By In Baseball

The Jim Kern Story Revisited

OK, so, yeah, this is kind of classic.

A month or so ago, I retold my Jim Kern story. Quickly it goes something like this: When I was 8 or so, my Dad took me to a Cleveland Indians game. That was the first time, I believe, that I became aware of the autograph concept. Funny, writing those words, I was reminded of a whole other autograph moment — one I’m not proud of but should probably tell.

When I was 25 years old, I was columnist at the Augusta Chronicle and I was in the stands at a minor league baseball game. I wasn’t there to cover the game, I was watching it with some friends. And then a cute little kid — probably 8 years old or so — came up to me and asked for my autograph. I had never had anyone ask me for my autograph (and why would anyone?) and I was SURE it was a gag being pulled off by my friends. What else could it have been?

So I said to the boy: “Oh, you don’t want my autograph.” Well, you know how sometimes you say something with the intention it will sound one way but then you hear your voice and comes out sound ENTIRELY different, not unlike the sound of trumpet the first time you blow one? I meant to say it in a gentle and jokey way, you know, all good fun, but it came out a little louder than I had intended, and it came out with a little more certainty than i had intended and, anyway, what I didn’t know was that 8-year-old kids have not yet developed that kind of humor. The kid really wanted my autograph — he and his Dad read my column in the paper every morning — and here I was actually TURNING HIM DOWN. And he started to get tears in his eyes.

You can’t really make up for that. Of course I tried … I immediately apologized profusely and I signed the autograph and I told him I’d sign as many autographs as he wanted and I went back with him to meet his father and I think I bought them a new boat on layaway. I did whatever else I could think of doing. But that initial jolt was the enduring action, and I felt utterly miserable. My first autograph and I totally messed it up. Ever since then, I’ve tried to sign every autograph request enthusiastically … which has at others times caused me to get burned by people who were only asking for the autograph as a lark. But so it goes. Better that than disappoint a kid.

Anyway, I was the 8-year-old kid in the Jim Kern story, and I went down to get his autograph, and just as it was my turn he said he had to go to the bullpen. I started crying — that awful try to hold-back-the-tears kind of crying — and Kern ran over and signed the autograph which made me feel great. Unfortunately he signed it in pencil so when I got back to the seat to show my father, I couldn’t even find it.

Years later, after I wrote this little story, someone forwarded it to Kern himself. And he sent me this baseball.


In case you can’t see that, it says “To Joe. Quit whining!” It was a prized possession.

You will now say: “Was?” Yeah. Was. Monday morning I came into my office. And this … thing … was … sitting … on … my … desk.


Yeah, we have a dog. Wesley. Named for the man in black in “The Princess Bride.” He’s a good dog most of the time. Yes. We have two daughters. They are supposed to watch the dog and make sure he doesn’t come into my office. They are good daughters most of the time.

I think it’s just destiny that I will never, ever have Jim Kern’s autograph.

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48 Responses to The Jim Kern Story Revisited

  1. Jay Shumsky says:

    Immediately made me think of the movie The Sandlot

  2. Matt Schlichting says:

    He seems more like the Dread Puppy Roberts to me.

  3. Does your dog know you misspelled his name? (The Man in Black is named Westley)

  4. albanate says:

    Joe, quit whining already.

  5. Alejo says:

    Man, that sucks.

    Maybe Kern can send a new one, to challenge destiny?

  6. My Dad secured an autographed 1969 Green Bay Packers “the Duke” football from a Wisconsin vendor. The ball was signed by the entire team that was one year removed from winning the first two Super Bowls. It was really great. So what do 10 year old kids do with that ball? We played football with it, of course, scuffing up the brand new ball and many of the signatures. My Dad was really mad, and of course, we had no idea why.

  7. Tom Flynn says:

    I grew up on the great Cardinals baseball teams of the 1960s. In 1970, down to St. Louis for the Cards v. Phillies. Stood outside and got autographs from many ballplayers from both teams. Highlights were Vic Davilleo (sp?) who set the NL pinch-hitting record that summer and Phillie’s manager Frank Lucchesi showing a great deal on interest in my mom.

