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“I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

Feb 8, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Getty Images

Scott Cacciola writes a fantastic and somewhat disturbing article in the New York Times about the people who camp out for Derek Jeter‘s autograph at the Yankees training facility down in Tampa.

Cacciola outlines the whole, elaborate setup outside the facility. About the Yankees employee who shouts at the autograph seekers regarding the exact way they are to lineup and behave if they expect to get a chance at a Jeter autograph.  And that chance, Cacciola reports: about 10% that he’ll even sign. And if he signs, only a fraction of the people waiting outside will get an autograph.

He also writes about some of the specific people who take a whole heck of a lot of effort to try to get that signature:

“I guess I’ll have to come back again tomorrow if he doesn’t sign today,” said Melissa Davis, a patient-support technician at a hospital in nearby Clearwater, whose prize for showing up at 4 a.m. was the sixth spot in line, a prime piece of real estate. She had not slept in two days, she said. Or was it three? She was, by her own admission, bordering on delirium.

“I’m basically on a mission at this point,” said Davis, who kept herself occupied by reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” on her Kindle. “I want his autograph. You can’t really talk to him because he’s not going to sit and talk to you. So I want his autograph. That’s all I want.”

I’ve written at length about my hangups with autographs. I don’t really understand the appeal. On a simple level, an autograph is proof that you were in the presence of someone famous. That you saw, in this instance, Derek Jeter, and he took a second to sign his name for you.  I’m not sure what that brief, exceedingly superficial interaction does for a person. You’ve seen Jeter on TV. If you’ve gone to Yankee Stadium you’ve seen him in person. If you’ve managed over the past 19 years to hit some Yankees event or another you may have very well seen him up close and in person. Maybe you even snapped his photograph.

But what does the autograph give you? Proof? What, no one will believe you when you say you saw him? A memory? Don’t you remember seeing him and don’t your memories of his thousands of games in pinstripes constitute much more meaningful and lasting memories?

I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never understood what autographs do for a person. I have a lot of autographs from when I was a kid. Hank Aaron is probably the biggest name. My favorite player from childhood, Alan Trammell, is the one I held most dear when I was younger.  But they don’t do much for me now.

They’re not even great reminders of when I got the actual autograph.  Both were at baseball card shows. Aaron’s was actually kind of depressing: he had all kinds of security around him and was at a high table so you couldn’t even get too close. You had to reach up high and place the card there, someone handed it to him, he signed, and they handed it back. You were instructed not to talk to him.  Trammell’s was not that crazy, but it was still kind of a cattle call.  I certainly get way more jazzed remembering Trammell play and reading about Aaron or watching whatever old footage of him I can find than I do remember “meeting” them.  The autographs are curios. Not much more.

I know those people who wait for Derek Jeter to sign his name feel very strongly about what they’re doing. And I presume they’ll value that autograph, if they’re lucky enough to get it, way more than I value the autographs I have.  I just don’t know why. It’s something I’ve never really been able to understand.

  1. pjmitch - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Lets not forget the autograph seeker who’s main goal is resale. I think some players won’t sign for that main reason. I have always thought, although it takes longer that if players personalized certain items, the reseller goes away or his market is cut down considerably. In today’s times though, I just appreciate that players sign at all. It was defintely a thrill when I was a little kid. That is what gave the lasting memories but I agree, as an adult, not so much

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      I think some fans believe if they have a autograph
      they have a connection to the person, I guess.

      I never understood the autograph thing myself.
      I did once see Mike Tyson all by himself walking
      down 5th Ave, I threw him a peace sign, never
      stopped walking and never bothered him, he did smile.
      I guess all he wanted was to walk down 5th Ave., why
      should I bother the man.

      • skids003 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:01 PM

        If you’d bothered him, he would’ve bit off your ear.

      • stercuilus65 - Feb 15, 2013 at 4:40 AM

        tyson can’t even write his own name. I guess he could have made his mark (whatever that would be”.

  2. philsieg - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Actually today an autograph may nothing more than you have an eBay account.

