Friday, June 22, 2012

Eddie Mathews was our Mickey Mantle

One of the advantages of being retired is that I have lots of time to search eBay for items of interest, either for my custom card-making projects, or as fodder for my blog.

One of my regular searches is for baseball and football photos in all of the pertinent eBay categories. I often filter the searches to return only Milwaukee Braves images.

Recently in such a search, I found two Eddie Mathews pictures that reminded me of how much of a baseball hero he was to many of us who grew up in Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Mathews was OUR Mickey Mantle. He was a big moon-faced slugger who, we were convinced, would have made the coolest big brother or uncle a kid from Wisconsin could ever hope for. 

There were lots of parallels in the lives and careers of Mathews and Mantle. They were born within a week of each other in 1931. They came to the majors within a year of each other (Mantle in 1952, Mathews in 1952) amid great fanfare and each retired after the 1968 season. 

They led dissolute lives that contributed to early deaths, Mantle in 1995 at age 63; Mathews in 2001 at age 69.

In the mid-1980s, we (Krause Publications) were of the opinion that the then relatively new National Sports Collectors Convention needed to be something more than a cash cow for individual promoters. We felt it should be a showcase to promote the growth of the hobby. 

Accordingly, we determined to bid to host the show in Milwaukee in 1986. To preview our concepts and gain a little experience, we held the Milwaukee '85 sportscard and memorabilia show in downtown Milwaukee June 29-30. 

The show was a success, such as it was, but it failed to convince the electors at the 1985 National in Anaheim, and the 1986 show was awarded to John and Wanda Marcus in Arlington, Tex.

Since we had already booked the MECCA convention center in Milwaukee for the third weekend in June in 1986, we went ahead and held Milwaukee '86.

Our featured autograph guest was Eddie Mathews. The iconic Milwaukee Braves star had never before returned to town for an autograph event, so his appearance was a big deal among local sports media and hobbyists alike. 

As a souvenir and autograph vehicle for show attendees, we printed up several thousand copies of a 4-1/8" x 5-7/8" glossy postcard featuring a reproduction of the Bill and Bob postcard of Mathews issued in the mid-1950s.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet my childhood hero during the show. I was tied up with operational details and putting out fires. Maybe it was for the best that my memories of Mathews weren't clouded by the realities of 30 years later.

In any event, I was moved by a pair of photos that I saw on eBay. 

One photo shows a 10-year old Milwaukee girl meeting Mathews and having him sign her autograph book at spring training in 1957. I was never an autograph seeker as a youngster, but I would have walked to Florida for the chance to meet Mathews. 

Ironically, when I did have the opportunity to meet the man at Milwaukee '86, and perhaps share a beer and hear some stories in the hospitality room, the boyhood dreams had to give way to adult realities and I missed my opportunity because I had to deal with a perceived security breach on the show floor. 

The other photo shows Mathews in 1978 with his dog, Luke. I'm a dog fancier and always feel a special affinity to ballplayers who share that sentiment. 

I have no interest in buying either photo, but I wanted to share the memories they evoked. 

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