Friday, June 1, 2012

Sharpie Scribbles -- Chapter III, Curt Young and Rick Honeycutt

-- by Josh Suchon

Note to readers: The feedback on the “You Were Lucky, Hershiser” story was so positive, and triggered so many memories from a childhood where my playground was the Oakland Coliseum, I’ve decided to share more of these stories. I’m blatantly stealing this idea from “Cardboard Gods” author Josh Wilker, who used his baseball card collection to tell the story of his childhood in the 1970s. Wilker gave me his blessing, so I’m going to use my autograph collection to tell the story of my childhood in the 1980s.

In the early days of my autograph collecting, tact wasn’t my forte. Honestly, I was a total spaz.

When I saw a player’s car pull into the parking lot, I sprinted as fast as I could to the car. One time, I nearly got hit. I wasn’t very organized. I’d have all my baseball cards in hand, shuffling through them nervously, and sometimes drop cards. The process of handing over a card and pen to a player, then getting it back, was always awkward.

It didn’t occur to me to give the ballplayer room to get out of his car. I was too busy trying to box-out other autograph seekers for the best position. I’m sure the players thought I was the most annoying kid ever.

The first few days, I used a ball-point pen on baseball cards, the ultimate sign of an amateur. The first Sharpie that I bought was red, which is probably the worst color for autographs. Another rookie mistake.

What finally taught me to calm down was an experience with A’s pitcher Curt Young. A few A’s pitchers would carpool to the Coliseum on a regular basis. It wasn’t the same people every day, but I recall that some combination of Young, Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt and Dennis Eckersley were usually together.

One day, early in the 1987 season, I was in ultimate spaz mode as I sprinted up to Curt Young. The conversation went something like this:

 Me: Mr. Young, can I have your autograph!!!


Devastated, I turned back around. The other autograph seekers were laughing. I thought they were laughing at me. But really, they were laughing because Young was laughing.

Young was just kidding.

Wasn’t much else to the conversation, except everybody laughing at me. I recall that Young said something along the lines of, “I’ll sign. Just relax, kid.”

Young signed for me that day, and pretty much every day that I asked him the next four years. As I look back on the collection now, I see at least nine Young autographs. I know for sure the first one -- when Young yelled “NOOOO” -- was the 1986 Topps Card because it’s in a red pen and you can barely see the signature.

Young’s carpool mates were all among the coolest players on those A’s teams – and when I say coolest, I mean the easiest to get their autograph. We didn't have to sprint across the Coliseum to a different parking lot, only to get turned down by Jose Canseco.

Rick Honeycutt was another. I remember Honeycutt as somebody who’d always sign, but I didn’t realize that he was a serious threat to Cory Snyder for the “most autographs in my collection” title.

I have 13 Snyder’s -- on 12 different baseball cards and an 8x10 photo.

I have 12 Honeycutt’s -- all on baseball cards. If somebody made 8x10 photos of setup lefty relievers, I’d have probably bought it, Honeycutt would have signed it for me, and he’d be tied with Snyder on that all-time list.

Out of the 12, three are him as a Ranger, three are him as a Dodger, and six are him with the A’s. You’d think that after getting 12 autographs of somebody, you’d have an interesting story. Or five. Honestly, I can’t think of even one, and I’m racking my brain.

Honeycutt signing autographs in the parking lot was like Honeycutt on the mound in the seventh and eighth innings of a close game. Nothing special. Nothing legendary. Nothing flashy. Just always get the job done.

My favorite Honeycutt autograph is on the 1990 Upper Deck card because he’s pictured signing an autograph. Is there anything cooler than asking a player to sign a baseball card of himself that depicts him signing autographs? It’s almost like it’s impossible for him to say no. In my warped teen-age mind, Honeycutt loved signing that card more than any other card too.

Honeycutt’s expression as he’s signing that autograph is how I remember him: stoic, matter-of-fact, and focused on signing his name in a legible way.

The trio of Nelson to Honeycutt to Eckersley was the best in baseball at saving games in the late 1980s. Fittingly, they carpooled together at times, and us autograph hunters in the Coliseum parking lot learned that teamwork would lead to more Sharpie Scribbles for everybody.