  3. number42is1 - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:42 AM


    Please use the blank space above for the obligatory Jeter/gift basket joke

    • historiophiliac - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:53 AM

      I imagine there’s a line for that too.

    • indaburg - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Well, you do have to give to receive.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:28 AM

        You’re totally not doing it right. lol

      • indaburg - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:46 PM

        LMAO. My husband wants to have a word with you.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        Why, does he want to give me free stuff for nothing?

  4. ml3939 - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    What about the Barry Bonds personalized “Say No To Drugs” autograph on eBay? What kind of value does that have?

  5. Jason Lukehart - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    The only autograph I have that’s important to me is Bob Feller’s, and I didn’t even meet him. When I was 12 or so, my dad was in Cleveland for some sort of work thing. He knew I was a big Indians fan (despite never having been to Ohio at that point) and wanted to bring me something back. He ending up meeting Feller at someone’s office, and when he came home from the trip he had a baseball for me in his suitcase. The ball sits in a case on my dresser, “Bob Feller HOF 62.”

    It’s kinda neat having something from the greatest player in my favorite team’s history, but when I look at the ball, it’s my dad that I’m thinking of. That’s what makes it special.

    • indaburg - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      Thank you for sharing that, Jason. Autographs in theory don’t make much sense to me, but I understand why that one is priceless.

  6. deadeyedesign23 - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:51 AM

  7. burm61 - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    It does create amazing memories. I visited Joe Gibbs Racing in the Charlotte area and it was my dad and I and he was a Redskins fan growing up and Joe Gibbs was in the lobby and noticed us and walked over and signed 2 copies of his book for us and personalized them. Autographs just create amazing memories.

    • sportsdrenched - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      Your autograph is a by product of the experience of your trip to JGR & incidently meeting Joe Gibbs. This lady is putting her life on hold for the sole purpose of having a slim chance at Jeter’s autograph.

  8. Tim's Neighbor - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    As a grown-ass man, I don’t care much or autographs either. Though, I think certain ones can be kind of cool in a mancave and make solid gifts. But waiting in line? No thanks. I’ve seen the people in those lines and the desperation smells worse than Gary, Indiana on a hot summer day.

    Leave the autographs to kids. The athletes and everyone else will be happier for it.

    • Alex K - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      Remember that time we were watching BP in Cincinnati and I think it was Brady Clark walked down the rail and signed every single little thing that the kids shoved in his face? I thought that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a ballplayer do.

    • sufferingphilsfan - Feb 9, 2013 at 6:39 AM

      hmmm. remind me not to visit Gary in July.

  9. randygnyc - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    2 years ago my then 9 year old daughter insisted on trying to get jeter’s autograph at the team hotel in Minneapolis. We got there at 9am and mingled with the professional autograph seekers who said “Jeter never signs”. About an hour before the team came out, we were put behind velvet ropes. The pros allowed my daughter to stand up front, figuring if Jeter stopped to sign for a kid, they might have a chance. I exited the line and stood off to the side, with camera ready. My daughter took her #2 jersey and strategically wrapped it around our iPad so he could sign on a flat surface above the number. Sure enough, he was the first out. Made a bee line for my daughter and signed for her. There were to other small children that he also signed for. The other 75-100 people got nothing. I was able to get some great pictures of Jeter with my daughter signing the jersey. AUTHENTICATION, lol!!!!

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:27 AM


    • fanofevilempire - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      the chicks dig Jetes.

  10. abaird2012 - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    When I was a kid. our family lived in Hawaii, on Oahu. In 1971, a bunch of SF Giants materialized at a local Chrysler dealeship for an autograph session. I have no idea what they were doing there, but included were Mays and McCovey, and a few other lesser luminaries like Hal Lanier. Oddly there were no pitchers that I can recall.

