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Korby's Connections: These scribbles can be priceless

An autograph can become valuable, but most people usually don’t collect them for the money or as an investment. They collect these cherished documents and put them somewhere in their personal treasure chest. An autograph can turn a fleeting moment with a celebrity into a lifetime memory.

When doing some certainly unscientific local research, I got a variety of answers and reactions when I asked about seeking autographs.

When she was 5 years old, my wife asked legendary Scanlon accordion player Loren Lindevig for his signature. He was part of the Chmielewski Funtime Band. She got it at Pete’s Bar or some other Carlton County pub, and thinks she still has the late Lindevig’s scrawl stored away someplace.

When I asked Chuck and Pat, my lake neighbors, if they’ve collected any autographs, they said no. “But, if I ever would have gotten close enough to Elvis to ask him for his autograph, I certainly would have,” Pat said with a giggle.

Longtime Scanlon friend and now Arizona resident Keith Basney, waited more than an hour in line for autographs from MLB pitchers Whitey Ford and Jim “Mudcat” Grant in the 1980s.

Watching the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs this year brought back some fond memories for me. Kids were busy before a game with Toronto, seeking Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa autographs at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Back in 1970, when I was in high school, the Duluth newspaper offered free student season passes to the Duluth-Superior Dukes minor league baseball team games. All you had to do was write to the newspaper, request the tickets, and enclose a self-addressed envelope. Several friends and I took advantage of this sweet deal. It was only about a 20-minute car ride from Scanlon/Cloquet to Wade Stadium in West Duluth to see the Dukes — just 15 minutes, if my buddy Dave Wenberg was driving.

We became instant Dukes fans. The Dukes were league champs. It was good baseball.

The 1970 Dukes had a star first baseman named Lamar Johnson. The News Tribune had dubbed him “Big Bear.” Johnson was a large man for that era, 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 215 pounds. Wade Stadium had a fenced area along the foul lines, about armpit-high. It was a perfect place to watch Dukes players take infield practice and for kids and autograph seekers to interact with players. Big Bear was my new baseball hero, so I worked up the courage and asked “Mr. Johnson” if I could trouble him for his autograph. I asked him to put “Big Bear” on the paper as well. I truly appreciated that signed Dukes program, and cut the signature out and wrapped it in Saran Wrap and carried it in my wallet for several years.

The Duluth-Superior Dukes were, for many seasons, in the Northern League minor league baseball system as an affiliate of the Major League’s Detroit Tigers. Famous Dukes who played for the Tigers included Denny McLain, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup. Home run king Hank Aaron also played in the Northern League.

In 1970 the Dukes were in the Chicago White Sox organization. Johnson had a very productive season with Duluth, hitting .321 with 44 RBIs in 55 games. He continued over the following seasons to move up in the Sox system. In a few years, I was thrilled to buy a bubble gum baseball card of Lamar Johnson from the Knicks grocery store in Scanlon. Johnson had made it to “The Show” by 1974.

To refresh my memory, I did research and found Johnson had nine years in the Big Leagues, mostly with the Chicago White Sox. One of his most famous games was in 1977. It was a Father’s Day doubleheader against Oakland, and Johnson sang the national anthem. He had the only hits for the Sox in the first game, two home runs and a double, and the White Sox won 2-1. A second win after that propelled the team into first place in the American League West division.

After his days as an active player, Johnson became a very successful MLB hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets. According to Wikipedia, Lamar is now 73 and lives in Mississippi.

It’s great to know my high school hero had such a fantastic and successful baseball career.

I have accumulated more autographs from baseball players and others. Some of those include Twins greats Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett, Yankees third-string catcher John Blanchard, Baltimore Orioles Mike Cueller and Boog Powell, announcer Dick Bremer, and Twins AJ Pierzinski, Ron Coomer, and Terry Steinbach.

But I’ll always remember the day I got Lamar Johnson’s autograph in West Duluth.

Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans to [email protected].

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