Sound of 'Ch-ching!' fills air during induction week

The vendors here make a killing from autograph seekers, memorabilia hounds.

Published July 30, 2005

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - The two guys from Rochester had scored big and were happily calling it a day, though it was barely 3 p.m. here in baseball autograph heaven.

Jim Crelly and Tony Gambino leaned against a rustic brick building on Main Street, savoring the Hall of Fame signatures on their Louisville Slugger bats.

The pals had driven in the night before and scoped out the schedule of all-timers signing the next day, made a precise game plan - then went to work Friday morning.

Crelly, 52, snagged Monte Irvin and Gaylord Perry signatures for $40, Paul Molitor for $100, Robin Roberts for $50, Jim Palmer for $75 and Duke Snider for $85.

But Gambino, 53, spent most of his cash on one player, Willie Mays, whose fee of $300 made the "Say Hey Kid" the "Say Pay Kid" among Cooperstown's legends this week.

"Last year, we worked two hours to save $35 for a Yogi Berra autograph, just by getting Yogi at the location where it cost less ($90)," Gambino said. "It's all about being patient, doing your homework."

It's a game played in varying degrees up and down Main Street, and more intensely than ever each summer when induction week rolls around.

For the merchants inside the many memorabilia shops, this is their World Series week, as each competes to lure the most customers. Souvenir spots abound, some 20 jamming the bustling thoroughfare with such names as Legends Are Forever, the On Deck Circle, the Sandlot Bat Company, Safe at Home and Where It All Began.

"It's total mayhem," Marlena Nicotera, manager of the Cooperstown Baseball Souvenir Shoppe, said. "We always do three times more business then."

Nicotera also manages the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum next door. The place features, among many wax Hall of Famers, a life-size 2005 Hall of Fame inductee Wade Boggs, riding behind a wax policeman on a huge taxidermy horse - a surreal recreation of one of Boggs' highlights, when he leaped on a police horse at Yankee Stadium after the 1996 World Series win.

"Everyone sells lots of photos of that moment," Take Two owner Chadd Demma said. But Demma suddenly has his own hot Boggs item.

It's a box of Wade Boggs Pro Outfitting outdoorsman ballcaps - $20 apiece - with the former star's autograph stitched into the bill. "I just got them in, and they should go fast," he said.

Even the many eateries were playing to win. "Hey, if anybody sees Wade Boggs," said Pat Governale, owner of the Triple Play Cafe, "tell him we have the best fried chicken in town."