    But the moment that still angers me to this day happened in the near empty parking garage. As we walk to our car, I see Tim McCarver opening his car door some 20-30 feet away. I run over with my biggest smile and gush about his great play over the years and ask for the autograph. He yells “Get away from me kid” gets in his car and backs out and drives away with me standing there. I’m nine and I start crying, which leads my older brother to start in on me.

    I’m nine and the only person around. He stiffed me in the most angry dismissive manner possible.

    IF I met him today, I would tell him that story and call him a F****** D-BAG to his face.

    • Carl says:

      So sad when ballplayers don’t appreciate signing an autograph. Similar story happened to my friend’ son a few year’s ago. He was at Spring Training and getting lots of Yankee’s players autographs. On the way out, he see’s Goose Gossage getting into his car about 20 feet away. Runs over to him, asks for an autograph and Gossage says no, come back tomorrow. Next day, the 8-year old kid is thee waiting for him and Gossage refused to sign and cursed the kid out. Stopped being a Gossage fan the first time I heard the story.

    • Carl says:

      So glad when Deion Sanders poured the champagne over McCarver in the Braves locker room.

      • Moonlighting Graham says:

        The best part about Tim McCarver criticizing Sanders for not giving the Braves 100% of his time is that he spent years blowing off his Mets announcing gig every time Fox had a Saturday broadcast.

    • PhilM says:

      But when the player does go out of his way, it makes all the difference. In my mid-20s, my fiance got us tickets to a Mets-Yankees exhibition at JFK, and it was called due to rain after we arrived — never took the tarp off the field. Paul Blair was doing a small signing at a booth, but it had packed up by the time we left, soggy and disappointed. I spotted Mr. Blair in the parking garage all by himself, called to him, and he politely stopped and signed my program. Still the only ballplayer autograph I’ve ever gotten in person, and I was truly saddened when he passed: a great outfielder, but a kind man — which is even better.

      • PhilM says:

        RFK, of course: JFK is an airport. . . .

      • Ari says:

        So true. At Tiger’s spring training one year (i think it was 2000) I waited for autographs in the parking lot after practice with dozens of other fans. Most players signed a few and kept going. Juan Gonzalez didn’t sign any and just bolted for his car. Matt Anderson, as disappointing as he was on the field, was just as much a mensch off it. We spotted him as we were driving out of the parking lot, then we drove over and he spent 5 minutes leaning in the car window talking with me and my dad about baseball. His career flamed out, but I’ll always remember him for being such a friendly and likable guy.

        We also met Gossage at Yankees camp that spring and he was pretty nice. we talked to him for a couple minutes until my dad told him that his favorite moment in baseball history involved Gossage- Gibson’s World Series homer in 84. Gossage didn’t find that too funny and walked away

        • Steve says:

          Another good autograph story…

          Morgan Ensberg was invited to our smallish church in 2005 to speak at a men and boys’ night. He was supposed to leave for spring training the next day and we were told he had a very tight window to be there. We were sort of overrun with more people than expected and serving the meal took much longer than usual.

          So Ensberg shows up and I greet him. He casually visits with me for a few minutes in my office before we head over to the sanctuary for the speaking part of the program. We are already past time when he was supposed to start, and all the men are still in the fellowship hall eating. A few kids spot him and rush over and get him to sign autographs. He graciously signs for the whole crowd, even making a special trip to the balcony to meet and sign autographs for and elderly lady Astros fan and my wife, who had stowed away to the men’s event.

          I was terribly embarrassed and apologetic that we ran behind, but he never seemed rushed or annoyed at all. He even took questions after his talk for 20 minutes. He did the whole event for free.

  8. frank says:

    Quit whining already

  9. Carl says:

    To the positive, years ago as a teenager my friends and I would write to ball players and included a SASE and their baseball card and ask for an autograph. Some signed, some didn’t. Gary Carter at the time required a $25 check to a charity. As a 15 year old w/o a summer job that might as well have been $1 million. Still as a fan, sent him a nice letter welcoming him to the Mets and hoped he had a great season. Never expected anything back and didn’t include a SASE or even request an autograph. The Kid sent a signed post card, a metallic Mets schedule, and some other nice items (all postage paid) to me, obviously getting my address off the return-address label.

    What a guy. Still have it all, and still a fan of his.

