#Hot Corner

H.C.B.C.

If this is your first visit, that's short for Hot Corner Book Club.

But that's neither her nor there. I just read, in less than an hour, an interesting little ... well, I suppose it's a book. It's just so small -- read: reader-friendly! -- that I wonder if there's another word for it. Mini-book. Minoir. Something. Anyway, there's a lot of good baseball history packed into this mini-book:

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I don't want to give a bunch of stuff away, but I'll tell you the story is about memory, and old stories, and Roberto Clemente's baseball bats. The author -- whose father Bill spent decades working for baseball teams and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame -- spent a few years working low-level jobs with a couple of franchises. First up: the Pirates, where he had the pleasure of interacting with a young outfielder who would eventually hit a lot of home runs ...

Barry wasn't the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. I remember one game when Barry hit a home run that set some obscure record and the twelve-year-old boy who caught the ball returned it to the clubhouse so Barry could have it. The next day I asked him to sign a different ball to send to the kid as a thank-you. Barry signed it (after about twenty minutes of pretending he couldn't hear me), but when I asked him to write To Christopher on it, or maybe Thanks Christopher, Barry refused. "I signed it and he'll like it," he told me. "He'll take whatever I get him."

So, I will tell you that the story does involve the provenance of a certain bat that Roberto Clemente might, or might not, have used to rap his 3,000th career hit (which would of course be the last hit of his career). Getting back to the charming Mr. Bonds, though, Guilfoile gets so frustrated that he goes off one day and practices forging Bonds's signature until he's got it down pretty good ...

I never tried to pass those autographs as Barry's -- I was just blowing off steam -- but there had been a day when it was common to do so. In the 1960s, Clemente's heyday, most teams would have had a couple folks in the front office or the clubhouse -- my dad was one of them for the Yankees -- who were experts at forging the signatures of their top players. Dad used to joke that there probably as many Mickey Mantle balls signed by Bill Guilfoile as there were balls signed by Mickey Mantle.

Nowadays, there's a term for a probably forged Mantle signature: "clubhouse Mantle". Because Mickey, unlike most of his teammates, sure as hell wasn't going to waste half an hour before every game signing his name on baseballs. Which isn't to say he was wrong.

The prevailing attitude among ball clubs and signatures were back then that balls and bats and signatures were things that could make people happy. They weren't appreciating investments with certificates of authenticity the way they are today. Most adults would have been too embarrassed to even ask for one. So if a committee of Yankees employees could produce three times the number of Mantle autographs, that would just make three times as many kids happy.

It's a fair point. Used to be, nobody really cared. Nobody was selling this stuff, so authenticity wasn't really all that important. If somebody said here's a baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle, you enjoyed it and you showed your friends and nobody knew any better.

Now, we can find out. I'm not sure that makes us happier.

Oh, in case you were wondering ... I really enjoyed the book.

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