Things We Do For Love – And Autographs

Posted by on Apr 27 in Baseball Collection, Spring Training, The Art of the Autograph

This is the first post in the series “The Art of the Autograph”

You’d think someone my age would be ashamed at some of the tactics I’ve employed to obtain autographs. There’s no shame when you’ve secured a great signature – none.

“Joe Nuxhall – Youngest Player to play in the major league June 10th 1944”

“Joe Nuxhall – Youngest Player to play in the major league June 10th 1944”

I’ve crawled under bleachers, stuck my hand through a hole in an outfield fence (a groundskeeper promptly chased me out of the area – after 3 autographs), talked grandkids into helping me (players universally sign for kids and pretty girls), and walked onto a Cincinnati Red‘s team bus as they were leaving their hotel heading to the ballpark (I was almost put to work by the team management). I did get Joe Nuxhall‘s autograph though, who, in 1944 at age 15, was the youngest player to ever play in a Major League Game. He was working as an announcer for the Reds and I spotted him as he was getting on the bus.

I became friends with a lady who was affectionately known as “the cookie lady” by Oakland Athletic players. Seems she came to every spring training game with a basket of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and the players always made sure to come over to grab a cookie. Standing next to her made for some great autographs.

I also made a practice of making friends with ushers at the spring training parks, who would tip me off when former stars were in the stands and where they were sitting.

Willie-MaysWillie Mays would come to almost every SF Giants spring game and leave before the 4th inning – autographed a baseball for me in the Giants parking lot. His car license plate read, “The Say Hey Kid.”

Finding the hotels where visiting teams are staying provides another great opportunity as players are leaving or coming back from the game. I’ve secured some great autographs in NY at the Yankee-Dodger Old Timers’ Game while staying at the Sheraton New Yorker where the majority of the “Old Timers” were housed – Goose Gossage, Tommy Davis, Lee Lacy, Ron Guidry, Ed Figueroa. And at the All Star Game in Chicago at the Westin Hotel – Gary Sheffield, Dontrelle Willis, Todd Helton.

The majority of my collection of autographed baseballs have been gotten at Arizona Cactus League Spring Training ballparks. After 22 years of haunting these parks, I’ve grown to know most of the prime spots to position myself to get the best autographs. But you have to have patience. Today’s players are not as willing to sign as players twenty years ago were, and the crowds at these games have increased tenfold. I’ve come away from crowds seeking autographs with bruises on my arms and legs from being shoved out of the way when a player is finally willing to sign – it gets vicious, especially if the player is a star who seldom signs.

But if you have patience and are willing to stand for hours outside a ballpark next to a team bus when the players are boarding after the games, or if you get to the ballpark early when the teams are arriving for practice, you can get many, many signatures.

Though I have noticed a tactic players have begun to use to avoid autograph seekers – coming out of the parks with cell phones held to their ear, attempting to look like they’re too busy to sign – and it did get a big laugh when one guy holding the phone to his ear had his phone ring … the crowd roared.

I’ve tried to avoid some of the obvious places for autographs – card shows and paid signings – though I have gotten some valuable signatures at these places … You can’t rule anything out.