It turns out your mom was right after all. You can get almost
anything you want--you just have to ask nicely.
That's the whole of autograph collector Jack Krasula's strategy.
Over the past 25 years the 50-year-old Detroit businessman has
amassed more than 100,000 autographs, signed photos and personal
letters--including the signatures of every living Hall of Famer
in baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, track and
field, swimming, bowling and even softball--simply by writing
gracious letters to athletes and asking for their cooperation.
"Jack's collection is the best I've seen," says John Stommen,
who founded Sports Collector Digest, a weekly that bills itself
as the hobby's oldest and largest publication. "But if you were
to go to a sports show and ask who Jack Krasula was, I'd be
surprised if they knew him. He's not in it for the publicity,
and he's certainly not in it for the money."
"I've never sold one dollar's worth of stuff," Krasula says of
his collection. "I do it for love, and the journey."
In 1976 Krasula attended his first NFL Hall of Fame induction
ceremony. At the time he had only a handful of autographs, but
as he sat there, he thought, Why not collect them all?
Here's his modus operandi: He picks a theme--Hall of Fame
quarterbacks, say, or the NHL's greatest goalies--then sends
three blank sheets to the first athlete on his list. The athlete
signs all three and sends them back to Krasula, who then mails
them to the next person on the list. Krasula always has a couple
of dozen envelopes crisscrossing the country.
Even with everyone doing his part, it can take several years to
round up all the usual suspects. Krasula puts the finished pages
in red three-ring binders. He now stores hundreds of these in
bank vaults, but he keeps a few around to show visitors.
He pulls down a red binder and flips to a page devoted to World
Series MVPs, then turns to Super Bowl MVPs, and then to a sheet
filled by SI's Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year. He even has
a page for the sultans of speed, an eclectic club that includes
marathoner Frank Shorter, jockey Willie Shoemaker and race car
driver Parnelli Jones.
They're just signatures, but seeing them together evokes
something that a single autograph does not. Take the 500 home
run club. As you study the artfully rendered autographs of Ted
Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt, you're
forced to reflect less on each individual name and more on the
most significant thing these men have in common: that at one
time in their lives, each of them was the very best in the world
at what he did.
Krasula used to keep his collection at home, but when he got
married five years ago and his bride moved in, his autographs
moved out. "I used to have these things all over the house," he
says, chuckling. "But when I got married, nothing made the cut.
"To any other guys collecting autographs, all I can tell you is,
before the wedding, she'll think they're great, but the second
that ring goes on, don't even wait for her to tell you to move
the stuff. It's going."
John Bacon is a sports and feature writer for The Detroit News.
"I've never sold one dollar's worth of stuff," says Krasula. "I
do it for love, and the journey."