  10. Bob Post says:

    I don’t know how, but my grandfather had a copy of a program from the AFL-NFL Championship Game, soon thereafter to be known as Super Bowl I. When he passed away, that program was passed down to me. Fast forward 15 years or so, I happened to have that program in my car, because I was showing it to a friend. I heard that Len Dawson was at a grocery store that was on my way home from work, and he’d be signing autographs. So I went to the store and waited in line for a few minutes. When my turn came, Len looked at the program, and started telling me stories about some of the players from that team. While he spent only a few moments with most of the people in line, he was mesmerized looking at that old program. He signed his name directly over his photo.

    A few years later, a new shoe store was opening a few blocks away from where I was working. They advertised a list of athletes that would be there to sign autographs, and to my great luck, Bart Starr to be in the store the day after I’d seen the ad. So I brought the program to work with me the following day. I got off work, and drove immediately to the store to complete the “winner/loser” set. I waited in a long line for about an hour and a half. I was getting very close to the front of the line, only three people away from Mr. Starr, when a man came out and announced that Bart had to leave to catch a flight. I have to admit, I whined. Apparently a whining adult doesn’t get the same attention as a whining 8-year old boy. I failed to get the autograph, and still don’t have it. If anyone knows Mr. Starr, tell him I still want an autograph.

    On an unrelated note, I once portrayed Jesus in a Passion Play at my church. Afterward, I was greeting the crowd in the foyer, when a kid around 7 or 8 years old asked for my autograph. When he looked at my signature afterward, he asked why it didn’t say “Jesus”. Yeah, talk about a let down.

    • I went to a Pro Bowl when it was in LA. Several players came out and signed autographs. Len Dawson was the biggest star who did that, so he had a lot of people wanting his autograph. There was some pushing and shoving going on, so Dawson loudly announced that pushing and shoving was unnecessary because he would be signing until everyone had his autograph. In fact, that process took less than an hour, after which Dawson stood and spoke to whoever felt like walking up to him. Beyond that, with everyone satisfied he chatted with some of the other similarly inclined players for a while before leaving. Among those staying included both Gene Washingtons (yes, there were two), Ed Flannigan (a HOF center) and about a dozen others who I can’t remember. Deacon Jones tried, but it became an unbelievable mob scene, so he got mad and had to leave. He was right to do that because his appearance to the local Rams faithful turned into a near riot. I was actually afraid for a minute.

  11. CBM says:

    Saint Bernard got my Joe Torre ball, but kind of like Mr. Kern’s ball…I kept it!!!

  12. If you ever speak to Jim Kern can you ask if he knows why he was called upon to pitch a 3rd inning in the 1979 All-Star game?

  13. Alejo says:

    Tony Gwynn passed away.

    Great man, sad news.

  14. Another note on autograph signing, it is the practice of Arena Football to have mandatory autograph signing after the game for 30 minutes. Pretty much every player was able to negotiate their way around the arena in 30 minutes to satisfy every autograph seeker. After 30 minutes, they actually set the scoreboard clock, the horn went off and that was it. Everyone understood. I think this is quite doable in other leagues too. It wouldn’t have to be the whole team, but maybe a rotation of even 3-4 per game. Too bad teams only think about money and players only think about the game, doing short required interviews and getting out ASAP.

  15. MikeN says:

    Perhaps the dog notices that Jim Kern has six fingers on one hand…

  16. puckpaul11 says:

    When i was 8-9 years old (1973/4 or so), I went to the Catskills for a vacation with my parents. Just so happens that Tom Seaver, my boyhood hero as a Mets fan on Long Island, was at the hotel one day to sign autographs. I was so excited when I got in line. As the line moved forward, i arrived at the table where he was seated and signing. Soon I was next. As he was writing his name for the person in front of me, in my excitement I started edging my paper towards him. He looked up at me and angrily growled, “you wait your turn!”. So much for boyhood idolatry. I threw it out. Too bad it’s been over 40 years and the Mets haven’t produced anyone to replace him and make me forget (c’mon Matt Harvey!). Still can’t stand that pompous jerk.

