Thursday, January 21, 2016

My Ray Burris Dilemma

I like collecting autographs. I'm not a greedy collector. I would never hand a stack of cards to a player or open a sketch book with multiple cards expecting them to all be signed. I ask for one single autograph and that's it. Once I get a player to sign for me, I never ask that player again, no matter how many times we may bump into each other.
The term "racking" has never and will never be a part of my lexicon.

I have around 1,700 different autographs in my collection. Of those, two I paid for. In 1987, six years before autographs became an obsession for me, I paid $5.00 to meet the 1986 American League Rookie of the Year, Jose Canseco.

That same year, a local baseball card store had Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, Dave Stieb signing autographs for a $2 fee.

Since then I found that I could easily acquire autographs in person at games. Living in Florida has it advantages during the spring, I soon discovered.

Anyway, let me get to the reason for this post.
Last year during spring training, I found out that Ray Burris was a Minor League pitching coach for the Phillies. I had a 1984 Topps card of him, so I looked forward to getting it signed.
I had numerous encounters with him that spring, but he turned me down each and every time. However, he was always polite about it. Spring came and went and my card remained unsigned.

Later in the year, after the baseball season had ended, Ray was back at the Phillies complex, this time coaching in the Florida Instructional League. I attended a game where I was the lone fan. I figured there's no way I'm going to miss him this time. When the game ended, I stood in a spot where Ray would be walking right towards me. As he got closer, I called out to him, "Mr. Burris, can I please get an autograph?" Without stopping, he continues walking and says "nope, I don't sign autographs anymore." I then quickly asked for him to personalize it, before he disappeared into the locker room. Again, he proclaims, "no, I don't do personalizations either. I'm done with autographs." I thanked him anyway, and not even in a sarcastic manner, I was being sincere.
I contemplated just leaving the card there. If I can't get it signed, it's really no good to me. I ended up keeping it and headed home to put away all of the other autographs that I acquired that day. Thankfully, because of where I was standing, I ended up getting an autograph from Charlie Kerfeld, who I didn't even know was in attendance. I just happened to have a card of him on me as we crossed paths. So, thanks, Ray!

For the 2016 season, Ray Burris has a new job title. He is now the Phillies rehab pitching coach, which means he'll be spending the majority of his time here in Florida, working with any pitchers who are injured during the season.

This week, the Phillies Fantasy Camp is going on. I went down there today to get autographs from former players participating in the camp.
Guess who was there? Yep, Ray Burris. Me, being the hopeful that I am, still carried his card with me. He's not there as part of the camp, he's here working with the few pitchers who have arrived early for spring training.

I had many opportunities to approach him, but part of me feared that he'd remember me and say, "what did I tell you 3 months ago?"
So, I left him alone.

I was busy collecting autographs anyway. I was fortunate enough to show up on a day where the Yankees brought their fantasy campers to battle the Phillies campers. They did the same thing last year when I attended. I wasn't prepared that day and saw many autograph opportunities slip by. This year I came prepared and brought cards of all the Yankee Fantasy Camp instructors that I had. I did pretty well.

When the games ended, Ray visited some of the Yankees coaches. I waited for him to finish talking and then I saw someone approach him and successfully get an autographed card from him. I wasn't going to be turned down now, but yet, I still kind of was. As I'm holding my card and marker, I asked Mr. Burris for an autograph. He says to me, "I have to charge you $5.00." I had cash on me, but I groaned and told him, "oh, I don't have any money on me." He said, "it's okay, I'll be around."

I then walked over to the guy that had just gotten his autograph and I said to him, "Burris charges?" He said, "yeah, I had to give him five bucks."

After the autographs that I had gotten earlier, I just couldn't justify slapping a five in someone's hand for an autograph.
I could understand if he was doing a signing like the ones I went to to get Canseco and Stieb, but even those I wasn't handing money directly to the players before they signed my cards. They were being paid for their appearance by a promoter.

I know I'm going to be bumping into Ray Burris many times this spring and summer. That same 1984 Topps card will most likely be with me each time. I just don't know if it will ever be signed.


  1. It's probably the principle of charging you a random fee out of the blue, when other retired players in similar situations are signing, though maybe I'd just suck it up and pay him the $5.

  2. That stinks. I do some TTM request through the mail, and a few of them have requested money (mostly because they are retired and getting older, and that helps supplement income, which I'm fine with). I've also heard of other former players who just outright refuse to sign autographs because fans have "used" them, much like in the way you described above with multi-card requests and then selling them on eBay and the like. I can completely understand that too. But this is just odd...he works for the team so he has steady income, and it seems that few fans were at one of the appearances, so it wasn't like he was going to have to spend copious amounts of time signing. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out for you, yet.

  3. I remember a few years back when Gary Carter was managing in the Atlantic League. I think he charged $20 to sign anything Major League related. He would sign Atlantic League stuff for free, but you'd have to slip him a twenty to get a real card or MLB ball signed.

    If I send you his '81 Donruss and a five dollar bill, maybe you could help me out. That is about the only set I have spent money on to get some signatures.

  4. Ugh. I'm sure he has his reasons for not signing, but just to arbitrarily charge someone seems a little sketchy. You should have told him you work for the IRS.

  5. When he was coaching in the Eastern League he gave a lengthy sob story about how people were selling his stuff and he was offended by that so he charged. Next time the money was to buy stuff for a family member who was in Afghanistan. Who knows how much of that is true. I guess he's tired of telling stories since you ran into him a bunch of times and you didn't hear one. I need him for my '75 set but I've never gotten him. He is spotty TTM and I don't feel like wasting my money.

  6. Wow! That's crazy! I've never heard of a player charging in public like that. I probably would have said something to him like, "You told me a few months ago that you were done with signing autographs. What changed?" or how about, "Nope, I don't pay for autographs anymore."

  7. Well i must say knowing Mr. Ray Burris for well over 35 yrs, that is very odd to me Ray is one of the greatest men i every met and became great friends with in baseball,If this is really happening to you there must be a very good reason for Ray to do this. so try not asking him every time talk to him as a person maybe he might tell you give me that card to sign,
    Joe Catalano


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