    Anyway, I guess there weren’t that many Giants fans in the Honolulu suburb where we lived, because I remember just strolling up to the card table where they were all set up and moving rapidly from one to the next, as each signed and handed to me a little 4 x 6 photograph of himself. No lineup and no waiting. None of them said anything to me but I recall being fascinated listening to them BS amongst themselves. “Wow, this is what real live ballplayers are like,” I thought.

    But looking back, it seems like it was kind of weird and depressing; even a little spooky. And my Mom threw out the pictures some years later, so I don’t even have proof that I was ever that close to Willie Mays. Hasn’t affected my life too much, though.

  11. gosport474 - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    Quick story: A few years ago at Christmas time the wife, kids, and I went to Cincinnati to see a toy train display. As we get on the parking garage elevator, Marty Brennaman gets on also. I asked, ‘are you Marty?’. ” I sure am, how are you folks today?” he said. We exchanged pleasantries and went different ways upon exiting the elevator. My son said, ‘Dad, we should have gotten his autograph.’ I said ‘Son, we got to talk to him for a couple of minutes, that’s better than having an autograph.’

    • brewcrewfan54 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      Absolutely true!

  12. darthicarus - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    For some reason I was a big fan of Jason Kendall, read about him as a minor leaguer & followed him coming up with the Pirates. As luck would have it the Pirates came to Detroit for inter-league one year & I got tickets for all 3 games of the series with the sole intent of getting his autograph. Before one of the games Kendall was milling around during BP and people were yelling at him to come over & sign for them. I just stood there patiently waiting for any players on either team to wander by (I was wearing a Kendall Pirates jersey which was probably one of 3 sold and in Detroit it was even weirder) to get an autograph…mostly just to see who would sign.

    Anyways, after a few minutes Kendall stopped talking to whomever he was speaking with and walked directly over to me and signed a ball for me and talked for a few minutes. Either he appreciated that I wasn’t being a jerk about getting an autograph, was amazed someone in Detroit had his jersey on, or he felt bad for me because I was wearing a Pirates jersey. For whatever the reason was I was rather excited to actually get him to sign a ball for me as that was my objective for that 3-game series. I still can recall the entire situation in my head every time I see the ball and it’s reasons like that for which I attempt to get autographs…bonus memories.

    I also have mentioned the story previously about waiting outside Tiger Stadium by the players bus to get autographs, and got Trammell/Morris/etc. to sign a program…again being able to relive those moments in my head because of getting the autograph.

  13. wpjohnson - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    As a collector of autographs and other memorabilia for many years, I feel safe in saying that most collect solely because of the opportunity for later profit. As for any true interest in the subject providing the autograph, he/she is merely the means to an end. There really is little or no “hero worship” anymore.

    That is not necessarily the case with young collectors who may well truly admire and respect the autograph giver. However, even most of the youngsters seem to have the profit motive. The players are aware of this and, therefore, many are less than willing to sign- particularly multiple times for the same person.

    And, of course, many players, former players, etc. supplement their income by charging for their autographs. Pete Rose is a supreme example of capitalism at its best. Like most other matters in present day life, it is a business..

  14. mybrunoblog - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    People collect autographs for lots of different reasons. I think Calcaterra and others who don’t collect should simply let it be. In life there are many things people do that i think are pointless or silly but who am I to judge?
    Why do woman love to shop? Why do people attend NBA games? Why do people eat sushi? Why do people drive Toyota’s. Lots of things people do don’t make sense to me but as long as nobody’s getting hurt I just ignore them.
    Go chase those scribbles people!

  15. shanabartels - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I’m not really into autographs either and I don’t have any baseball autographs. That said, personalized ones are worthwhile. I don’t know if Andrew WK still spends hours after every show writing personalized autographs until the last person in line goes home happy, but he used to. I still have an autograph from him that he signed back in 2002 that starts with “Dear Shana” and includes three complete sentences. I’m not even a big Andrew WK fan; I just thought his first album was fun (and he is a genuinely nice dude).

    I’m just saying, a personal autograph like that means more than a plain old signature ever could. Obviously I have no desire to sell it. Nor would I ever dream of selling the page of my senior HS yearbook that Jason Schwartzman signed (I was a huge Phantom Planet fan… well, I still am.) It’s just a nice memory of my teenage adventures. Not a commodity.