  17. Brad says:

    While we’re whining about autographs….my first trip to Royals stadium in 1973, as a 12 year old, brand new ballpark and the Royals were on the way up. They beat the Red Sox that night. After the game I spot Carl Yazstremski on the third base rail talking to a middle age guy. I politely ask him to sign my program, which he curtly refused. He did go on to sign several things for the older guy while I watched, broken hearted. Every conversation I’ve ever had since about Yazstremski has been proceeded by the words, “that c*cksucker Carl Yazstremski”. I understand some guys get tired of signing but how do you turn down a kid? On the other hand, Bob Feller was the greatest. Signed photos, took pictures with my boys and talked baseball.

  18. Jeff Canine says:

    Wesley. Named for the man in black in “The Princess Bride.”

    As you bitch.

  19. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    First of all, RIP, Mr. Padre. He was our Derek Jeter, revered and respected by all who knew him, a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer, and, yes, probably a little overrated. San Diego hasn’t had many athletes of whom we could be unreservedly proud. Tony Gwynn was one of the few. I remember wearing my Gwynn jersey to a game at Turner Field in 2011, where an overmatched Padres team somehow took the game into extra innings and won it in the 10th on a home run by some scrub whose name I can’t remember. As I was walking from my seat, a big smile on my face, a twenty-something Braves fan was ready to let me have it. Then he saw my jersey. “Damn, not Tony Gwynn,” he said, “I can’t be mad at Tony Gwynn.”

    Autograph story: when I was a kid, probably in 1969, I was at a Padres game against the Expos, trying to get someone to autograph my program, when Gene Mauch, the Expos manager, walks out of the dugout. “Mr. Mauch,” I yelled. “Can I have your autograph?” He looked up at me and said, “In a little while, OK? I’ve got to do something right now.” I walked back to my seat, defeated. About five minutes later, I suddenly hear a voice: “Hey, do you still want me to sign?” I always pulled for Gene Mauch after that, and was very sorry when Dave Henderson hit that home run back in ’86.

  20. John Leavy says:

    I still remember the last time I tried to get an athlete’s autograph. I was born and raised in New York, and have always been a Yankees fan, but I moved here to Austin, Texas in 1986, at the age of 25. I went to see the Yankees play the Rangers in Arlington in 1987, and was seated near 3rd base. My favorite player ever, Ron Guidry, was signing autographs by the dugout, and I went over to get his signature. Little kids kept running past me, and I kept letting them ahead of me. After a few minutes of this, I realized I was the ONLY autograph seeker on that line over 11 years old.

    At that point, I felt so stupid that I went back to my seat. And except for an occasional book signing, I haven’t sought anyone’s autograph since.

  21. John Leavy says:

    One last post on Yankee autographs: back in the Seventies, I often sat in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, close to the bullpen. Kids would regularly run to the bullpen and try to get autographs from Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage, Paul Lindblad, Dick Tidrow or Ron Davis. None of them could be bothered. Sparky was more likely to flip kids the bird than sign a program.

    The one and only guy who’d happily sign anything and everything for every kid who asked? Dom Scala, who wasn’t even a player! Dom was just the bullpen catcher! But he was wearing pinstripes, so little kids thought he was a player. And he made those kids extremely happy, if only for a minute.

    It wouldn’t have been any harder for Lyle or Gossage to do that than it was for Dom Scala.

    So, wherever you are today: thanks, Dom!

  22. Steve says:

    When I was nine or ten, I went to Yankee Stadium and Sparky Lyle signed a ton of autographs, walking along the outfield wall during batting practice. He signed my yearbook. Wish I still had it.

  23. Pete Ridges says:

    Getting a dog and expecting it to not destroy your possessions…it could happen. In the same way that if you spend 40 million dollars for Carl Pavano, then he could well stay healthy for four great years.

  24. Noah says:

    Don’t worry, Joe. The ball only looks “mostly” dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.

  25. Shonepup says:

    I used to raise guide dogs for the blind when I was a teenager. My prized possession was a ball signed (and personalized to me – my dad’s best friend threw bp) by the entire 1987 SF Giants baseball team. Including my all time favorite player Will Clark, not to mention Kevin Mitchell, the Hack Man Jeffrey Leonard, Big Daddy Reuschel, Matt Williams, the Caveman Don Robinson, Robby Thompson, Roger Craig, Mike Krukow, Scotty Garrelts…man that was a great team.

    So I’m about 14, it’s opening day of my Babe Ruth league season…and just as I’m about to leave the house I catch my guide dog puppy, Geary, just destroying that ball. Not an speck of ink left on it. Broke my heart, and I’ve missed that ball ever since. But she was a good dog most of the time, and did eventually become a guide dog.

