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

Feb 8, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT

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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. billyboots - Feb 8, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    I am from Rochester, MN, and we get lots of famous people in town from time to time going through the Mayo Clinic. I’ll never forget the time that I was downtown with my mom, I must have been around 13-14, we were going up the escalators at the Galleria Mall and John Elway was going down, right past us. I must have had the biggest grin in the entire world, and Mr. Elway nodded to me as he went past. That is worth more to me than any autograph on a piece of paper.

    • superpriebe - Feb 8, 2013 at 8:26 PM

      That’s a great story. When I was little, Indians DH Andre Thornton was walking around the stadium by the concession stands (I have no idea why), smiled at me and pushed my baseball cap down on my forehead a bit. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Your story reminded me of that.

    • esracerx46 - Feb 9, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      When I was youngerwe went to a celebrity golf tournament. This is when Elway was playing, and I hated the Packers so I became a Broncos fan. I was wearing my Elway jersey when Walter Payton picked me out of the crowd because it wasnt a Bears jersey, he did say, “It’s better than a Packers jersey.” He then picked me upside down and shook me. He took the ball I had for him to autograph and played catch on one of the tees. I was in 3rd grade, and had no idea who he was. The autograph doesnt really mean anything to me anymore, but the story is kind of cool.

    • stercuilus65 - Feb 15, 2013 at 4:46 AM

      I saw Elway was going down at the truck stop.

  2. hojo20 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I got my favorite player Greg Maddux’s autograph in West Palm Beach one spring, and the awesome feeling I got when he took my baseball to sign out of the huge amount of other people there will be something I’ll never forget.

  3. albertmn - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I also don’t get why so many want an autograph. The players make it seem like a big hassle, so in many cases (like in this article) the only memory is of a disgruntled person that may or may not sign. Given how many times some of the players are approached, I get why they might be annoyed. You can only spend so many hours a day signing things.

    What I don’t get is how autographs can still have so much monetary value to some people. We have all heard stories about famous people having someone else sign stuff for them, so I don’t know why resale of autographs still has a market. I can sell you a Jeter autograph. Heck, I’ll even write up a letter of authenticity with it. I have the time, and paper in my printer.

  4. jimeejohnson - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    Made eye contact on the Universal Studios tour with Martin Milner, a.k.a. One-Adam 12, in like 1972. He nodded and smiled, and I thought I would become a cop, like him. But they don’t like long-hairs…go figure.

  5. jm91rs - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    Autographs have more meaning when you know the story behind them. I have a ball signed by the 1970 NL All Star team. The ball has personal meaning to me because it was left to me by my uncle who got it signed in the clubhouse while helping out the clubhouse manager. The story behind it makes it pretty cool. He was instructed to get 3 balls autographed for Nixon. He and the Clubhouse manager threw 2 other balls in there to get signed. Everyone signed but Clemente who had no interest in signing something for Nixon.
    I compare that to the autographs my kid has which are similar to your story about Jeter. Wait in line forever and pray they feel like signing long enough to get to your ball. They’re just not as special that way.

  6. williegy - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    I’ve collected autographed sports memorabilia for years and I find it to be an interesting hobby. The attraction(besides the obvious price appreciation potential) of the autographed items I have is that they look pretty darn awesome as decorations in my office.

    One item of interest to me in this article was the description by the writer of getting a Hank Aaron autograph at a card show. I got Aaron to sign a baseball for me at a show about 10 years ago & that experience was very much like the one described in the article.Most sports stars I’ve ever had sign things for me at shows are pretty nice to the fans. They’ll shake your hand, high-five your kid, & chat briefly.Most actually realize that these signings are easy money, & that you’re a paying customer. The Hank Aaron I saw at that card show was a totally different breed of cat.After standing in line, I had to hand the ball I wanted Aaron to autograph to a card show employee who then handed it to Aaron. After Hank signed the ball, he handed it to another employee who handed it back to me. While doing this, Aaron never once looked at me or any other fan.He acted totally oblivious to the fact that a bunch of people who had paid for his signature were even there. On top of that, Aaron was having a conversation with one of the card show employees while he signed & about every other word that came out of his mouth was one you couldn’t say on TV. That torrent of profanity coming from this epic baseball legend made quite an (inappropriate)impression on my young son who was standing right beside me & heard every word. I assumed at the time that Aaron was just having a bad day, but this article seems to confirm that this is just the way the man operates. His behavior that day was boorish & inexcusable.

    I’ve met other big sports stars like this over the years (including Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Rocky Marciano, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, & Lou Brock). Each of these men were friendly, would personally greet you, and were well aware you were paying them a good deal of money to do very little work. Hank Aaron is the only prima donna sports figure I’ve ever seen at an autograph session. And, from what I read in this column, I’m not the only one who’s run into this. I know that during Aaron’s playing days, he was deeply resentful that some people didn’t treat him with proper respect because of his race. So, I find it more than a little ironic that he showed less than no respect that day to a group of people(including young kids) lined up to pay him to sign his name. Hank Aaron was certainly a great baseball player. But, based on what I saw of him in person, he didn’t strike me as a great human being.

