Getting autographs

Thanks to reader Jeff, who indicated that he wanted to hear something about Billy Williams. As a White Sox fan, I doubt he wants one of the Cubs mini helmets I referenced in an earlier post. But I’ll send some Sox-related swag his way, instead.

When I was a kid, I had no problems asking baseball players for their autographs. I thought that’s what every kid was supposed to do. It was the reason I went to games, sometimes.

I remember getting future big leaguers Leon Durham and Tito Landrum’s autographs on a foul ball I had procured at a Springfield Redbirds game in 1980. I also remember playing hotbox with the ball the next day.

I also remember getting Satchel Paige’s autograph on a scorecard at a baseball game in 1978. His picture was on the cover of the scorecard, and that was all I knew about him. I wish I had known more about how great he was as a player, but I was ten years old at the time, and had not yet learned half of what I would know about the game later in life.

My wife read this post and told me of a time when she waited in line at a department store in Cleveland to get an autograph from Mickey Mantle. She also reported that Mantle was in a state that you might expect Mickey Mantle to be in, too.

The idea behind getting an autograph wasn’t to hold on to any of them for monetary value, although some people do exactly that. For me, it was more of a way to demonstrate that I was once in a famous person’s space long enough to get a signature on whatever item I was able to hand to him.

Early in the 2002 baseball season, I was watching a Cubs game on TV when the announcers indicated that Billy Williams was going to sign autographs somewhere at a particular time. It turned out that I was available at this time (although I have no idea why), and so I went with my then-three year old daughter. We waited in a line, and when we made it to the front, I asked him to sign a baseball I had with me, and a card that my daughter had with her (given to her by me, of course). He graciously did so, and we left the line so that the next person could get their chance. The card is shown above.

As a player, Billy Williams means nothing to me. True, he was a longtime Cub, but by the time I began following baseball in the 1970s, he had been traded away to the Oakland A’s. He does have a nice statue outside of Wrigley Field, though, near the corner of Addison and Sheffield.

The life of a ballplayer is something that I don’t know anything about. The life of a hall of famer is something I know even less about. But I can tell, from the crowd of people that were waiting in line that day, that signing autographs comes with the territory. It must be an ego boost for the players, and it’s certainly a revenue stream for them as well. I think Pete Rose went to prison for not reporting income from that, if I remember correctly.

Does having an autograph make an item more valuable than it might otherwise be? Maybe for some it does. And I’m not disparaging that at all. But the bigger picture, I think, is that this is honoring a tradition with athletes, and movie stars, and authors, and really anybody who can be called a “celebrity.”

I went to New York City last summer, and one of the places I saw was Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street. It’s exactly what you would imagine a deli to be, right down to the signed pictures of famous people hanging on the walls. Anyone who signs a picture for someone else must feel like they’ve made it in whatever it is that they do.

Baseball players, by virtue of the fact that they play baseball for a living, fit into this category, as well. Not many of them will make it to the majors, let alone become inducted into the Hall of Fame, but they all have kids (and maybe some grownups, too) asking them to sign autographs before or after a game. And that’s not such a bad feeling, I would imagine.

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