    No point, just was instantly taken back to that feeling when I saw that picture of Joe’s ball. Sorry Joe! And if anyone has a 1987 West Champions Giants autographed ball….send it my way. Go Giants!!

  26. Peter Barta says:

    When I was 12 or so, in the mid 80s, I went to a baseball card show with my dad. My dad grow up in Eastern Europe and never got into baseball, but he was willing to indulge me. Mickey Mantle was signing at this particular show and we bought an 8×10 to have him sign it. I don’t remember how much a signed picture cost, but I know it was less than the price for a signed ball or bat. When my dad asked about the price difference, I explained that a signed ball was worth more. He promptly bought me a ball and we signed up to have the Mick sign that. Then we got on line – the very, very long line. It was clear that the line was going to take hours to traverse and my dad had to get back to work. Somehow, my dad talked to someone on staff from the show and got us right to the front of the line. Mantle signed the ball for me, right on the sweet spot.

    My father passed away in 2012, but I still remember that afternoon fondly, my dad doing what he did not because he could tell Mickey Mantle from Mickey Mouse, but because he knew it was important to me. I still have the ball, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  27. kb says:

    I used to go to pring training games as a kid. Back 30-plus years ago the statdiums in Florida were very open and the players had to go through the stands to get to the field. I met and even talked with many big league players and managers that way, great experience. Fast forward to 1990 or so, I am an adult living near Phoenix. I went to a spring game with the Bash Brother Oakland As. Not the same access as just 10 years earlier, but before the game kids could hang out over the fence onto the field and ask for players to come over. Ricky Henderson was having a conversation with a fairly attractive young lady who was in such a position. I could overhear him and the gist of the conversation is what your mind might lead you to. Yes, he was setting up a liaison after the game. A couple of young boys, 8-10ish range came up and boldly asked Rickey for his autograph. Ricky said something along the lines of, “Nah, leave me alone kid, I’m talking here.” Up to that point he was my favorite player. His ranking diminished somewhat in my eyes. And yes, that was the same spring he had his crying fit in an interview.

    • CB says:

      Grew up on the east coast as an A’s fan due to my love of Rickey. When I was about 11 or 12, went to an Orioles/A’s game and Rickey threw me a ball. When I missed it, he threw it again to make sure I got it.

      Guess sometimes it depends what day you catch the player…

  28. mnaftolin says:

    John Havlicek bought my house when we were moving out of Weston, MA in 1975.

    I was lying in front of the TV when I heard my mom call “someone’s here to see the house!” Yeah? So what, a bunch of other people had been there, too. I was awestruck. Great guy, put up with 11 year old me talking basketball with him, never visibly upset that I tagged along as he toured the house (he had to step into the shower to make sure it was tall enough).

    Did the closing at the house and he brought over a basketball emblazoned with the Celtics logo and these weird replica signature decals of all the players. But then he whips out a felt-tip pen (this was pre-Sharpie) and autographs it.

    I was the Flavor Of The Week in school: “that’s the kid whose house John Havlicek bought!”

    I kept the basketball on top of my bookcase, next to a plant that I didn’t care about at all. However, my mom did, and she would come in and spritz the damn thing with water from a mist bottle. Wanna guess how long it took before the autograph dissolved? Not long enough, I can tell you that.

  29. Anthony says:

    Ha! Definitely funny in an ironic way! Well, I bet a fan of yours will intercede and ask Mr. Kern to send you a new baseball. Were I him, I’d send one with another funny message, and wrap the baseball in bacon…because bacon improves everything. Every. Time. And Wesley would agree!

  30. My dad owned a small restaurant in New York City in the 1960s when I was in my early teens, and sometimes celebrities would come into the place and he’d sometimes ask them to autograph something for his boys. My brother and I were NY Jets fans, and one day he came home with a Gerry Philbin (Jets linebacker) autograph, and we said “Thanks” and preserved it somewhere, not getting properly excited. But, now, some fifty years after we’d lost the autograph, I think of my dad getting us Philbin’s autograph (he couldn’t have cared less about football) and I’m as fond of that memory and my dad as I could ever be about a signature scribbled on a piece of paper.

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