In Memorabilia, Eskin Is A Major Player

Posted: October 18, 1989

The bat was sitting on a table with a dozen others, obscured in a clutter of bruised and battered wood. And yet, with its reddish hue and its brilliant sheen, customers were instantly attracted to it.

"That's one of the last bats Mike Schmidt ever used," said Michael Montbriand, a Sacramento, Calif., dealer at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. "It's a beauty, isn't it?"

"How do you know that was really one of the last bats Mike Schmidt ever used?" someone asked.

"Oh, I know," Montbriand replied. "I got it from Howard Eskin."

Known in Philadelphia as a radio talk-show host and television sports anchor, Eskin has a different identity in the sports-memorabilia market. There, he is considered one of the most reliable suppliers of Schmidt bats, balls and autographs, and an authority on Phillies memorabilia.

Eskin has been collecting memorabilia for more than 15 years, and most seriously for the last five. His collection includes items from Schmidt, Pete Rose and Steve Carlton that he acquired at least in part through his access to the players as a broadcaster. Recently, he also has organized private signings for Schmidt, who has limited his autograph-show appearances to charity events.

"I don't want people to think I'm doing this because I have an advantage," Eskin said. "I'm lucky enough to have a small advantage because I'm in the media, but I don't use that as a tool to get things, because that's not fair to the people involved. . . . I don't want to put the players on the spot."

"If you ask the players (for memorabilia) all the time, they don't want any part of you. That would be an awkward situation. Nothing like that has ever happened to me because I don't abuse the situation."

Eskin said he developed friendships beyond his professional relationships with the players, and it was as a friend - not as a broadcaster - that he acquired their memorabilia.

He recalled one occasion, after Carlton pitched the 299th victory of his career, when Rose - who had caught the last out of the game at first base - saw Eskin in the locker room and offered him the ball.

"Pete said, 'You want it?' " Eskin recounted. "I said, 'Sure.' Then I got Lefty to sign it. That's kind of the way it worked. . . . As far as me running around all the time asking guys to sign this ball or give me that bat, forget it. That's a joke. . . .

"Schmitty . . . , most of the time, he does it for free. I would offer him something, and a lot of times he would say, 'I don't need that.' He would help me because I asked him to help me - as a friend."

Schmidt characterized his connection with Eskin in the sports-memorabilia market as "loose and relaxed." In addition to organizing the private signings, Eskin has sold or traded items owned by Schmidt for other pieces of memorabilia.

"Howard has become kind of a middle man for me; that's an all right way to describe it," Schmidt said. "Howard will get some calls about things. It's common knowledge in the industry that there's a guy here in town who's pretty close to the athletes and who's knowledgeable. When they want some things signed, Howard can set it up."

Asked what he thought of Eskin acting both as a broadcaster and a middle man in sports-memorabilia transactions, Schmidt replied: "Howard is a collector. He has a lot of stuff, and he really cares about it. He is not a dealer. There's a big difference."

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