This article ran on the Fox Twin Cities website two weeks ago, about the crazy autograph seekers at the Metrodome. I saw it while skimming the forums on Twins pitcher Pat Neshek's website. (I've said it a hundred times, and I'll say it again -- Pat's awesome, read his blog, you're missing out if you don't.)
I've mentioned in a lot of my game reports the times when I've gotten stuff signed by random players after batting practice, just because it's a cool random little pre-game thing between picture-taking and other wanderings. 99% of the time, what I get signed is just the game's ticket. I bet a lot of players think that people getting their tickets signed just throw them out afterwards, but that's really not true in my case -- I've saved almost every ticket from the last few seasons, not even just the ones I get signed. I think it's really neat, and in most cases it brings back funny memories when I look through them.
I don't actually think I place that much value on actual signatures so much as on the experience. For example, I have several signed copies of books, but in almost all of those cases I think the story behind how I got them signed is a lot cooler than having the signature itself; the signature is usually just proof of the experience. I have some signed CDs and posters from various bands, but again, almost all of them have a funny story behind them as well. I have a Jamie Moyer signed rookie card, but to me, the awesome thing about that is just remembering the grin on Moyer's face when he was showing JJ Putz the card like "Look, that's me when I was your age!"
Originally, I think I started getting tickets signed after batting practice because I wanted to try to be less shy and actually approach players. Now, I'm a lot less shy about it, but I still just think it's pretty cool. Mostly, it's pretty interesting seeing some of the players close up, like how tall John Buck is, or how short Adam Kennedy is, or how blue Rich Harden's eyes are. I'd never sell anything I've gotten signed, nor would I ever actually buy anything specifically because it's signed. Like I said, the signature isn't worth as much to me as the experience, or the story. For my birthday last year, my dad went to a Mike Schmidt signing in Philly and got me a signed copy of Clearing the Bases. That's worth a lot to me just because I think it's awesome that my dad went to the trouble for a cool birthday present.
I don't necessarily think autograph hounds have ruined the experience for the rest of the fans, but they definitely can sometimes put a damper on it. One time in Philly, Cole Hamels was out signing things before a game, and he signed a jersey for a guy, who then said "THIS IS TOTALLY GOING ON EBAY TOMORROW!" Now, whether the guy was joking or not is irrelevant -- Hamels pretty much didn't sign anything for anyone else who wasn't a little kid for the rest of that time, and I had to catch him the next day. So the suggestion of "I just got this signed to sell it" actually did make things worse for other people.
I sometimes feel bad asking players to sign stuff just because there are so many people out there, and I would never get in the way of a little kid (quite to the contrary, I've often lent my Sharpie to little kids and told them players' names and such) but at the same time, I think that getting a ticket signed pretty much at least is the best indication of "This is for me", since it's not like people really want to buy a signed ticket.
Anyway, Pat Neshek had a pretty interesting reaction to the aforementioned article, which he posted on his forums:
That was a pretty brutal story, I think it's really good for everyone to see how the media can sway a certain topic to what they want to prove...Using shady video work, a catch phrase and player comments you can do a lot of stuff...they do these type of stories and can really mess up people's lives depending on the story...I wish they would've asked me about it but then again they would never understand the business and the point of graphing...What do I say...that story was a bunch of crap...I sign everyday before games for everyone that is there...everyday and everyone and I have never had a problem with anyone...I'm for the selling of my stuff or other players...I don't understand the big deal...If someone sells their item that means someone out there is willing to buy it that isn't able to get the autograph thereselves and there is a demand for your autograph...nuff said, terrible story!
It's interesting, because I mean, I never thought about it that way, but he's right. Different people place different values on different things. I'd never pay $50 for a signed baseball, but I could see why other people might. And if there's someone out there who really wants a Joe Mauer signed baseball and can't get to a Twins game or signing event, then why would you want to stop them from being able to buy one from someone else who can? And if you're Joe Mauer, and everyone adores you and wants your signature (and sideburns), isn't that good for you too?
I think there's nothing wrong with players who decide not to sign things, but at the same time, it's those little interactions with fans that make them into bigger fans. Something I noticed about Japanese people is that they'd often rather get their picture taken with someone famous than get something signed, which makes sense if you don't have a whole lot of room to keep collections of signed stuff, and makes even more sense in the cellphone-picture generation -- if you're having a conversation with someone at a game, you can't exactly whip out your signed baseball collection out of nowhere, but if you've got a picture of you with Bobby Valentine on your cellphone, you can show that off pretty quickly. On the other hand, if everyone wanted to get pictures with players rather than getting things signed, that actually would take longer in the long run. Plus, I don't know about you, but I don't really like pictures of myself all that much, even if it's with someone famous. I'd rather have an autograph!
(A week or so ago I discovered a guy's page titled Baseball People I Have Met. It's pictures of him with a crazy range of various baseball people over the years, and pretty cool in general. The funny thing is, when I found it, I was like "well... wait a minute, shouldn't this just be called 'Pictures of me with Baseball People'? It's pretty obvious that most of these are just at signings and such -- is that really "meeting" someone?)
In the old days, players weren't all that lofty compared to normal people, in terms of salaries and whatnot, but nowadays there's a pretty big celebrity gap thing that goes on. So it's cool to have a moment or two to see that the guy in uniform really is just another random dude, except he happens to get paid a lot of money to play baseball. Or, if you're really lucky, you might get Scott Kazmir to come hang out at your elementary school. Either way, it's about that little bit of interaction that brings fans and players a little closer together.