Thursday, June 14, 2012

What is an Autograph?

I hear it quite often, inside the hobby and out. “What a terrible signature that is.” “What kind of autograph is that? You can’t make out all the letters!” My question back to them is always, “So?”

Isn’t a signature or autograph more that simply writing your name in cursive? Isn’t a signature simply your name written in a distinctive way? So people know it’s you? I saw an auction listing once for a “dual-signed Christy Matthewson envelope” Basically, this was an envelope that Christy had autographed twice. Why did he sign the same envelope twice? Good question. One of the autographs was in the return address. Since it was the early 1900’s, Big 6 wrote his return address in cursive. So, there was one “autograph.” The second one? Well, the envelope was addressed to Christy’s wife. “Mrs. Christy Matthewson” Once again, since cursive was used, it was called another autograph. I was astounded. Those weren’t signatures. They were just him writing his name. That’s not the same thing, is it? Let’s say Jon Lester was writing a letter to his brother telling him to throw a party. “Get the invitations out.” Jon might start out the letter. “Invite, Frank, Casey, Jon, Lester, Kyle, and Theo.” Did he just produce a Jon Lester autograph?

So, why is there so much discussion about the “quality” of an autograph? Why is a “nice signature” one where you can make out all the letters? Isn’t a big D followed by a squiggle still distinctive? Wouldn’t you still know who it was? Wouldn’t it, in reality, be more distinctive? I bet if you asked ten people to write “David Ortiz” in their best cursive, they would all look fairly similar. But, a David Ortiz signature would be distinctive. You might even say, a signature mark.

So, I don’t care if I can make out every letter of an autograph. I don’t care if I can only make out two letters. I’ll be happy if I can tell the squiggle gets higher where there should be a “k.” It’s an autograph. If I made someone rewrite it so I could make out every letter, it wouldn’t be their autograph.

Frankly, I can’t blame players if their signatures aren’t perfect anyway. If I had to sign as many things, and as many hard-to-sign things, I’d develop an easy to do signature too. Since that’s the way they sign things, it’s their signature.

Why isn’t that the most important thing?


  1. I agree with you in part that autographs are unique from person to person but when all a guy can do is scribble a few lines that clearly contain no letters, it is stretching the definition.

  2. An autograph doesn't have to be letter perfect, but it needs to be identifiable.

    Go to a minor league game, and ask some players to sign a generic item like a baseball or program before the game. After the game, try to figure out who signed "autographs" for you. Unless they decide to include their uniform numbers, you;ll probably have a better idea about why people complain about "autograph quality."

  3. I couldn't disagree more. Take a look at some of the old-timers signatures, like a Musial, Killebrew, Santo, Kaline, Virgil Trucks, Jean Beliveau etc. The fact that they make/made their signatures legible shows that they cared about their fans. Is a "shorthand" signature that makes it easier for the player to sign more quickly equivalent to that signature being "distinctive"? I have an early Dave Winfield autograph that I posted about, clearly written DAVID WINFIELD. Now he seems to sign everything DWINFIELD. Can he sign that way more quicky? Sure. Is it better? I don't think so. The bottom line I think, is that a lot of modern players don't sign with their "natural" signatures. They've taught themselves a shorthand version and I think that shortchanges their fans.


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