The Ideas section gets hundreds of wacky and wonderful pitches every day, and a recent one, from Scott Smith of New Jersey, held a mystery we couldn’t get off our minds. Smith, a former investment banker, has spent more than three decades tracking down the autographs of sports legends like Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali who’ve graced Sports Illustrated covers since 1954. One particular cover, ironically enough, has proven especially elusive: The group of young Red Sox fans from the Aug. 13, 1990, cover, “Autograph Madness,” pictured at right.
Smith began collecting autographs himself back in 1982, and by his estimate, the hunt has cost him between $350,000 and $400,000 in travel costs and paying for signatures from more prominent athletes, including Tom Brady. The full collection now represent 95 percent of SI covers, according to Smith. “But a handful I’m just dumbfounded on,” he says.
Smith has spent 25 years trying to identify the kids in hopes of collecting their autographs. He believes the photo was taken at Fenway Park some time in June or July 1990, making the fans about 35- to 40 years old now. The photographer, Jacqueline Douvoisin, told him that she took thousands of photos that day but didn’t write down any of her subjects’ names. A 2010 Portland Press Herald column suggested that one of children was the late Kim Tudor, who died in 2008. Otherwise, Smith has no leads.
The SI cover story itself, by E.M. Swift, was about autograph hounds of the ’90s, fans looking to cash in by pestering hall-of-famers with requests. The Globe’s own Dan Shaughnessy was inspired to pen his own defense of inundated athletes who just wanted some peace. “It’s easy to rip the ballplayers and say they should give something back to the public,” Shaughnessy wrote at the time. “But are they obliged to give up their private lives so the Get-a-Lifers can cash in on this new form of cardboard currency?”
When he looks at this cover, Smith can empathize with the children’s eagerness for ink. But rather than a long nine innings, Smith has been waiting a quarter of a century. “These kids, like me, are reaching out to get close to their favorite athlete,” he says. “I hope they’re equally surprised I want their autograph now.”