Former MLB umpire auctions memorabilia for worthy cause
From 1976 to 2016, former Major League umpire and North Lima resident John Hirschbeck collected a lot of stares from coaches, boos from fans and arguments from players that would last the normal person four or five lifetimes.
He also collected a lot of memories and memorabilia while playing a major role — on multiple occasions — in the game’s illustrious history.
Hirschbeck has always said that he was blessed to be able to share those special times and moments with his family, which includes wife Denise, daughters Erin and Megan, and their late sons, John Drew and Michael.
Along with fun times, the Hirschbeck family also has endured its share of pain and heartbreak. John and Denise lost both sons at a very young age, first John Drew in 1992, and then Michael on April 8, 2014, to the dreaded disease known as ALD (adrenoleokodystrophy), a fatal neurological disease for which there is no known cure.
While “Little John” was taken from the Hirschbeck family at age 8, Michael survived until he was 27, thanks to sister Megan, who was eight months old — he was 5 — when she provided her bone marrow for a much-needed transplant.
It was Michael who accompanied his father to the games that he worked and was a constant with him at spring training.
After his passing, the Hirschbecks founded the “Magic of Michael Foundation” which has provided assistance but most of all, hope, to hundreds of families enduring the curveballs of life over the past several years.
“Like any parent, we’re not the only parents in the world to lose a child, but like any parent, it’s devastating,” said Hirschbeck, who is an avid hunter and fisherman. “When John passed away in 1993, it’s devastating, but you go through a long time of mourning and grief, and at some point you have to say ‘OK, I need to make a life decision here.’
“First choice is not good in that you’re going to give up and not going to be the same person, but the second is when you say, ‘OK, I’m going to go on for the good of my wife, for the good of my other children, for my friends and my family.’ You realize the fact, and I always say this, that no day is going to be the same, but you’re still here on this earth and you just have to make the most of what you have.”
John remembers Michael’s love for baseball and the many friends that he made in the game, also recalling how he would save cards and memorabilia and simply keep busy in his room.
“Michael would sit with his baseball cards, boxes upon boxes, in his room,” Hirschbeck said. “An old-time umpire told me years ago to buy a set of Topps baseball cards for your kids for every year that you are in the big leagues so I started doing that. We had 34 years of baseball cards, sealed and still in the wrappers in the box, never even opened.
“But Michael also used to get his own baseball cards and I’m talking thousands upon thousands. He said that was like a hobby, that and investing his money. He would just sit up in his room and for hours and hours he would go through baseball cards. Because of his disabilities, he had his own unique way of categorizing things, but it was very efficient, if I do say so myself.”
The foundation holds an annual golf outing, dinner and memorabilia auction to raise funds, with Hirschbeck always throwing out new ideas and ways to raise both awareness and much-needed dollars.
When the family recently moved from their Poland home to North Lima, Denise was hoping John would clean out the multitude of bins that contained the memorabilia Michael had collected over the years.
He called it a hard yet bittersweet time, before finally arriving at the conclusion to auction off Michael’s accumulated gems.
“That was the hardest part,” he said. “I kind of thought of this about a year and a half ago because we’re always trying to think of different ways that we can bring money into the Magic of Michael Foundation, and to do the different projects that we do. It was difficult this year and, because of the pandemic, the golf outing was out from the get-go.
“Literally, when my friends come over, they really don’t care about going and looking at stuff on a wall or what I’ve collected. That’s not why they’re here, so I thought maybe this is a good time to sell these things. I would never have done it in a million years if a dime was going to us, but I thought if every penny goes to the Magic of Michael, then that would be a good thing. The hardest part when we moved was Denise said you’ve got to go through these things. I didn’t, because at the time I just didn’t have the heart.”
He credits his good friend Mike McCoy, a professional fisherman from Mentor, with lending a much-needed assist.