You see, if everybody went up to Eckersley and waited for him, the other players would walk into the clubhouse without signing. But if an equal number of autograph seekers went to each player, they’d all stop and sign, and you had time to double- and triple-back to get everybody. You just had to trust each other to get the job done, just like the relievers did.

It took me a few games, and a loud “NOOO” from Curt Young, to learn that.

One of the veterans of the autograph-seeking group was a guy named Jay Didier. He was a wise man, like the Yoda of autograph seekers, and taught me a lot. My recollection now is that he was in his early 30s back then, but hell, I could be 10 years off, older or younger.

A few of my friends – Chris Poulson, Corey Kell, Jim Putt and Todd Strong – were one year older than me in school and started collecting autographs just a little before I did. They knew the unwritten rules, and tried to teach me. They were my peers, so I didn’t listen to them. But I listened to Didier.

Didier taught me obvious things, such as, let the player get out of his car. Didier taught me how to ask a player for an autograph, how to hold a pen (don’t laugh, there’s an art to it), how to carry yourself, how to choose the right item to get autographed, and a lot more about life.

On Sept. 30, 1987, when Dave Stewart was trying for his 20th win, he stopped to sign autographs in the parking lot before he entered the clubhouse. Didier told me, "don't say anything to Stew about winning his 20th game. Just tell him good luck, and go get 'em tonight."

Didier was, in a way, like my pitching coach.


Seventeen years after Curt Young told me “NOOO” and then signed an autograph for me anyway, he was promoted to Oakland A’s pitching coach. It was the 2003-04 offseason, and that was the same time that I was moved from Giants beat writer to A’s beat writer at The Oakland Tribune.

It was now 2004, but it was just like 1987. Getting an interview from Young as a journalist was like getting an autograph from Young as a kid. All you had to do was ask, and not sprint up to his car like a madman, and he’d always say yes.

Four years later, it was 2008, and I’d made a switch from newspapers to radio. Now I was the reporter on the Dodgers Radio Network, the co-host of Post Game Dodger Talk, and Rick Honeycutt was the Dodgers pitching coach.

Once again, it was just like the late-1980s. I’m sure there was one time that Honeycutt didn’t sign an autograph for me as a kid, but I can’t remember it. I’m sure there was one time that Honeycutt wouldn’t do an interview for me the last four years, but I can’t remember that either.

During my years as a journalist, I usually avoided telling the players, coaches and managers about my experiences with them as an autograph-collecting teenager.

I had to tell Orel Hershiser that I called him “lucky.” I told Benito Santiago about the day I was batboy for the Padres at spring training, and that story set the stage for a fascinating working relationship that I’ll detail in an upcoming chapter of this Sharpie Scribbles series.

For some reason, I never told Curt Young or Rick Honeycutt. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t anything too memorable, other than Young telling me “NOOO.”  Maybe it’s because I was in my 30s by that time, no longer looked like I was just out of college, and didn’t want these pitching coaches to look at me like a stupid kid.

It doesn’t surprise me that Young and Honeycutt are excellent pitching coaches who rarely get the credit they deserve. It’s not in their personality to seek credit. They had moments of great triumph and moments of embarrassing failure as players, so they can relate to every situation.

But when you look at Young and Honeycutt’s signatures, both show attention to detail, substance over flash, penmanship over unnecessary loops, and I think that translates into being an effective pitching coach.


My favorite story about dealing with Honeycutt, the pitching coach, was during my first year co-hosting Dodger Talk. Honeycutt was a guest during a spring training show from Vero Beach, Fla., and we were talking about a 20-year-old kid who was just called over from the minor league camp.

“He’s the kind of kid you dream about,” gushed Honeycutt.

The kid was Clayton Kershaw.

Looking back now, it’s funny. Honeycutt was the kind of player you dreamed about as an autograph seeker. He always said yes.

Nowadays, whenever I see Curt Young visit the mound to talk with a pitcher, I think about my first encounter with him in the parking lot. Young played it cool that day, taught me a lesson in a funny way, and made me better at getting Sharpie Scribbles.

On the mound, I can just hear Young telling a young pitcher who is in a jam, “I’ll sign. Just relax, kid.”

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