I recently had lunch with a friend who works in the memorabilia and collectibles business. His is an interesting job that allows him to meet a variety of people, not unlike that of a reporter.
While many people enjoy collecting autographs, my friend's job is to facilitate that for fans and collectors. Chance meetings with a celebrity are pretty neat, and getting their signature is good proof of the encounter, but most people these days get their autographs at organized signings.
He told me that in his business autographs are still a hot commodity whereas baseball cards and other collectibles are on the wane. It surprised me a little that autographs are still an in thing 20 or 30 years after I began collecting.
I still have a "Pistol Pete" signature that my dad got me on the back of a ticket stub at a New Orleans Jazz game. And I have an autograph book somewhere -- bet they don't make those any more -- with Los Angeles Dodgers signatures from Steve Garvey to Ron Cey to Dusty Baker.
Talking about autographs brought back some good memories. Collecting them was a lot of fun for a kid from a small town who didn't figure to rub elbows with many famous folks. Meeting a pro athlete made you feel important.
As I traded war stories with my friend about the famous and almost famous people we had met, we began comparing notes on the people we most enjoyed meeting and some we didn't. During this cross-checking we discovered there were some stars whose reputation didn't match reality.
Marketing and the media will sometimes do that. I once won a bet with my dad that golfer Nick Faldo was taller than Greg Norman. My dad had insisted that Norman was a big guy, assuming, I guess, that an Australian nicknamed "the shark" was a largish sort.
But when you're in the reporting business -- or the collectibles biz -- you quickly find that public personas are called that for a reason. Sometimes when you're let behind the curtain, you wish you weren't.
There's nothing worse than finding out your hero isn't heroic -- or particularly pleasant, for that matter.
For me, the same Dodgers team that filled my memories and autograph book also kicked me in the gut when it came to hero worship. As a college freshman, I got a chance to meet Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Dodgers, leader of the guys in my autograph book.
I was pretty excited, similar to those days as a youngster when I waited for a player to sign. But after Lasorda finished a live radio interview, the public persona disappeared and I was left standing next to a man much different than I had seen on TV interviews.
He told the public relations person, in colorful terms, that he didn't have time for the college kid. He didn't want to be bothered, but after some coaxing he consented, which just made it worse -- for both of us.
My questions were stammered, his answers curt. I was intimidated, he was irritated, and when the interview was over, so was my fanaticism with the Dodgers manager.
Like I said, sometimes it's best not to meet your heroes. Sometimes myth works better than truth. And sometimes you're better off not going behind the curtain.
E-mail Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.