CHICAGO – When Joe Serpico closes his eyes, he can go right back to that day in 1961.
Serpico’s big Italian family gathered for cake and coffee for his 10th birthday. On a table full of presents, there was one unwrapped Wieboldt’s department store box from uncle Jerry “The Barber” Del Giudice — a pair of game-worn jerseys from Chicago Blackhawks stars Bobby Hull and Glenn Hall — a moment of pure joy that stayed with Serpico forever.
“I knew their birthdays, I knew these guys, this was my whole life, was hockey,” he said, “and at 10 years old to get a gift coming from the two of them was phenomenal.”
Serpico, born and raised in Chicago, grew up, got married and had five children with his wife Linda, four girls and one boy. The jerseys went along for the ride, tucked away for safe keeping. But that changes this weekend, when bidding on the signed Hull jersey comes to an end as part of Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night Auction.
Serpico, 66, wore the Hull jersey when he touched the Stanley Cup a couple years ago — a surprise present from one of his daughters — and something changed.
“That was on my bucket list,” he said, “and I feel like, maybe I could share it with somebody else. I hope it ends up in the right hands. I don’t know. … I’m having a hard time letting it go.”
Serpico’s uncle was a colorful character who served as the team barber for decades, becoming friendly with Hull, Hall and several other players. He went to the old Chicago Stadium to cut their hair on Wednesdays, or they would come to one of the family barbershops on the weekend on occasion, creating lines of kids looking for autographs that ran around the block, according to Serpico.
Hull and Hall were packing up after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961 when Del Guidice mentioned Serpico’s birthday was coming up.
“He was down there and he said ‘Hey, you know in a couple weeks is Joey’s birthday. It’d be nice if I brought him something,’ and Bobby and Glenn threw him a jersey,” Serpico said. “That’s the story that was given to me.”
Hull was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, and there is a statue of him outside of the United Center in Chicago. The high-scoring forward played 15 of his 23 seasons with the Blackhawks, but Chris Ivy, the director of the sports category for Heritage, said game-worn Hull jerseys from his Chicago days are “pretty scarce.”
“I’d say there’s only a handful of them known in the hobby,” he said. “Now there is some from his other teams. There’s some from the Jets and from Hartford. But the Blackhawks jerseys, there’s not a whole lot.”
Heritage analyzed Serpico’s jersey — looking at the numbers, the fonts and other parts of the sweater — and determined it’s from the 1958-59 season, Hull’s second year in the league.
“This may be one where his uncle asked either Hull or the equipment manager, you know, Hull said ‘Hey, I want to give a jersey away to my buddy. Do you have an old one laying around?'” Ivy said, “and I suspect that’s how they got a jersey in ’61 that had actually been used a couple years previous.”
Decades after Serpico got the jerseys from his beloved uncle, he got each of them signed.
Hall asked Serpico to try on his No. 1 sweater one last time, and the Hall of Fame goaltender later sent Serpico a hand-written letter thanking him for being a fan. Hull’s No. 9 was retired by the Blackhawks — like Hall and No. 1 — but the jersey up for auction is No. 16, which Hull wore for a short time at the beginning of his career. And Hull was impressed by Serpico’s knowledge of the numbers from his career.
“Bobby looked at me and he started laughing. He’s like ‘OK, so you do remember a lot of the history,'” Serpico said.
Del Guidice died a few years ago at age 81, and Serpico said he wishes his uncle was still around to share his own stories. Serpico’s family lived in the same Chicago neighbourhood when he was growing up, and his uncle served as his godfather for confirmation and a consistent resource in his life.
While the Hull jersey is heading for another home — “I don’t even know if I’ve done the right thing about it,” Serpico said — Hall’s sweater is staying put. Probably forever.
“My son’s comment … if he was here, he’d tell you ‘My dad’s going to be buried in that jersey and only that jersey,'” a chuckling Serpico said.
Heritage Auctions: https://www.ha.com
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap