Do Autographs Increase the Value of Baseball Cards?
April 7, 2011
by William Szczepanek
The smell of grass is in the air and the feel of cleats digging in bring back childhood memories. It's harder to get that feeling in Phoenix since there isn't much grass except on golf courses. The season has started. The crowds packed the stadiums for the openers. Baseball is more popular than ever and the fans finally get to see their favorites players again and get their autographs... Something is wrong with this picture. Baseball attendance is down and a day at the old ballpark is a major expense. With all that the Dodgers are debt ridden. Baseball autographs are tough to get, unless you're willing to pay.
Much has been written about this subject of autographs on baseball cards and their monetary value, but the answer I am about to give is very likely not what you're looking for. Okay. I'll give you a reasonable answer. In general, yes a card is more valuable if it is autographed, but it depends. That's my favorite answer for just about any question. Some autographs are worth more than the cards alone, and in those cases the value of the card is increased. Some autographs are worth less than the card alone and may actually decrease the value of a mint condition card. The valuation process can be quite complex.
Emotional Value of an Autograph
Now, back to the answer I wanted to give in the first place ─ the one that you are probably not interested in. The value of the autograph, or autograph on a card should be valued at the emotional level at which you remember the signing. If you actually stood and watched while a player autographed anything, a card, a hat, or a piece of paper, then quite possibly the remembrance of that moment is worth more than the monetary value of the autograph. If you just bought an autographed card then the emotional value attached to the card is probably quite low.
My only autographed baseball card, which I have written about in a previous article, is from Ted Williams. The card reminds me of the place, his stature, his hands and his powerful aura and demeanor. If you ever heard Ted Williams speak then you know exactly what I mean. The other aspect of the autograph was that it was very neatly done ─ not a hurried scribble. It looked a lot like the other autographs that were printed on his other baseball cards.
Last year I attended a spring training game in Mesa and saw my boyhood hero, Ron Santo, signing autographs from his place in the press box at HoHoKam Park. The line was short and my friend asked if I was going to get his autograph. I looked at Ron and said, "No." I just watched others parade up to him. I always felt asking for an autograph was an imposition and something seemed wrong to me. Ron had a very pained expression throughout the process of giving autographs, almost as if he were in real pain. Every move he made seemed to require extra effort. "No, I don't want to cause him any more pain." As most everyone knows Ron had many severe health problems that he suffered through every day, and he died later that year from bladder cancer, the result of his long battle with diabetes. Getting Ron's autograph that day would not have been valuable to me. Just getting to see him was.
Is a Legible Autograph Worth More Than a Scribble? - Definitely
The Autograph Experience
I had the pleasure of attending a practice round at the recent LPGA RR Donnelly Founders Cup in Phoenix. I am a recent fan of the LPGA and have been following them closely for the last six years. The appeal revolves largely around the fact that you can get really close to the action, get some exercise and feel like you're a part of the tournament all for a reasonable price, rather than paying through the nose for a seat in the upper deck at a baseball game, because there are no better seats available for the everyday fan.
I decided to walk with Paula Creamer, the current U.S. Open Champion, on her practice round with about 10 or fifteen other followers. She graciously signed autographs for all who asked. While the others in her threesome were getting ready to tee off, she was still signing autographs. As she left the greens following her putting she was also approached for autographs. She signed every one with a polite "You're welcome" after every "Thank you, Paula". Throughout it all she seemed extremely focused, the autographs becoming part of the process. Sign autographs - tee off - get to the green - practice putts - write notes in book - practice another putt - write notes in book - leave green - sign autographs - get to next tee - sign autographs - tee off, etc. etc, etc. I couldn't tell if the others in her threesome were happy that they didn't have to sign autographs or jealous that they weren't being asked.
As the holes got further from the clubhouse and the remainder of the crowd collected their autographs there were fewer and fewer spectators, until it was just me watching this threesome. As I watched Paula practicing many putts on the seventh green, she continued to meticulously write notes in her book. While I'm sure many other players do this, I didn't see others doing it. As the two other golfers and their caddies left the green Paula continued to putt over and over, getting in as much work as she could before the next threesome approached. I stood watching as her caddie came over to me and asked if I knew the direction to downtown Phoenix. I answered as best I could and with that Paula walked up to the two of us with three golf balls in her hand and her putter in the other. I don't know exactly why I did what I did, but I asked her to autograph my hat. The hat was new and one of my favorites. She said, "Sure." Her caddie took the putter and balls from her.
Then, the Value Was Instilled.
Ted Williams was 6' 3". Paula Creamer was very tall, 5' 9". Ted Williams' hands were huge. Her hands were large with long fingers tipped with turquoise nail polish. His eyes were brown with 20/10 vision - hers were green and focused. He was loud and brash. She was quiet and polite. He was the best hitter in baseball history. She wants to be the #1 lady golfer in the world. His autograph was perfect, just like the others I've seen of his. Her autograph was meticulously scribed in the center of the bill of the cap, readable and recognizable to anyone. Two perfectionists. "Thank you" - "You're welcome" - next tee. As the fairways got closer to the clubhouse, the crowds grew larger, the autographs more numerous. The last hole was played, followed by pictures from fans. She did not turn down one. She even posed with Flat Stanley.
Now, as impressed as I was by this 24 year old in her 7th year on the LPGA tour, I was just as impressed by a 25 year old who was playing in her very first LPGA tournament. I was walking past the practice greens when I saw Sara Brown of Big Break fame. She was all smiles and seemed thrilled with the entire experience. Now, after watching Big Break a few times I have to wonder about the contestants who appear on the show. They are all attractive and the show reminds me of "Big Brother on a Golf Course".
I fully expected Sara Brown to be a spoiled, rich kid with an obnoxious personality. Instead she was personable, friendly and interested in what I had to say. She continued to talk with me long after someone walked up and said, "Five minutes till television interview." I wished her luck in her first tournament and she went on to sign autographs and pose for more pictures with anyone who asked. Her golf game is good; her personality is great. I didn't ask for an autograph. Just talking with her was a joy.
I came back a couple of days later to view and share her first tee experience. Most would be extremely nervous. I'm sure she was, but didn't show it. She talked and hugged family and friends, got a huge round of applause from those who know her and proceeded to smash her first drive down the center of the fairway. The only thing bigger than the drive was her smile afterward.
I hope she is a success on the tour because the sport needs more people like her. As time goes on some players become jaded. Sara, please do not change.
These two young ladies have very different personalities, but both are excellent ambassadors of the game.
I Write About Dead People
Now, this site is supposed to be about baseball and the baseball experience and culture differences between the past and now. After all, I've been told that "I write about dead people". Well, they're not all dead ─ not yet anyway. But, I wish baseball could get back some of the flavor that I see coming from events like this. Visiting the ballpark years ago was much more like this visit to the golf course. Today many baseball players sit in booths and sign autographs for $20.00 apiece. Try to talk with them when they practice and you'll be escorted out of the stadium. Baseball needs to get back to its roots.
Ah, but alas, I am just a dreamer. All baseball really needs are a few more investors with deep pockets. Well, I guess I need to get back to writing about dead people.