What makes Barry Bonds' autograph more valuable than Stephen Schwartz's autograph? Is it the fact that Barry Bonds is arguably the best baseball player ever and Stephen Schwartz is only, perhaps, in the top 10 composers in the history of musical theater? Is it that Bonds doesn't give out a lot of autographs whereas Schwartz is peppering the theater world with his scrawl? Is it that Barry is a more attractive man than Stephen Schwartz (this is by no means judgment but I think as a general rule the muscly baseball player look goes over bigger than the gold chain, open shirt thing -- except, maybe in the Hamptons)? This question is not something I simply ponder on long drives. It is of vital importance. Why? Because the Hornik boys need an explanation.
And it's no abstract question for the boys either. It goes to their very essence. And it is embodied in their most prized possessions. For my seven year old, there is nothing more magical on the planet than his Barry Bonds autographed baseball. For my nine year old, it is his Stephen Schwartz autographed Wicked CD cover. Each morning my seven year old goes online and checks the latest baseball scores on MLB.com. Each morning my nine year old goes online and checks the latest gossip on WickedTheMusical.com. And each boy thinks the other's morning ritual is a vast waste of time because how could there be anything more important than baseball/musical theater. So how do you answer the inevitable question, "who's autograph is more valuable?"
At first blush I find the whole idea of autographs a bit mystifying. Why would anyone so covet a celebrity's signature? It is just a bit of ink from someone you admire. It won't help you capture any of the magic that individual possesses. It won't make you smarter or stronger or better looking. It will only remind you of the feats of greatness performed by that individual. And, yet, I suppose that is the entire allure. It's the same reason that while I studied in England I found myself coming back to the British Museum's ancient documents room again and again. There was something incredible to me about seeing hand-written manuscript from Mozart and Bach and Lewis Carroll. These are people I revere. And here were the original pages on which they penned incredibly wonderful, life-altering works of genius. So how is Barry Bond's signature any different? Or Stephen Schwartz's for that matter? To my son, Barry Bonds is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Who am I to question that judgment? (Ok, I can't help myself. There is no comparison. Bonds swings a bat. Have you heard Mozart's Requiem? Ain't no performance enhancing drug available to pull that off. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure there were some performance enhancing drugs involved in Lewis Carol's art, if you know what I mean.)
Hero worship is not just about autographs in our house. It is about all the paraphernalia. It's about the shirts and bobble-heads and programs and trading cards. I don't know if you've seen baseball cards lately but they have really advanced since I was a kid. When I collected baseball cards, there were only two types of cards and when you bought a pack you hoped to get the best players. If you did, you were excited. If you didn't, you were excited. Those were simpler times. Now there are a million different types of baseball cards. (My son is into SP Authentic cards, which run five bucks a pack. Ridiculous.) And each brand of card has a different gimmick. The card companies pay players to autograph cards or give them bits and pieces of their used stuff to include in the cards. A couple days ago my son got a card with a piece of Barry Bonds' "game worn" jersey (do you think that they wash the game worn jerseys before incorporating them into baseball cards or is the sweat in the fabric that makes the cards so special?). You can get cards with a piece of a bat or a base or a shirt, pants, hat, you name it. And the battle of the "piece of" cards seems to be escalating. How much longer until someone makes a card with your favorite player's fingernail clippings or chewed gum?
The other morning, after debating the relative merits of baseball vs. musical theater for about the gazillionth time, my boys started riffing on what sort of trading card they would like to see. My 9 year old was pretty predictable. He wanted an Idina Menzel card with a piece of her "performance worn" costume from Wicked. I kind of like the idea of Broadway trading cards. I'm guessing that the Hugh Jackman, Tony Award Winner for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical card would fetch a pretty penny in San Francisco. As would the Nathan Lane 1982 rookie card for his performance in Present Laughter. Frankly, even I'd be willing to pay a few bucks for the Stephen Sondheim piece of handwritten manuscript card but, as I've already noted, I'm a sucker for original music notation.
In stark contrast to my nine year old's somewhat predictable fantasy trading card (he is not one to veer much from his obsession of the day), my seven year old proposed a relatively creative, albeit somewhat disgusting, set of cards. He would like to see hot dog eating competition cards. I have no idea what inspired him to imagine such a card. But given the cast of characters at this year's Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition, these cards would undoubtedly be winners. The most valuable card would be the Takeru Kobayashi card. This year "The Tsunami" managed to eat 53 and 1/2 hot dogs in twelve minutes, breaking his 2002 world record of 50 and 1/2 hot dogs. The Nagano Japan native only weighs about 130 pounds but apparently he's all stomach. There would also be a Sonya "The Black WIdow" Thomas card. At a mere 105 pounds, Thomas broke the United States hot dog eating record, as well as the record for most hot dogs ever consumed by a woman (32). Of course, I think my seven year old perhaps goes a little too far when he proposes a piece of "game chewed" hot dog card. But I suspect he knows the market for hot dog eating competition cards better than I do.
None of this answers the question "what makes Barry Bond's autograph worth more than Stephen Schwartz's?" Nor does it even answer the question "what's better, baseball or musical theater?" But it does make me appreciate hero worship and celebrating the things that you love. I'm going to have trading cards made of my kids and get their autographs. What could possibly be more valuable than that?