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That Signature Moment In Sports

April 05, 1999
April 05, 1999

Table of Contents
April 5, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

That Signature Moment In Sports

O.K., so it's Opening Day! What say we all go out to the
ballpark and get nobody's autograph!

This is an article from the April 5, 1999 issue

In fact, why don't we make autograph seeking punishable by one
hour's worth of foul tips to the groin?

Is there anything more stupid and dehumanizing for everybody
involved than asking for an autograph? What exactly is the
thrill in making Ken Griffey Jr. put down his calzone, have to
ignore his wife and kids, wipe the sauce off his face and hands,
just so he can sign a napkin that will spend eternity in your
junk drawer?

"What's wrong with a handshake?" says George Brett. "What's wrong
with a 'Hey, really enjoyed watching you play!'"

Just once I'd like to see somebody go up to Mark McGwire,
interrupt him in mid-sirloin and say, "Sign this 'To Bruce,'
will ya, buddy?" And McGwire would write:

To Bruce,
Do you mind? I'm trying to eat here, buddy!
--Mark McGwire

If fans feel abused by athletes, athletes feel abused by
autograph hunters. It's a never-ending pain. "I'd give $100,000
to go a whole day in Denver and not have anybody know who I am,"
John Elway says. "Just one day."

Says Allen Iverson, "I sign all the time. I sign and sign. But I
don't want to sign all day long. So the first person I finally
say no to, it's 'Man, you can't do this for a kid? Aw, you ain't
s---!' And I'm like, Damn!"

The basic autograph request has become more soulless and
life-sucking than Tuna Helper. "The spirit of the whole thing
has been lost," Drew Bledsoe says. People bring up boxes of
baseballs for stars to sign and say, "It's for my collection."
Really? You have six of every signature in your collection?
Scumbag collectible dealers hire kids to get signatures and then
sell them. Parents push their kid forward to get the autographs
of people the kid has never heard of.

One time, former ABA and NBA star Dan Issel came out of practice
in a hurry and signed as many autographs as he could until he
finally had to stop. "Gotta go!" he said as politely as he could
to the half dozen people left. Two days later he was ripped by a
woman in a letter to the editor for being "exactly what's wrong
with sports today." The reason Issel had to leave? His wife had
gone into labor.

I understand the salary cap. I fathom the physics of the
screwball. But I don't get the autograph. What do you get out of
an autograph? Proof that you met an athlete? What kind of
friends do you have that they don't believe you met somebody?
O.K., you got Mo Vaughn's autograph, but did you speak with him?
Did you tell Mo how you felt about him? Did you even make eye
contact?

Nolan Ryan has a strict policy of one autograph per person, but
since he has to look down in order to sign his name, there's
only one way he has of telling if somebody is getting in line
twice. He memorizes shoes. Is that something you're proud of?
Your shoes were seen by Nolan Ryan?

Go to the Masters next week. Autographs are allowed only in a
small restricted area near the clubhouse. You can't ask for them
anywhere else at Augusta. So fans, unable to stop golfers and
ask them to scrawl their names mindlessly on visors they'll lose
by May, have to resort to new and bizarre methods of
interaction, like shaking hands, taking pictures, talking to
them about their rounds or their swings or their kids. And the
golfers call it the best week of the year partly for that reason.

Unfortunately, the pros eventually have to leave the grounds,
and it's back to the same old crap. One time Lee Trevino was in
a bar when a woman came up and shrieked, "You're my favorite
golfer of all time! Please give me your autograph!" Problem was,
she had nothing to write on. Trembling, she dug a five-dollar
bill out of her purse and handed it to him. Trevino signed it,
"Best wishes, Lee Trevino." The women yowled, "Thank you soooo
much! I'll frame this! I'll treasure it forever!" and rushed off
to show her friends.

An hour later Trevino was buying a beer at the same bar and got
a five-dollar bill back in change. It read, "Best wishes, Lee
Trevino."

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
The basic autograph request has become more soulless and
life-sucking than Tuna Helper.