You can tell a lot about a ball player by the way they treat their fans, particularly their youngest supporters.
Both players and fans report to sun-soaked spring training camps in Arizona and Florida this month, creating baseball’s version of the Venn diagram, in which many of the barriers between athletes and common folk become blurred. This creates the perfect opportunity for fans to meet their idols up close and, oft times very, personal. This, of course, provides a unique chance to land some autographs like none other.
Celebrity signatures have always been a hot commodity, but their place in the trading card industry hasn’t always been so clear cut. On the surface, you’d think an autograph would infinitely raise the value of the card. But that’s not necessarily always the case.
The biggest question boils down to two factors. Is the autograph for your personal collection or for your personal gain?
The general rule of thumb is that a signed card is only worth as much as the autograph itself. Hence that Willie Mays (1961 Topps, No. 150) could witness its $900 price tag depreciate after the Say Hey Kid scrawls his signature on it. You can score a Mays autograph on eBay for as low as $25, after all.
Conversely, a Josh Hancock (2002 Donruss, No. 106) rookie card fetches more with his John Hancock, raising from $1 to the same price as a Willie Mays autograph on eBay.
Mays and Hancock had distinctly different careers.
The question of authenticity also plays a major factor. Without a certificate of authenticity or a photo of the player physically signing the card or ball, getting full value could be problematic.
Thrill of the Fight
Let’s be honest. An adult crowding a professional athlete for an autograph is a bit awkward. It’s best to leave it to the wide-eyed kid with a fistful of cards and Sharpie-stained fingers.
That was yours’ truly as a 10-year-old in Vero Beach, Fla., former spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
My most coveted signed card came from being crushed by a throng of fans seeking Orel Hershiser’s autograph. The result was a signed rookie card (1985 Topps, No. 493) and several (happily) bruised ribs. Orel took the time to connect with his fans. So, too, did the likes of Mike Scioscia (1986 Topps, No. 486) and Tommy Lasorda (1986 Topps, No. 291) — the latter who allowed us to ride in his golf cart with him.
Other players aren’t so thrilled by your presence. Time and location is key to approaching a player. Hall of fame first baseman Eddie Murray wasn’t too thrilled about me and my younger brothers approaching him as he sat in his maroon 1987 Chrysler LeBaron. Other players sheer bitterness when it comes to being ripped from their routines, such as Detroit Tigers pitcher Paul Gibson. He begrudgingly signed my card during batting practice at Yankee Stadium in 1989. Karma turned on Gibson, however. Turns out the card he signed was a dubious error card (1989 Score, No. 595). Note the shortstop in the background. Score eventually issued a reprint, thusly increasing the original’s value.
Error card or not, the autographs should probably hold more of an intrinsic value and be worth about the same amount as the experience of obtaining it.
Christopher Wuensch (1988 Baseball USA Camps, No. 14)
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