I tip my cap to Jack Billingham. It’s not the typical “now I charge for autographs” form letter.
One of the most meaningful moments of the baseball season came when I viewed a segment of the MLB Player Poll.
I’ve always dismissed the show as a “Baseball TMZ” or “Diamond Talking Heads.”
However, the answers pointed out a problem real collectors are facing.
Once, I thought the guy who wanted a used hot dog wrapper autographed made us look bad.
Now, we’re the ones who get the stink-eye.
Autographing a body part or someone’s baby is easy. “I don’t think you could sell your own kid on eBay, just to get rich off my autograph,” thinks the current player.
However, if you take the time to present a meaningful artifact, then the paranoia ensues. “That’s so nice, I’m sure you’ll sell and make a profit off me! I’d rather sign bits of garbage, knowing that you’ll throw the autographs away.”
Whether in person or by mail, be ready to tell about your collection to a potential signer. In the hobby’s “new normal,” we need to redefine what autographs mean to us.
What’s right about baseball autograph collecting right now?
I ask myself this every day. Not just about the hobby, but about all walks of life. We know the problems. How can we celebrate what’s good in the interim?
I began my survey with Rich Hanson, one of the most ambitious autograph collectors I’ve ever known.
About the only thing good about baseball card autograph collecting is the accessability of the players at the minor league level. In-person autographing is still fun. By mail is getting tougher, and the EBayers who sell signatures have lent a foul stench to the hobby. But I’m sure you’ve heard my complaints on that score already.
Readers, how would you answer?
Say it ain’t so, Bill.
I searched his memoir Uppity for insights about why he stopped accepting fan mail, choosing the “Return to Sender” route. Was he becoming baseball’s Greta Garbo? Had Dr. Mike Marshall influenced him with talk of autographs and real heroes?
Instead, he clings to the old, simplistic notion of everyone being a greedy dealer. He writes:
“When I was a player we never thought twice about giving some kid an autograph, or handing out signed baseballs…These days, of course, a lot of the big-name players have six-figure contracts with agents to market their autographs, and professional dealers have squeezed out the kids. If you give somebody an autographed baseball these days, you can probably expect to see it on eBay a week later.”
White endured years of racism and prejudice. He writes with restrained clarity, offering compassionate reviews of loudmouths like Cincinnati owner Marge Schott. Books that I’ve read by Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson boil over with an anger tsunami at bigotry. White is detailed but measured in his criticisms.
How I would have loved even one extra page detailing his views on fan mail.