Calling Judge Judy: Are Baseball Autograph Collectors Guilty Until They’re Proven Innocent?

It’s time for this blog’s first-ever guest column.


I was contacted by someone who wanted to remain anonymous. They didn’t want their name in the hobby, or the Internet, to distract from their message.

I agreed with their feelings. Do you?


The next time you enter a charity celebrity event, be ready for the unfamiliar feeling of the attention being focused on your every move. While the cameras may go off as your favorite athlete enters the room, rest assured multiple people are scrutinizing your actions well before you approach with a pen in hand.

The war is on against the common autograph seeker in the eyes of event organizers and security personnel. Show up to the door of an event brandishing more than a program or a scorecard, and you are automatically labeled a dealer who is out to ruin their celebrity event by asking for, you guessed it, a signature!

Never mind that you paid a few hundred dollars to attend, or that the names of the athletes were prominently advertised to get you to purchase a ticket; the moment you pull out a card, photo, or ball during the cocktail hour, you have now become the target of the overzealous security guards looking to protect these players from the ever-so-harmful “Sharpie brigade.”

Ever since the collecting boom of the 1980s, aficionados have been increasingly cautious in preserving their memorabilia and the items they choose to get signed. Nowadays, asking for a signature on the sweet spot is no longer reserved for the hardcore collector; the average fan knows to ask for it, too. They carry neatly arranged books of trading cards and photos, looking to preserve their signatures on items of their choice. 

A majority of the players are happy to oblige, knowing that one of the reasons people paid to be there was to get their signature. When informed, most of the players find it ridiculous that security would go out of their way to prevent patrons who purchased an expensive ticket to restrict them from bringing in some personal items to be signed. Most attendees want to get their one or two items signed, possibly pose for a picture, give their thanks, and move on.

Within the last few years, security has been increasingly confrontational, proudly remarking that they are keeping the dealers out of these events by not allowing patrons to bring in personal items. Expensive charity events that were once friendly to autograph collectors have been spoiled by the uniformed personnel trying to throw their weight around. Part of the reason the people pay to support the charity is to have the experience of getting their desired mementos signed by the advertised special guests.

One would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge that these are private events and the organizers are free to make their own decisions on what is permissible. Often, security is making these decisions on their own whims because they don’t like collectors. Buying a $300 ticket doesn’t guarantee you the right to turn it in to your own personal card show, but organizers and security are unfairly painting everyone with the same brush.

When an event advertises dozens of former professional athletes to attend, do they really think people are only going to try to get the program signed? Excited supporters have enjoyed building their collections over a number of years and when one pulls out a few common cards of a player from 20-30 years ago; people need to realize these cards were produced in massive quantities, held on to by multitudes and are readily available.

Are there dealers that attend these events, hoping to track down a signature of a Hall of Famer or a reclusive non-signer?Yes. Are people asking for nine cards to be signed at once at a public event bring attention to themselves? Yes. Is everyone that looks organized or eager to get a signature trying to sell their wares? No.

This aura of suspicion has filtered down to public in-store appearances, where the owners insist on one getting only the promotional item signed, again in their paranoia to ward off potential dealers that they think are going to profit mightily from a signed card one day. Do yourself a favor and check the completed sales price of a signed, in-person baseball card of a living player. I’m sure that $2.79 that one could possibly get from a signed card is going to look to autograph collecting as a full-time job.

These misrepresented collectors are the true baseball fans, the ones that love the game, the ones whose devotion is so strong, they spent their hard-earned money on the jerseys, baseball cards, photos and balls, all from which MLB and the MLBPA have profited. Don’t lump them in with the dealers because they collect; this is part of the culture of baseball that has developed long before Topps encouraged one to “Own the game.”
I second this emotion. You will face the “us versus them” mentality when you seek an in-person signature this year. I’m sure of it. Not from the signer, but from workers wanting to be more important than they are. Being able to demonize an innocent hobbyist is an easy route to looking dynamic. In the eyes of many, the best way to be a hero is to invent an enemy.

Sadly, we’re getting lumped into the latter category.

Is it time for “I’m a collector, not a dealer!” T-shirts?

3 thoughts on “Calling Judge Judy: Are Baseball Autograph Collectors Guilty Until They’re Proven Innocent?”

  1. Sadly, I’ve already made my collector tshirts to wear when I hunt in person at angel stadium. I actually get significantly better numbers than when I’m in regular team gear.


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