You try to picture the scene in your mind.
A giant box of trading cards shows up at a player's home. He opens it up and his first expression is probably one you can't put in a respectable hobby news outlet (or even ours). There is a stack of 200, 300 maybe even 500 or 1,000 cards, all in need of his signature. He has to do it. He agreed to it. He's getting paid for it. But he doesn't have to like it.
As long as his Sharpie touches the glossy front or the jersey patch relic (or the sticker that's stuck to a big sheet so they can stick them on cards), he's golden. The less time he spends on it, the more time he has for himself.
The one universal truth that has come out of the proliferation of autographs as the main draw for modern era collectors/lottery lovers is that penmanship is not exactly at the top of the list of commitments for today's athletes. We reached out to our Twitter and Facebook pals to solicit samples and reaction.
" I could write with my feet better than these guys can with their hands," wrote painfully honest collector Mark Mariniello.
We'd hate to be an authenticator working on a ball signed by any team playing today. How do you authenticate what are essentially two letters and a couple of lines or sometimes or even just the two letters, like Lawrence Timmons (above) or Chris Johnson (right) who seem to have taken the same handwriting class.
The card companies must quench the thirst of collectors who insist on them and so they can't really put up much of a squabble, although many collectors wish they could be made to sign in the presence of someone who could force them to at least make an effort to write in that archaic script we old fogeys call 'cursive'.
"I like going through dealers' boxes of autographed cards and picking out the ones with the particularly bad signatures, to point out the irony of people buying boxes hoping for a good hit, only to find that they've gotten a player they've not only never heard of but you can't even read their names," says Gary Dunaier.
Some players' initials can have unfortunate consequences. Our Twitter friend @matthewjhorne offered us Fran Vazquez, who goes with "FV" although it could pass for "F U", which seems appropriate for the result of his effort.
@EricClarkson offers this take on Matt Purke (right): "It looks like he signed it while flying in a helicopter."
Kind of hard to accept that, although it's possible they're using the cards to work on math problems. How else to explain Maurice Ager's signature, which looks suspiciously like the symbol for Pi.
Arnold Palmer may do his best to keep today's pro golfers signing legibly.
"If you're going to take the time to sign, sign it so they can read it," he's often chastised.
Many of yesterday's sports greats have great writing. Andre Dawson. Julius Erving. Pete Rose. There are many others.
Steve Nash is a big star and old enough to be old school but even gold ink can't save his dignity.
The patron saint of awful autographs, the guy who lowered the bar for legible autographs and then crawled under it, is the legendary Vernand Morency, a journeyman running back who brazenly offered no attempt at even a second capital letter or line, only a half-hearted V that looks like a check mark and a trailing comet of ink. Makes you wonder if that's sort of how he approached the whole exercise.
It all brings up a question Dunaier asks himself when he's thumbing through those boxes of highly prized "autographed" cards.
"Wonder if these guys sign their contracts and other legal and financial paperwork the same way they sign their cards and stickers?"
Below...the full collector submitted Hall of Autograph Shame...and one legend who shows how it should be done.
Wanna see more? Just browse eBay for a few minutes.