Hopping among thrift stores looking for sports memorabilia can be a fun diversion. We'll even write about it sometimes on The Stew when we find an odd ballpark giveaway, out-of-place collectible or a replica jersey. That's usually the best one can hope for.
But an authentic jersey, used in real Major League Baseball games by a Hall of Fame manager? How does something like that slip through the cracks of society's secondary market? A collector named Ben Aguirre must fancy himself a real, live Indiana Jones of sports memorabilia after recently finding not one, but two game-worn Baltimore Orioles jerseys — including one that used to belong to legendary manager Earl Weaver — at a Bay Area thrift store.
The cost? Three dollars apiece.
Aguirre, a contributing writer to Beckett Magazine and creator of the Cardboardicons blog, found a 1977 Weaver home white jersey and one for pitcher Mike Torrez from a season earlier. How did he know the Weaver jersey was legit?
A pocket had been sewn into the inside of the jersey to hold a pack of Weaver's cigarettes. A notorious and nervous smoker, Weaver even nicknamed Orioles closer Don Stanhouse "Fullpack" because of how many cigarettes he smoked whenever Stanhouse would pitch.
Noting that a national sports collectable convention was coming up in Baltimore and Weaver — nearing 82 years old — was scheduled to attend, Aguirre booked passage for a cross-country trip to see if he could get his incredible find autographed.
"Does it have the pocket for my cigarettes?" Weaver said Saturday at the National Sports Collectors Convention as he handled the jersey, placing his right middle and index fingers over the area where the chain-smoking skipper kept his pack. "Oh … yeah."
"Ow, you're gonna hurt my hand, dammit," he said as I thought I shook his hand gently. "I've got arthritis you know."
As managers go, Weaver was awesome. He's a Hall of Famer because his teams won a lot of games — 1,480 in 17 seasons, not including four AL pennants and a World Series championship. But never mind that.
He was short, he had prematurely white hair and he had a spunky personality. He kicked dirt on umpires who crossed him, like a little Napoleon. And, as you can tell from his encounter with Aguirre, he used some salty language. Somewhat paradoxically, Weaver also grew tomatoes at Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles played.
Sometimes, the salty language and the tomato plants cross-pollinated. Here's a very NOT SAFE FOR WORK replay of Weaver's famous gag diatribe that we were probably never supposed to hear. Poor Alice Sweet. Now there's someone we need to find.