  16. dayno66 - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Why are baseball articles always so cynical?

  17. jessethegreat - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I think it allows us to connect back with our youth and keep the nostalgia alive. For the sports fan, it’s to connect with our heroes from our youth.

    Went to a few Twins – Yankees games during Hunters last year in Minnie. Ran into some friends after the game on the way out and spent probably an hour catching up. On the way to where we parked, I passed the gate where the players leave. Hunter pulled up and I thought what the hell, try to flag him down. He stopped, rolled down the window and talked to us until a big crowd formed around. Torii graciously signed our tickets, and stuck around for the crew of about 100 that formed around him. I still have the auto, but for me, the value is greater because of the personal touch he gave us. He didn’t have to take the time (probably 45 minutes signing and another 10 minutes or so talking with us beforehand).

  18. unclemosesgreen - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Autographs are fine and dandy, but I’d love to meet his tailor. AH -WOOOOO

    • jimeejohnson - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      Werewolves of London!

  19. Carl Hancock - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    I’m not really interested in a simple autograph. Game used memorabilia? That’s a different story. I have autographed game used bats from both Miguel Cabrera’s rookie season and his 2012 Triple Crown season. To me those are pieces of history. Same with my Albert Pujols Peoria Chiefs game used helmet from his only minor league season. This mean something to me, more than a pristine ball signed by a player which is a dime a dozen.

  20. nanners0105 - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    As an adult I am not really into autographs but my seven year old nephew is into baseball cards so I took him to a memorabilia show. I paid for him to get several items autographed my various players. The coolest person was Dave Winfield who took the time to talk to him and give him advice about baseball. My nephew was over the moon!

  21. adcoop22 - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    I love going to spring training with my 4 year old and getting a baseball signed. The thing is, to him it doesn’t matter who signs the ball though. We have autographs from Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edgar Gonzalez, and a bunch of other small timers. When Edgar signs our ball, we thought Adrian was going to sign it too. He didn’t, but my kid didn’t care. It’s sad that these big stars forget what it is all about and equally sad to see these adults chasing them like baffoons.

  22. billpane - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    when i was 14 i was at the redsox minor league complex in ft myers, we waited in the players parking lot and got most everyone’s autograph, we didnt see Pedro until he went by in his cadillac. my father yelled for me to get in the car and we sped up caught him at a stop sign, my dad pulls around in front of him so he’s cut off at this point i jump out and go to his window with my baseball signed by the entire team except Pedro lol the look on his face was relief that i wasn’t some criminal he was happy to sign which looking back is surprising given the circumstances… they won the ws that year!

  23. sdelmonte - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    It’s funny. I don’t want an autograph from a famous person on a photo. Or on a random baseball. But there is a poster with Batman and Superman on my wall, autographed by the artist who drew it, Jim Lee. And that means something to me. As do the autographs I have on folk albums made by people I am friendly with. As does the autographed copy of a novel by a good friend who made it big.

    I think that for me, an autograph at best enhances something that already has some intrinsic value. If I owned an actual game ball, maybe then I would want the signature to be the icing on the cake. But on just a ball, a photo, etc? I’m with Craig.

    PS: I have an Tom Seaver-autographed baseball. I like owning it, but I could swear it says it’s signed by someone named Jim Edwards.

  24. cackalackyank - Feb 8, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    My second job as a college student was working in a department store in Northern New Jersey. Working in the Men’s department I had the opportunity to meet and sell things to several Yankees and (Football) Giants players…and their wives. I will never forget Lou Pinellas wife being kinda picky about buying a belt…and him just wanting it to be over. A memory like that is worth a million scribbles on paper. Oddly enough the “best” autograph in the family belongs to my wife…Tommy John visited her school and signed pics for all the kids in her class.

  25. jbones77 - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    I once met Al Newman at a Chili’s next to the old Arlington Stadium. Nice guy.

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