"Spring is here again, tender age in bloom, bruises on the fruit, but knows not what it means." —Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain has always been an artistic inspiration to me. Also a fashion inspiration, embarrassingly enough. The quote above always struck me as perfect for baseball: Spring is here again and nobody knows what the season is going to bring. I’ve been trying to fit this into a column forever, so why not now?
I got my start in baseball very young. When I was 8 years old, my father and I visited my grandmother and found a cardboard box filled with 1950s and 1960s baseball cards held together by rubber bands. They hadn’t been touched in 30 years. Mantle, Mays, Koufax, Snider, Yaz, Drysdale, literally every ’60s generational great. We called my dad’s best friend at the time, Ron Greenstein, a man who was like an uncle to me, to tell him about our score. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It’s one of the fondest memories I’ll always have.
After my parents divorced, I clinged to sports as the linchpin of my life. Before computers, before Google, before social media, I read every baseball book I could and memorized every stat I could. I freaking followed the 1991 draft—at 9 years old! I watched Brien Taylor and Domingo Jean play in Ft. Lauderdale stadium in 1992 (or 1991) and tried to get their autographs. I was fortunate enough to be born in a very special time and place: South Florida, when the region expanded from a one-team town (the Dolphins) to a multi-sport region. I was at the first Marlins game at age 12, watching Charlie Hough throw the first pitch and Scott Pose take the first at-bat. I was at the first Heat game at age 6 watching the first tip-off between Rony Seikaly and Benoit Benjamin. And at 12 I was at the first home Panthers game, watching Brian Skrudland take the first face-off. I sat at the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, the 1997 World Series and 2003 World Series. It was an exciting time and place to be a sports fan.
Throughout all this I collected trading cards and autographs. It was a wonderful distraction from my health problems. It started with my family: That box of baseball cards my dad and I found, for one thing, but my grandparents’ relationship with baseball players was sturdier than mere cardboard. My grandmother on my mother’s side (Lee Silton, famous artist, Google her) grew up in Southie in Boston and always told me stories of Ted Williams, Walt Dropo and Bobby Doerr. My grandfather on my dad’s side hated baseball but did love him some Lefty Gomez. I have all those athletes’ autographs not so much as "investments" but because they were mementos of my family’s history.
This spring, many of you will go to a game and ask for an autograph from a major- or minor-league player, a manager, a broadcaster, even a sportswriter. (I’ve even been asked! I’m embarrassed to say so, but it was also honestly the coolest feeling ever.) Be nice about it. eBay has ruined collecting in many ways but it’s not a dead art yet. Here are a few pointers on how to get autographs of your favorite players without sticking out or being grouped with my second most-loathed group in the baseball world: the "autograph monkeys.”
1. Do not ever call a player by his number. If you don’t know who the player is do not ask for his autograph. I shouldn’t have to say this.
2. Be prepared. Have a pen, have your item, and ask politely for a player to sign one or two different things at most.
3. Wait until the player is done with work. Baseball is a job and everyone you see on the field in spring training is trying to make a ballclub. Stars are stars but they are all there to work, too. Everyone has time to sign sometime, but be patient and understand your moment might not be today. As a kid I was able to meet guys like Maddux, Pedro, Unit, Smoltz, Piazza, Ripken, Bonds, Clemens, Young Jeter, etc., and each one was right place right time. Don’t push things and realize a lot of this comes down to luck, which brings me to the next point.
4. Study the minor leagues. There is nothing more exciting as a collector than meeting the next big thing before he is the next big thing. I met Mike Piazza when I was 10 and he was a 62nd-round pick. He signed a ball for me. I met Vlad Guerrero when he was 17 and Miguel Cabrera when he was 16. I mean, how cool is that? Had I not had those moments, who knows if I’d even be working in baseball.
5. Respect the “no.” Harassing a player will never end well, and if you happen to get a player to crack at best you’ll get a scribble. What’s more important, the memory or the scribble? I remember each story behind almost every autograph I’ve ever gotten. None involved me hectoring a player until he hated me.
6. Never bother a player away from the field. If a player is with his family, at dinner, at a mall, getting gas, literally anything that isn’t his place of work, he deserves a private life. Do not stalk them. I tell all my clients to never sign at hotels, as it only encourages more stalking. Thankfully, most hotels nowadays have great security staffs to prevent this.
7. If you have a moment and you really want one particular player’s autograph, research him and try to talk to him. Baseball players are human beings and they’re flattered when their fans know about them. Ask them about college, ask them about the draft, ask them about their offseason. Most are quite engaging.
8. Do not get into the hobby for the money. Yes, it’s a hobby and a business but the business side of it sucks. (Writers note: I’m well aware of the irony of me complaining about the business of autographs when I myself negotiate lucrative autograph contracts). I tell all of my clients to sign autographs every single day at least once. This is an indisputable fact. Do I give them advice on things to do or not do when signing? Absolutely. For instance, most of my collection is personalized to me. That’s what I was taught an autograph was supposed to be, more than a scribble. A moment captured with someone looked up to. I have caught a lot of flack over the years for telling my players to personalize items, but here is my rationale for that as an agent and a collector: Personalizing does two things.
- It protects the rarity of a player’s signature. A personalized signature can’t be resold, despite the diehard’s best efforts to remove personalizations with nail polish remover.
- If you personalize an autograph to a child and the player talks to the child and asks the name of the child, that child will remember the moment forever. The player has a fan for life simply by being nice. My favorite autograph I own is still my puck signed by John Buccigross, which read: "What Kurt Cobain was to Nrivana, Joshua is to John Buccigross." Bar none the best autograph I own.
9. Do not be an Autograph Monkey. (Just trying to recapture some magic here.)
10. Have fun! Baseball is a game, and—as Tom Selleck said in Mr. Baseball—games are supposed to be fun. As a fan of the game, take in as many memories as you can. For every tough memory I have in my life I have 1,000 more amazing memories baseball has given me. I thank the game, the players, and my family for giving this amazing gift to me and I sincerely hope everyone heading to spring training can collect great memories of their own. And if you see me at a game and happen to know who I am by some fluke, come talk to me. You could even ask for my autograph, but I wouldn't recommend wasting the ink.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now