There was a brief discussion on Twitter Sunday morning about the declining quality of player signatures as a whole. It started when collector Rob Bertrand posted this about a hockey patch card signed by Marcus Kruger.
Topps joined briefly…
Yes, it is a somewhat complex problem. Quantity, of course, is an issue. Card companies demand it to satisfy collectors and the quality of signatures is bound to suffer when players sit and sign hundreds or even a thousand cards at one time for future releases. It’s human nature to get tired after a while.
Some would argue that’s just how signatures have evolved.
There are fewer things that require actual hand-written letters these days. We don’t write letters anymore but when we do, we type them. I learned to type in middle school. Now, elementary kids are learning. There is far less emphasis on the old cursive writing style we all use to sign our names. A sloppy signature is seldom grounds for holding a kid back in school.
But is that really how a player normally signs his name on a more important document like a mortgage, personal check, bank account, driver’s license or credit card application? Maybe.
It could be that signing thousands of autographs has led to the downfall of neatness—or at least legibility.
But it has to start somewhere. I don’t buy that players don’t know how to write legibly or “that’s just how they write”. Players know how to form the letters in their names. My guess is that if you got ahold of their senior yearbook, you’d be able to read their signature.
Signing a huge box of trading cards or a stack of sticker sheets is probably not a player’s favorite task. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t get paid. They want it over with as soon as possible.
Taking three more seconds to write neatly equates to 50 more minutes per 1,000 autographs. To most players, that’s wasted time. If they can get the job done and still get paid, why worry about it?
Complaining about it puts the card companies at risk that players won’t want to sign anymore if it becomes a time-consuming hassle where their autographs are judged and maybe even rejected for lack of quality.
You would hope that players are at least strongly encouraged by their leagues, their union and by the card companies (or at least one of the three) to make their autographs readable. It shouldn’t just be about the money or getting it done in record time. All rookies should get a lecture from someone to at least make an effort.
When bulk signings are done, players are usually sitting down. They’re not on the move, trying to sign for fans like they are after a game. Taking pride in their signature should be no different than taking pride in their work on the field or their community service.
What about simply not including bad autographs in products? If player ‘A’ signs one letter and a straight line, maybe he gets paid but he’s not asked to sign again. Can the card companies live without signatures from, say, 25 average or below average players with the poorest penmanship? I would think so but I don’t manage their product lines—or their bottom line. Some collectors probably feel something is better than nothing although that seems like a poor rationalization.
The quality of autographs has been on a steady decline for the last decade or so and it’s not a problem restricted to trading cards. The issue isn’t that a few players can’t write well. It’s that a very large number of them now can’t—or won’t. Take a look at the gallery we published last month.
Gallery of awful autographs
Storified by Sports Collector · Sun, Aug 19 2012 09:54:25
Look at signed balls from an earlier time. You can read most of the autographs if you know the team. Now take a look at a ball autographed in the last five or ten years. The difference is startling. I don’t know how the authenticators can do it, frankly. Look at the pre-printed signatures on your vintage cards. They’re vastly different.
Impossible to change? I don’t think so. The late Harmon Killebrew was so disgusted by the autographs of current Twin Justin Morneau that he talked to him about it. Morneau began to take more care with his signature and soon other teammates like Joe Mauer were doing the same.
Many of the cards produced these days are beautiful. The card companies go to tremendous lengths to design little works of art. Sometimes the autographs that go with them look great. Many times, they almost detract from the piece. Sticker autographs, a bane to many collectors, are even worse when the signature can’t be read.
The whole thing is embarrassing. The player, league, card companies and collectors, who must explain why they bother to save or chase such nonsense, all look bad.
Sales may not be suffering because of scribbles but if I were a collecting newcomer or one getting back into it after a long hiatus, pulling one of those nasty autographs out of a $100 box would turn me off.
If autographed cards are what are driving the trading card industry, don’t collectors deserve better?