Chicago, Illinois native Wes Chamberlain excelled on the diamond at Neil F. Simeon High School, then went on to Jackson State University where he starred for the Tigers.
The big, powerful outfielder was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a fourth round pick in the 1987 MLB Draft. In 1990, the Pirates dealt Chamberlain across the state to the Philadelphia Phillies. The following year was the best season of his young career as he hit 13 homers and drove in 50 RBIs in just 101 games and fifth place in the National League Rookie of the Year vote.
In all, Chamberlain played six seasons in the majors- all for the Phillies and Red Sox. When his MLB career ended, he played a single season in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Not ready to call it a career just yet, he spent time in independent baseball with the Gary Southshore RailCats and Winnipeg Goldeyes. He was an All-Star on the independent circuit in 2000 and 2003.
I recently chatted with him about his favorite minor league card, auctioning off his personal memorabilia, collecting cards as an adult and getting Run DMC autographs in college.
TR–I read that Dick Allen was a player that really inspired you. How much did his play and style influence you?
WC-Yeah I was a White Sox fan growing up. Dick Allen came over and was playing for the Sox. That is how I fell in love with baseball. My brother used to take us to the games on the weekend. We used to get there for Helmet Day, Bat Day, and Ball Day. That was in the 70s. It was like a dollar to get into the game. You get to the game and have cotton candy, popcorn and all of this sugar. We were running around all over the place. We would be crazy, man.
Tony Reid– How much pride do you take in signing autographs for fans?
Wes Chamberlain-I remember practicing my autograph when I was in college. I got drafted out of high school and my freshman year in college. I happened to see Walter Payton’s autograph. He’s a (Jackson State) alum. I grew up a Bears fan. I saw how he wrote his name and I saw his ‘W’. That intrigued me. I thought one day I would have my own autograph and I will decide how I want to write my ‘W’.
TR–You played several years in Philadelphia. I’m from PA and I’ve been to plenty of sporting events in Philly. So I know what that is all about. What is the most memorable fan interaction from your time in Philly or as an athlete in general?
WC-Oh, man, Tony. Everything that is wrong is what you hear in the crowds. Players tell you they don’t hear or they don’t pay attention. That’s a lie. You hear everything. It’s right there. Some of the stuff is not repeatable now. At the time, you repeated it. If they said it to me I was saying it back to them.
You can be in the stadium and feel that you paid your money and have the right to say anything. It’s even worse today. You hear everything. In college we got called everything but the ‘N’ word when we went to the white schools, Alabama, LSU, Tulane, etc. We are an HBCU. We are an all black team and we played the schools in the south. They were pissed off because we came down there and beat them. Come on, man. That’s what’s really in your heart? Its funny but it’s the truth. Like, they really said that?
TR–Your first card was a 1986 Anchorage Glacier Pilots card. Do you remember seeing that first card for the first time?
WC– Oh, yeah I remember seeing that card. I played in the Alaskan Baseball League. We won the NBC, the National Baseball Conference championship that year. I have RUN-DMC’s autograph on two of those cards. They are in my scrapbook.
TR-OK, you have to tell us the story of how you met RUN-DMC and had them sign your first baseball card.
WC-They did the Walk This Way Tour in 1986 with Aerosmith. I was a sophomore. I spent the summer playing in Alaska and they sent us our cards when we came back. Right before school started RUN-DMC was on the tour. They came to campus and went to the radio station. I needed their autographs. I grabbed my cards. I just came back from Alaska. I got my cards, ran down there and met them. I said ‘DMC, I need your autograph.’ They said ‘That’s you!’ I told them I would be in the league one day. We chopped it up for a bit. That’s how you interact with fans. I was still an amateur. I still have the cards. Tony, they are in perfect, mint condition.
TR- Card collecting is even mentioned on the backs of a few of your own cards. What do you collect?
WC-After I got RUN-DMC’s autograph, that’s when I started looking into and understanding the value of cards. I looked into it more. That was the summer of 1986. I got drafted in 1987. In 1987 I got my scrapbook. I had one in high school but I bought a new one. I started reading about how the cards needed to be in great condition. That is when I started being more alert on the condition of cards.
TR–Do you have an area today where you have your memorabilia and collection displayed or stored?
WC-I did an auction a few years ago. I auctioned off the majority of balls, World Series items and things of that nature. I was talking to my kids. They are grown now. If anything happened to me somebody would hit a gold mine. I went to the show that they have here at Rosemont in Chicago. I went and got all of my things authenticated. I then met with a gentleman from New York. He came here and took my items and put them in the auction. I got a great return back on all of my memorabilia-bats, balls, World Series items and more. What I have now are my baseballs and cards. I took the proceeds from the auction and invested in myself. I have an advisor and he built me a portfolio. I am investing and enjoying life. I invested the money and just keep flipping it over.
TR–Your Rookie Cards are in nearly every product in 1991. What was it like seeing them for the first time?
WC-That was cool. OK, yeah, you made it! You made it to The Show! Once you see that Major League Baseball logo, man. You made it.
TR–You had an error card during your Rookie year that didn’t sit well with you, right?
WC-They had Louie Meadows picture on my card! Even Topps knew but a lot of people didn’t realize it. How do you not see that? Lou had the bat on his left shoulder. I am a right handed hitter. Topps didn’t mention the error. They just let it run. I never signed that card. If I get it in the mail I just send it back and write “error.”