By Mike Pound
In early 2006, my now 14-year-old daughter managed to get autographs from St. Louis Cardinals baseball players Adam Wainwright and Skip Schumaker when they came to Joplin as part of the team’s annual Cardinals Caravan.
At the time, both Adam and Skip were relatively unknown rookies who were on the caravan mainly to be introduced to fans before the upcoming season. I was working on a column on former Cardinals broadcaster Bob Carpenter, who was part of the team’s caravan, and took Emma with me to the event.
We were standing behind the stage with the players before their autograph session began. While we waited, I chatted with the guys a bit. I knew that Adam, a top pitching prospect, had recently come to the Cardinals via a trade, and that Skip was a talented outfielder. Not only did both guys make the team that season, they also played key roles in the Cardinals’ run to the World Series championship.
At the end of the 2006 season, after I watched the Cardinals celebrate their World Series win, I dug out Emma’s Cardinals baseball cap to look at the signatures from Adam and Skip, but I couldn’t find them.
The signatures were on the hat, but I couldn’t read them. See, earlier that year, we took in a Springfield Cardinals baseball game, and Emma had a number of minor league players also sign her hat. The problem was that every signature on the baseball cap was virtually unreadable. Trying to find Adam’s and Skip’s signatures among all the others was like trying to find your doctor’s signature on a prescription pad signed by 20 other physicians.
I thought about Emma’s ball cap when I read an Associated Press story about autographs written by baseball great Mike Schmidt. Mike played third base for the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and has always had a reputation for being a smart and thoughtful fellow.
It’s Mike’s opinion that most of today’s sports stars don’t take the time to sign a neat and legible autograph. Instead, they simply make a few chicken scratch-like scrawls, and then (if you’re lucky) they write their uniform number next to their “signatures.” In the story, Mike contrasted the signatures of some of today’s athletes with those of the players of former generations. Mike mentioned players like Harmon Killlebrew and Andre Dawson, whose signatures he said were “a work of art.” Mike also wrote that he makes sure his own signature is always “neat and you can read it.”
According to Mike, a neat, legible signature shows that the player put some effort into the autograph. It is, he said, a sign of respect.
He also said that autograph seekers have changed over the years. Many of them today, he said, are interested in the signature only so that it can be sold. Many autograph seekers today, he said, are pushy, rude and almost “paparazzi-like” in their pursuit of signatures. And he is right.
I should point out that when Adam and Skip signed Emma’s cap, they were gracious and polite. But Mike said not all sports stars are that way. Many just scrawl their “signatures” and hand the signed item back without speaking. And Mike said that is wrong. Mike also said it’s wrong for autograph seekers to be rude and pushy.
Mike said he would like to see a world where sports stars sign neat, easy-to-read signatures and take time to interact with their fans while signing. In that same world, he also would like to see fans be polite, respect players’ privacy and not stalk or badger them.
What? It could happen.