7. Joe DiMaggio: Loved the money but hated the scene, and didn't bother to mask his distaste. Left people, many having traveled for hours, standing in line when his time was up.

8. Pete Rose: Head down, keeps signing, little eye or verbal contact - unless the customer is female and attractive. But good, consistent penmanship.

9. Gaylord Perry: Can be very cold. Doesn't always show, turning autograph line into a refund line. Bolts with people still in line.

10. Denny McLain: "Smart-aleck know-it-all."

Dishonorable mentions: Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Tom Seaver.

Topping the list of Bunevich's good guys is former Oriole Brooks Robinson.

"God invented the perfect card show guest when He made Brooks Robinson," Bunevich says.

The other good guys, in order: Harmon Killebrew, Lee Roy Selmon, Otto Graham, The Famous Chicken, Monte Irvin, Billy Williams, Muhammad Ali, Bobby Hull and, in a tie, Dale Murphy and Alan Trammell.

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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