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Move over Mantle and Mays. Make room for Mandela and Gorbachev.
Randy Kaplan has spent the past two decades tracking down world leaders. He asks for their signatures on baseballs. It is a quirky melding of memorabilia and history. It has resulted in an impressive collection. He has more than 200 autographs from presidents, prime ministers, two kings and the Dalai Lama.
"It's been a passion, a labor of love and an obsession," says the 50-year-old Kaplan. He lives in Garden City, N.Y. He is a lifelong collector. His day job is in government affairs for a real estate trade group.
It began almost as a fluke in 1996. That's when he positioned himself outside a speech. He got President Bill Clinton to sign a ball. The next day, Republican Sen. Robert Dole appeared at the same event. He signed a ball and Kaplan was on his way.
Through the years, he has collected balls from Israeli President Shimon Peres, Vicente Fox of Mexico and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Some leaders had no clue what a baseball even was.
One of his proudest moments came when Mikhail Gorbachev signed a ball. It was during the former Soviet leader's short U.S. book tour in the late 1990s.
"He stands up, smiles, pushes the security guard away, takes the ball, sits down and signs it. That was amazing," says Kaplan. His baseballs, along with bats signed by every living U.S. president, are on display through the presidential election (and the baseball playoffs). They can be seen at Long Island's Cradle of Aviation Museum.
Timely features of the exhibit are signed balls from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They share a display case.
Kaplan would not put a price tag on the collection. He said it reflected countless hours of work. He staked out world leaders on visits to the United Nations, at speeches and other public events. Other times, he networks with friends through his business. Or he will write to ambassadors. He will ask them for signed baseballs.
Pope Francis has not signed a ball. But Kaplan has gotten signatures from about 20 cardinals. They may someday rise to the papacy. He says he does his homework. He has gotten signatures of a country's lower-ranking political officials before they become president or prime minister.
Who remains on his wish list? One is former Cuban President Fidel Castro. He is a known baseball fanatic. Britain's Prince Charles is another. And Kaplan's holy grail of signed balls is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Toughest signature on the planet," he says.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why were the autographs collected on baseballs instead of some other object?
Write your answers in the comments section below