Why do our signatures all seem to peak sometime during elementary school? Nick Lehr examines some of the best and worst penmanship in the MLB.
“Mithter Lehr,” sighed Mr. Morange from his office. My portly photography teacher didn’t sound happy, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Whether it was screwing up rolling my film, snapping uninspired photographs, or mixing the chemicals incorrectly, I had pretty much been a disaster for the entire semester.
As I approached him, he whipped around in his swivel chair and pointed to an unremarkable photograph of a homeless guy, freshly adhered to a black matting board.
“What ith thith?”
“He’s homeless,” I stammered, “and he’s in Harvard Square.”
“No.” He sounded exasperated. “I can tell what that ith. Thousands of studenth have thnapped the thame exact photograph. I’m talking about thith.” He jammed his finger against my signature, which at the time consisted of little humps, and no discernible letters. I had proudly signed it in white pencil only minutes before turning it in.
“Uh, that’s my signature.”
“Well I can’t read it. Re-write it.”
I remember stewing with anger. This asshole doesn’t get it—what am I, a third grader practicing cursive? Plus if you have any shred of talent, no one’s supposed to be able to read it.
I’m a Gen-Y turd, so please excuse me for my attitude. I’m part of a generation that’s completely narcissistic, demands praise at every turn, and thinks we deserve just about everything. I had grown up worshiping athletes who nonchalantly scribbled lines across baseballs. They had signed their names so many times, no one could even read them—how cool was that?
They held a pen. That pen touched a card, hat, ball, or glove. That pen hastily drew a line and some bumps. And now that card, hat, ball, or glove—legibility be damned—was worth hundreds of dollars.
That was the point.
I know, Pee Wee Reese, you’re probably rolling over in your grave.
For me, two-sport star Brian Jordan changed everything. In 2001, he was beginning his third season as the Atlanta Braves’ right fielder, and I was a five-foot-tall, emaciated eighth grader on spring break in Orlando, Florida, where the Braves held their spring training.
Clutching a fistfull of baseball cards, I had been lucky enough to obtain a number of autographs, ranging from Rafael Furcal’s Spanglish scribble to John Smoltz’s seismographic signature. Most players barely acknowledged the fans, their thoughts clearly elsewhere, and after they signed each ball or card—”Next.”
But there was something different about Jordan. Baking under the Florida sun, in front of hundreds of needy fans, he didn’t seem to be in any rush, and soon I began to understand why.
Using big, looping letters, with meticulous precision, he wanted every single signature to look exactly the same.
Perhaps more than that, he wanted each one to be beautiful—a work of art—something to be proud of, signed with the grace and swiftness used to track down fly balls, while exhibiting the same level of technique needed to take down a bulky running back.
From that day forward, I’ve come to respect the art of the signature.
Below, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite (and least favorite) baseball signatures from the past century.
BJ’s awesome John Hancock (sorry, I have to use that phrase at least once):
In Vladimir Guerrero, we see the “evolution” of a player’s signature—from that of an 18-year-old Dominican kid with barely any schooling …
… to that of a major league superstar schooled in the art of nonsensical signatures.
Mariano Rivera is one of the classiest guys to ever play the game. He also possesses one of the classiest signatures:
Yo, no Nomo, but you should probably spend some time working on that signature:
Johnny Pesky, Rico Petrocelli, and Jimmie Foxx—three classic Red Sox signatures, from back when players had pride in how their names would appear:
Note: the tilde under Foxx’s name, a nice little touch:
I’ve come to a conclusion: if either your first or last name begins with a J, you have an advantage:
I think I like this—both Kirby Puckett and Vince Coleman use a “bubble dot” over the “i.” It’s kind of playful:
I have all the respect in the world for Greg Maddux. But really?
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the longest last name in baseball history—for that reason I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for his decidedly average signature:
Does this even count?
Either way, I think Sosa wins the award for MIS—Most Improved Signature:
It’s safe to say that no two Manny Ramirez autographs are alike. To Ramirez’s credit, he tried early on:
But after signing a $160 million deal with the Red Sox, would you take the time to spell out your name?
World Series 2007—initials “MZ,” followed by the introduction of the “double helix”:
Is the jersey worth less or more with that sloppy sig?
Ah, the Dodger days. Manny was in full “F-you mode”—the Red Sox had shipped him off to L.A., where fans showered him with cheers and affection, right up until he tested positive for female fertility drugs. I mean, at this point he’s completely mailing it in and isn’t even bothering to sign a name beginning with the letter “M”:
—Photo Morry Gash/AP