Pen and seller
STATELINE – For many, getting a Michael Jordan or Jerry Rice autograph is tough. For Bruce and Eric Fromong, it’s almost too easy.
The father and son pair run Players Ink’d, a sports memorabilia shop inside Harrah’s Lake Tahoe that seems more like a museum with signed retro jerseys, framed pictures and athletic equipment.
“We’re always busy this time of year,” Bruce said regarding the American Century Championship. “People want to get something besides that little program signed.”
For amateur autograph hounds, there are footballs, mini helmets, magazines, cards and action figures.
Bruce pointed to a $20 packaged Emmitt Smith figure in a Dallas Cowboy uniform. Smith is a regular at the celebrity golf tournament.
“You get this, bring it over there (to Edgewood Golf Course), get it signed and it will be $150,” Bruce said.
“At least,” Eric added.
Some people try to sell them goods autographed by athletes at Edgewood Golf Course. Bruce said the attempts do not work.
A row of signed, enclosed baseballs sat above autographed bats. A baseball penned by Detroit Tigers’ catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez was priced at $149. For $10 less, one could purchase a ball with Oakland Athletics’ ace pitcher Tim Hudson’s signature.
Like everything in commerce, prices of the memorabilia is based on supply and demand, Eric said. Current events can dictate prices of some things, such as Ken Grifffey Jr. joining the 500 home run club. The store ran a special on his signed baseball, which had an $89 asking price Thursday.
Absent were items from Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant, who is facing sexual assault charges in Colorado.
“We sold them and let it go because we don’t know what’s going to happen (with the trial),” Eric said.
Surprisingly, the store carries a bounty of signed jerseys, footballs and helmets of O.J. Simpson, who was found innocent in his wife’s murder a decade ago.
“It’s half and half,” Eric said of Simpson’s gear. “Some people don’t want anything to do with him.”
The other half is happy to find the merchandise of arguably one of the best running backs in NFL history, he said.
The quality of autographs also dictates the price. Former Green Bay Packer’s quarterback Bart Starr wrote a clear inscription on a replica helmet. For that reason, the helmet cost $399. Brett Favre, the Packer’s current quarterback who is certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, scribbled his name. Favre’s helmet is $50 less.
“Is it a nice, clean autograph? Is it smeared? Can you read the name?” Bruce said.
He then walked to the football case to describe players’ signatures.
Former Oakland Raider quarterback Ken Stabler’s autograph is “artistic.” Howie Long, an Oakland Raider turned broadcaster, signs “big.” Joe Montana, a San Francisco 49er great, writes a “squiggle” for his name.
“Barry Bonds has gone to a full autograph,” Bruce said, looking at one of the San Francisco Giant’s framed pictures. “He used to just sign BBS.”
Athletes changing their signature causes problems when it comes to checking the authenticity of the autograph, Bruce said.
The Fromong’s started their business 20 years ago when Eric was 9 years old. They worked from their garage then became merchandise dealers and now promoters. Eric owns the business with his father and fiancée, Laura, helping.
Some goods are designed by Bruce, such as footballs for autographs. Others, such as pictures, are bought from companies with libraries of photographs.
The father and son team travel about 35 weeks every year to attend autograph sessions where hundreds of items wait for baptism by pen.
Store employees provide advice on how to get autographs and what to use. A paint pen works best for footballs, Eric said.
“The biggest thing I tell people about autographs is be polite,” Bruce said. “A please and thank you goes a long way.”
Bruce laughed when asked if the two could get autographs at the golf tournament without using their influence.
“We’re middle-aged and white. We don’t get autographs,” he said.
Jason Gutierrez walked into the store. He stopped in front of a couple magazines with Michael Jordan on the cover.
“Wish I would have had one of these yesterday,” Gutierrez said. “I ran right into him at Caesars.”
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org