Take notes, Mitch Williams! Hall of Famer Johnny Mize dissed Lenny Dykstra first

Is that from sliding, Len, or from attending another event with Mitch Williams?
Is that from sliding, Len, or from attending another event with Mitch Williams?

Go, Mitch Williams!

These verbal smackdowns versus Lenny Dykstra give me hope the former pitcher might loosen up this year on FOX Game of the Week. 

I don’t think Williams is the first to tee off on Dykstra. I wrote years ago about spending an afternoon with Hall of Famer Johnny Mize at an autograph show. 

He was peeved at Dykstra’s behavior toward fans when they headlined the same event.

I’ll never forget “The Big Cat” launching a one-sentence dismissal, putting the hammer to “Nails.”

For those of you who missed it the first time, enjoy Mize at his best here:

My Day With Hall of Famer Johnny Mize

“This is for you.” — Johnny Mize

Imagine a baseball Hall of Famer sauntering through an airport concourse or hotel lobby. He’s friendly. Not just when someone recognizes him and asks for an autograph.
He greets strangers. Then, he opens his sport coat. From the breast pocket, he produces a Perez-Steele postcard, a Hall of Fame plaque postcard, or a vintage Topps card.

For uniformed military personnel, he adds: “Thank you for your service.”

This wasn’t a rumor. This was the life of Johnny Mize.

During my brief tenure as co-editor of Sports Collectors Digest, I represented the magazine at an Iowa card show. When the show organizer came up short on tables, he asked if I’d be willing to sit at the autograph table.

Was that okay with me? Uh…YES!

When a child in a wheelchair approached the table, having just an index card, Mize said, “Just a minute.”
He slowly, gently lowered himself (on two new surgically-repaired knees) to be at eye level with the young fan. “I want you to have this.” Out came a 1952 Topps card. The real thing from the real “Big Cat.”

He seemed a bit embarrassed when he returned to his seat and my jaw still hung wide.

“Sometimes, someone sends me an extra. I share them.”

He said he liked to seek out “special” children or men and women in uniform. “I know what that’s like,” he said of his World War II service.

Mize felt a sacred obligation more than three decades after leaving the field. The public counted. Every collector mattered.

“I did one of these shows with Lenny Dykstra,” he said. “Do you know who he is?”

I nodded slowly for the possible bombshell. It came.

“He showed up in a jogging suit wearing headphones. He wouldn’t talk with the people.

In my day, he couldn’t carry my jockey strap.”

Sorry, “Nails.” That’s how he felt. That’s what he SAID.

I was saddened that more people didn’t bother to spend a moment with Mize. The show was lightly attended. He would have talked to anyone, not just holders of autograph tickets. I believe collectors thought he’d be at more hobby shows in the future. They had gotten his signature before. He was easy to get by mail. Mize had started asking for a small donation for his local Georgia boy scout troop. (Previously, the boys had to sell Vidalia onions door-to-door to raise money for community projects, he explained.)

Still, he was a bargain. To the end, he could produce a signature that matched his 1952 Topps to the letter. I saw him do it again and again.

Everyone got a small, sincere smile and a noble nod with their autograph.

That’s why I write to so many names from baseball’s past. I know that, behind every signature, is a story.

Tomorrow: the story of Stan Price and his amazing Phillies “custom” collection.

Chatting with Hall of Famer Johnny Mize

Two nicknames honored Johnny Mize during his too-brief career. Many called him “Big Cat” for his fielding prowess, or “Big Jawn” for his size and Georgia accent.

I’d add “Southern Gentleman” to the list of monikers.

I spent two hours with the World War II veteran at an Iowa card show when I wrote for a collectibles magazine.

Mize felt he owed a debt of gratitude to the public for his Hall of Fame membership. He appeared everywhere in a sport coat and necktie.

“You know anything about that Lenny Dykstra?” he asked. “We just did a card show together.”

I thought we’d be talking about “Nails,” the aggressive old-school player.

“He showed up wearing a jogging suit,” Mize fumed. “With all he makes, he could have afforded a sport coat. He wanted to wear his stereo headphones as he signed. He wasn’t even going to shake hands with fans!” Mize added that he had to stop wearing his Hall of Fame ring, because frequent hand-shaking meant the jewelry kept cutting his finger.

Mize’s eyes narrowed. His glare grew.

“In my day, someone like that couldn’t even carry my jockey strap!”

At the autograph table, a parent approached with a child in a wheelchair. Although Mize had been through recent knee replacement surgeries, he rose from the table to come nearer the chair. He still moved like a cat, but looked like a bear’s grandfather.

The old Yankee’s smile blossomed. The parent took a picture. Mize looked for a cue, making sure he was done posing.

“This is for you.”

From his inner sport coat pocket, he produced a 1953 Topps card.

“May I autograph it for you?”

Others in the line didn’t complain. They were overwhelmed at the all-star effort.

I saw Mize had a stack of collectibles in his pocket. I spotted a Perez-Steele card and his vintage 1950s issues.

“Fans send me an extra sometimes. I save them. If I meet a special child, I like to have something to give them. I do the same when I see someone in uniform. You meet lots of military people in airports. I thank them for their service.”

Remember Johnny Mize. If you’re sending a card for an autograph, include a second. State in the letter, “There is a second card for you to keep. Please, share it with another baseball fan if you can.”

Then, put a post-it note atop the extra card – “YOURS TO KEEP.”

I disagree with collectors who’ll send 6-8 cards with a vague “keep some for yourself if you want.” I can’t help but worry this might be a veiled ploy to get a pile of autographed trading stock from someone who didn’t read a letter carefully. That’s not true generosity. Mark each card, so the player isn’t confused.

That child or soldier will never know you made the gift possible. Please, try. You’d make a Hall of Famer smile.

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