By Jim Spezialetti
When Bill Mazeroski hit his famous Game 7 home run to win the 1960 World Series for the Pirates, little did Jeffrey Paul Stogner know that history would connect him to Pittsburgh 30 years later.
Looking to promote a sports collectible show in a major city, Stogner and his wife, Elvira, realized that Pittsburgh lacked a big-time event. When the 30th anniversary of the Pirates’ championship was a year away, they decided to promote a reunion of the 1960 Bucs along with a sports collectors convention. The show was a success and is now the longest running show by the same promoters — J. Paul Sports Promotions, Inc. of Holmes, N.Y.— at the same venue in the country.
The 29th Pittsburgh Spring Classic will take place Friday through Sunday, May 18-20, at the Charles L. Sewall Center on the campus of Robert Morris University. The convention will feature 250 exhibitor tables and dealers from more than 25 states and provinces. Mazeroski, who was at the first show, will be back for his 18th show to sign autographs on Sunday.
“We try to hire either Hall of Famers who are universally popular because they are Hall of Famers,” Stogner says. “Other than those, we try for players who have played for the Pirates or Steelers, especially those from championship teams. Bill Mazeroski fits both criteria, and has consistently been the most popular autograph guest at our show.”
Other athletes who are scheduled to appear include MLB all-stars Dick Groat, Vic Davalillo, Johnny Logan, Bob Skinner, Gino Cimoli and Doug Drabek, as well as NFL Hall of Famers Roger Wehrli, Larry Wilson and Chuck Bednarik.
The Pittsburgh show is back to being an annual event. From 1993 through 2003, J. Paul Sports promoted two shows. Stogner has a contract with the university to run a show each weekend before Memorial Day through 2010. Quite impressive considering that Stogner didn’t have ay Pittsburgh connections before 1989.
“It didn’t take long for the local folks to appreciate what we were trying to accomplish and help us out in many ways,” Stogner says. “We have a wonderful symbiotic relationship with the folks at Robert Morris University and dozens of the local exhibitors.”
J. Paul Sports is the outgrowth of an antique and collectible auction business started the Stogners in 1976. The couple noticed that sports memorabilia was a good attraction and changed the auction business to a sports collectible show-promoting business. They promoted a few smaller shows on Long Island in the ’80s, but didn’t have the success because of scheduling conflicts with other more established local shows. J. Paul Sports no longer promotes shows in other cities. “We have promoted other shows in New York, Baltimore and Detroit, but Pittsburgh was always the strongest.”
His first show in Pittsburgh is also the most memorable. “The 30th anniversary reunion of the 1960 Pirates. A lot of the players and their wives had not seen each other for 25 years or more. They all had a great time and appreciated our efforts.” Stogner says the key to keeping the show successful is history, location, consistency and reasonable prices.
A licensed investment advisor with a major international brokerage firm, Stogner does not earn a salary from the sports promotion business. His wife is the only full-time employee. A long-time baseball fan and collector, Stogner and his oldest son would travel to three or four shows each weekend in the mid- to late ’80s and get autographed photos and balls of whoever was signing.
“Back then, you could get a Bob Feller autograph for $2 to $3, Johnny Mize for $5 to $6, Mickey Mantle for $10 to $15 and DiMaggio for $20 to $25. We once took a day trip from Long Island to Boston to get a $12 Ted Williams autograph.”
Mazeroski will sign this weekend for $30 on a ball or flat and $55 on a premium item. The University is near Pittsburgh International Airport. Admission is $5 a day or a three-day pass for $10. Children 12 and under are free.