So when someone famous dies, you’re supposed to tell the story of your one personal experience with him.
You are, right? Well, legendary pitcher Bob Feller died at the age of 92, and I sort of met him once.
When I was about 11 and in the middle of my baseball card collection craze, I somehow acquired this weird group of sepia-toned, mock-wood-printed cards of the Greatest Baseball Players Ever. For an 11-year-old who couldn’t afford to spend more than 25-cents on a single card, this was a pretty cool group of cards. How else would I end up with cards of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson?
One of these cards featured Bob Feller. So when Bob made an appearance at our local mall, I got in line to have him sign it.
Bob Feller was already pretty old 25+ years ago, especially to an 11-year-old. The extent of my Bob Feller knowledge at that time was that he was obviously a great, old player, since he was in this group of sepia-toned, mock-wood-printed cards along with Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. Also, I had once seen a film clip of Bob Feller throwing a baseball faster than a speeding motorcycle, even though he’d accidentally given the motorcycle a head start.
When I was finally standing in front of Bob Feller, I don’t remember saying anything to him. He was just an old guy with a blue Sharpie that didn’t look anything like the young guy on my sepia-toned, mock-wood-printed card. Bob Feller sort of looked at the card, muttered something about not having seen this card before, and then scribbled his name on the front.
The front of the sepia-toned, mock-wood-printed card was coated, like most baseball cards, but it was a much slicker coated paper than what was usual. So when Bob Feller’s wrinkled hand brushed by the still-wet ink, his signature smeared all to hell.
Suddenly, Bob Feller seemed concerned that he’d ruined my baseball card. There was also a pretty long line behind me, which demanded that he not spend too long with any one kid who didn’t know much about him. So he flipped the card over, signed it again — on the matte side, a perfect Bob Feller signature — and handed the card back to me.
Something about this gave me a fit of the giggles as I walked away from the old Feller. He signed the back of my baseball card. I’d never seen anyone do that before. And it made the sepia-toned, wood-cut-printed baseball card a really weird little collectible, with a smeared signature on the front and a good signature on the back.
I’ve still got that double-signed card. Thanks, Bob Feller.