Penmanship and the Modern Ballplayer, Part I

Featured Cards: 2008 Upper Deck Heroes Autographs Beige #138, Mike Schmidt; 2003 Topps Fan Favorites Autographs #FFA-RR, Robin Roberts; 1999 Fleer Greats of the Game Autographs (no #), Curt Simmons; 2007 Topps Heritage Real Ones Autographs #ROA-JL; Joe Lonnett; 2003 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #RO-EM, Eddie Mayo; 2004 Topps Originals Signatures (no #), 1987 Topps Kent Tekulve

As we all get older, it gets progressively easier to assume the role of the grumpy old man who keeps yelling at kids for playing their music too loud or for cutting across his lawn. For sports fans, the equivalent is talking about how players from the previous generations were better and/or respected the game more than today’s breed of athlete. That’s why I was somewhat surprised many years ago when Mike Schmidt made his comments about the Steroid Era. Rather than make the easy (grumpy old man) statement epitomized by players such as Bob Feller, Schmidt admitted he likely would have used steroids, given the money players could earn and the pressure to produce the best numbers possible. It was the reasoned, deeply considered realization of a former player who, while acknowledging the emotional aspect of the controversy, was honest with himself about the choice he might have made if he played during the late ’90s.

His honesty regarding steroids gives him some leeway in regards to his comments this past October regarding the signatures of today’s ballplayers. Yes, it’s easy to say that he sounded like a grumpy old man when he asked, “Since when did the signatures of today’s celebrity athletes become worse than your local physician’s scrawl on a prescription slip?” But, he had a point. Today’s autographs are an absolute mess, and while I’ll almost certainly continue to collect Phillies autographs, I have grown frustrated with the degradation in the quality of player’s signatures, in particular, over the past 10 years.

Schmidt, while discussing the specifics surrounding his question, mentioned the signatures of the athletes of his childhood, noted, “I was 12 years old in 1962. I’m looking at these cards now… I was given the autographs 50 years ago of these famous golfers and I still have them. I can read them. You could read them.” The same is true of the Phillies of the time — take a look at the following autographs.

I’d like to note, based on the year these certified autograph cards were issued, that these men were still impressively signing in a legible manner well into their senior citizen years. Roberts was 76 when he signed that card; Simmons, 70, Lonnett, 79; and Mayo, 89. Please take the time to remember this as you see some of the autographs later in this series of posts. Also note that Simmons’s signature is unusually “sloppy” for players of this period, but it’s still recognizable.

Thankfully, players from that era all the way through the the ’90s were, for the most part, just as conscientious when it came to signing their names. As players up through that time started taking part in certified autograph releases, it was obvious that many of them continued to take a certain amount of pride in their penmanship. Somewhat paradoxically, however, many of them actually started signing after the rise of the certified autograph issue in the mid ’90s, which was when the noticeable decline in the quality of signatures of today’s ballplayers really began to take place.

Later this week, the 1996 Leaf Signature Series sets: a harbringer of what was to come.

2 responses to “Penmanship and the Modern Ballplayer, Part I

  1. Matt over on The Phillies Collector blog has a good take on Schmidt’s legibility that I agree with–basically, if you pay, Schmidt gives you a nice autograph. If you meet him and snag a free one, it’s terrible. Still, I know a lot of young athletes give you a terrible one even if you pay a small fortune for it.

    http://www.thephilliescollector.com/2012/10/mike-schmidt-meet-kettle.html

    • Because of my hiatus, I missed that particular post. I pretty much stick solely to certified autograph issues, so I was completely unaware that Schmidt’s “free” autograph was very different. It serves to undercut his point. I’ll be sure to acknowledge this in the follow-up post, as well as explicitly mention that I am dealing only with certified autograph baseball cards here.

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