“I met Mike through Bob Hannon’s United Way Bass Classic at the Lake Club,” Hirschbeck said. “I told Bob when I retire, I’m going to fish in your event and that first year, Mike and I fished together. We’ve since become very good friends and he’s into collecting, doing so all his life since he was a kid. He lived in Florida, right by spring training, and said, ‘Come on, I’ll help you do it.’
“He estimates that we spent well over 100 hours, but the reward for me would always be us hopping in my boat and going fishing. He really was something, because we’d finish at 2 a.m. and he’d be up at 5 a.m., downstairs working again. He is something, someone who put his heart and soul into it and he continues to monitor the auction site.”
Conducting the auction is Brandon Steiner’s CollectibleXchange (https://bidcx.com/Category/John–Hirschbeck–Collection-109.html). According to Hirschbeck, Steiner was elated and jumped at the opportunity to handle the umpire’s memorabilia. A pure guess has Steiner playing host to over 3,000 items, all of which were so very special to Michael.
“We just decided, and after I talked to Denise, you have all this stuff, what good is it going to do us and yet, if it helps one child then it has done a lot of good. So we said let’s auction everything off,” Hirschbeck said. “The money will go to the Magic of Michael, hopefully it will be a huge success and we can fund the foundation forever as his legacy lives on.”
There are two auctions Steiner’s group will oversee with the first one already up and going — it started on Oct. 12 — and lasts until Nov. 13. The second one is set to begin on Black Friday, Nov. 27, and concludes on Dec. 20.
“We kept things that were more family-oriented, things that were important to our family,” Hirschbeck said. “There was a picture that Michael had hanging in his bedroom for what seemed like forever. It was an autographed photo of Indians superstars from the ’90s and featured Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, David Justice and Roberto Alomar.
“They were pictures of them all in one big frame and is absolutely beautiful, and it was something of which we could not part. Some of my World Series stuff, things like shirts that I wore and jackets, we also kept. We always did something special as I would just put my plate brush, indicator and line-up cards from my World Series plate assignments into a frame and then Denise would add the tickets, whether it went seven games or five games, etc. Those are in frames and we kept those, but everything else went.
The auction includes some personalized items.
“Every game when you work the plate, you get line-up cards, signed by the managers, and I have them from all the years that I worked,” Hirschbeck said. “I very seldom gave them away, so there are autographs from managers like Billy Martin, Ralph Houk and Sparky Anderson, just to name a few.
“There is a Michael Jordan autographed ball, balls autographed by presidents — Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and both George H.W. and George W. Bush — just to name a few of the items.”
Other items included are from when Hirschbeck worked the plate for Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 756th career home run, to Roy Halladay’s NLDS no-hitter in 2010, and when Yankees’ reliever Mariano Rivera set the record for career saves by a pitcher.
He also had the home plate from the old Yankee Stadium, given to him by one of the groundskeepers, that will be featured in the second auction.”
“A cute story out of all of this was that when we were just beginning the process, Rick Jones was over the house and downstairs with us,” Hirschbeck said. “Rick knew Michael so well and I said that he’s probably turning over in his grave right now, watching us go through all this stuff and knowing that it would be leaving the house.
“That’s when they both stopped me and said, ‘You know, John, Michael is gone, he can’t use this stuff. It has no value, but if it can go to help one child then it’s a great thing to do,’ and I just said ‘OK, I hope you guys are right, so let’s go ahead with this,’ and we did.”
While the fee for most auction houses can be as high as 20-30 percent of the final take, Steiner’s CollectibleXchange settled on a negotiated fee of 15 percent.
“We negotiated an 85-15 split with the auction company with the Magic of Michael Foundation receiving 85 percent of the proceeds,” Hirschbeck said. “Brandon knows it’s for a charity and they did everything from sending a big van here from New York to pick everything up, and then they categorized everything.
“They take the pictures so I saw, first-hand the work they that put into this endeavor. All of us will be thrilled if we can match or exceed Mike’s (McCoy) original $500,000 estimate.