I was going through a box of old sports memorabilia last week when I found my dad’s autographed Casey Stengel baseball. He got the ball signed when he was a kid and continued to play with it for many years, eventually ruining what would now be a valuable autograph. When I asked him why he played with a baseball signed by a Hall-of-Famer, my dad said, “It was the only ball I had.”
Even though the ball got thrown around and smashed with bats for years, Casey Stengel’s signature is still visible on the ruined, cracked-up leather. It’s right there on the sweet spot in faded red ink. Have a look:
Now the thing about this baseball is that my dad has always insisted that it used to be covered with autographs. He even claimed that it once had Pete Rose’s signature on it. Although there are spots where random bits of green ink can be seen with the naked eye, there’s nothing legible or anything that even slightly resembles a full autograph. Pete Rose on a Casey Stengel ball, yeah right!
Well, I decided to get to the bottom of this mystery and see what would happen if I took pictures of the baseball and then manipulated them with digital filters and image editing tools. Would I be able to draw out the invisible remnants of long-faded autographs? If so, would I be able to identify the players? I had no experience with this sort of thing, but it sounded fun and I gave it a try. My results are shown below. The pictures on the left are the before-shots, of course. The ones on the right are the same images after I ran them through the filters.
I surprised even myself by finding a signature on my very first picture. It looked like “Bob Taylor”. I knew Pete Rose began playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1963 and that Casey Stengel retired as the New York Mets manager in 1965, so I took a look at the rosters for both teams for the 1963-65 seasons. Sure enough, the Mets had a catcher named Bob Taylor. He started playing for them in 1964.
My second picture wasn’t as clear, but now that I had the year narrowed down a bit, I soon identified two more New York Mets signatures. The last name on the top one began with a prominent K- and ended in -LL. I dug around a bit and discovered that a pitcher named Gary Kroll joined the team on 8/7/64.
The last name on the signature immediately below Gary Kroll’s appeared to start with ALT-. Another look at the roster revealed an outfielder named George Altman. The thing about these two players is that they were only on the Mets together for 53 games…from 8/7/64 through the end of the season on 10/4/64. I dug up the schedule for that year and noticed the Mets only played two games in Cincinnati (where my dad lived) during that time period. Yes, my dad most likely got these autographs at a Reds vs. Mets game in Cincinnati on either 8/25 or 8/26/64. He would’ve been thirteen.
The final picture shown above features some indecipherable gibberish up at the top. Although it appears that the word ends with -Y, it doesn’t seem long enough to be both a first and a last name. And nobody on either team had a signature that resembled that. I must admit I’m stumped on that one. But that doesn’t really matter at all, because right beneath the gibberish is Pete Rose’s autograph as clear as day. Hah!