  7. JB (the original) - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    Back in the day before he became the most hated guy in baseball, AJ Pierzynski was the most beloved (by women) player on the Twins. I don’t know why, and my wife couldn’t explain it other than “cute”. So he was going to be signing at a HOM (furniture) store one Saturday and I offered to take my wife and teenaged niece (who was also mesmerized by him) up to get some autographs. Knew it would be crowded so we got there early (6 am for a 9 am opening). We had a jersey, his “numbered” hat, and I had his rookie card to get signed. By the time the doors opened there were HUNDREDS of people lined up. By then my wife and niece were so wound up I thought they were going to puke. Went up the escalator and waited behind the rope. When he came in you wouldn’t believe all the cooing and “Oh, he’s so cute” coming from the crowd. Sent the wife and niece in front of me so I could get their picture of them with him signing, and a picture with him standing with them. He was great and I think a bit awed at all the attention, and immediately after us it was announced that a signing OR a picture only–I think due to the time and the huge amount of people waiting. I had to tether the gals to keep them from floating away they were so high from the event. Heard the Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins were signing at a mall a few miles away so we went over and got in line. My wife got a picture with Torii and remarked that she thought she had her hand on his shoulder–but it turned out to be his bicep! After that, went back by the furniture store and the line was still out the door. Went in as he was finishing signing so we left, and as we’re waiting to get out of the lot, who was behind us, but AJ in his big, white Hummer. My niece was going nuts waving to him and all from the back seat. So while we have the autographs and all, the memory of the event is what sticks with me. It was literally like when you saw girls fawning and fainting after the Beatles, and to this day, the two of them giggle like school girls when it’s brought up.

  8. raysfan1 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    On the one hand, the autograph hounds can be crazy. On year I was watching Wade Boggs warm up on a practice field at spring training when some folks noted him. They quite literally started shouting for him and pressed me into the chain link fence hard enough that I wasn’t able to breathe. Boggs had security rescue me. Based on that experience, I totally applaud forcing them to line up for it, even if it is something of a cattle call then.

    On the other, autographs can be great mementos, even from trading card shows. I have been to ones in which the athlete did take the time to chat with the fans. I also have autographs I obtained as a boy from my favorite team then–the Reds…every one of the Big Red Machine other than the one player on the team I did not like and therefore never asked for one (Rose). I still peruse those game programs from time to time.

    My favorite autograph, however, is from someone I’ve never met, namely Gayle Sayers. One year he came to Tampa while I was deployed with the Air Force in the Middle East. My mother drove from her house a couple hours away, got my Gayle Sayers card and my copy of his book “I Am Third,” and took them for him to personalize because he was my favorite football player when I was a boy. The “thank you for your service” along with his signature is great, but my Mom makes those two inscription priceless.

  9. rgledz - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    I completely agree with you Craig. I think it’s so much more meaningful to share a handshake and a quick verbal exchange with a sports icon than it is to have them sign a piece of paper. I understand the monetary value in some of this and that’s what some people are after, but the sports hero’s that I’ve met in my life…..all I wanted was to tell them that I’m a fan and that I appreciate what they do or have done. A part of me feels like they appreciate that more than me asking them to sign their name. I’m a huge Twins fan, have been all of my life……so much so that I named my oldest son Kirby. I have signed cards and other “stuff”, but the one thing that I never had the chance to do was meet Puck. I know, for myself, how much more meaningful that would have been than a signature on a card.

    • blars82 - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      I used to live in MN when I was younger and my dad through work got to throw out the first pitch for a Twins game and me, my brother, and sister got to be honorary batboys. That meant that we got to go out onto the field before the game started and someone showed us all around. After we were done and standing around on the field, Kirby Puckett came over to us. He went over to the bucket and got each of us a baseball and signed it. He then took pictures with us and I also got his rookie card signed. He then took us around to meet several players … Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Greg Gagne, Randy Bush, etc. … and Tony Olivia. The autographs and pictures were great, but what I took away the most was how genuinely nice he was. He approached us and spent approximately 20 minutes with us. He was so nice and friendly and went out of the way to make this a special day for me and my family…awesome dude.

  10. nukeladouche - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Topical story here:

    Late October of 1998. My old roommate had just gotten married in Manhattan. It’s expensive to throw a full wedding reception in Manhattan, so he just did an afternoon cocktail reception sort of thing – i.e., it wasn’t a full meal. So afterwards a bunch of us went out for dinner at Tony’s DiNapoli on the Upper East Side – family-style Italian. The Yanks had just won the WS and that day the City threw them the victory parade. A little while after we sat down, who gets seated at the table right behind us? Derek Jeter (along with Jorge Posada and Chili Davis). My wife and her friend were beside themselves, trying not to turn around a gawk. The Yankees didn’t stay for too long, but they (mostly Jeter; I think Posada was completely ignored) were approached a number of times – some folks were seeking autographs, others were just well-wishers looking for a handshake. I remember hearing that Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle talking about how annoying it can be to be approached like that when they were eating dinner, so I was happy that no one at our table bothered them. When they left, Jeter kind of had to shuffle around our table, so my friend stood up to let him by, stuck out his hand and said “Congratulations on a great season.” Jeter shook his hand and thanked him. My friend then said, “My buddies and I have a softball team on Staten Island and we’ve got a playoff game tomorrow. We could really use a good shortstop if you’re interested.” Jeter laughed, said he was done for the year and then headed out.

    None of us at the table got an autograph, and only that one guy got a handshake and had a snippet of conversation with Jeter. But I think for everyone there that night – the story still gets told every now and again, some 14+ years later – it was a lot more memorable the way it unfolded than had we met Jeter in line at some baseball card show or other event and gotten an autograph, cattle call-style.

  11. randygnyc - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    Nuke, that Tony’s closed down (82nd and 1st) and they reopened on 64th and 3rd. The best baked clams and veal franchaise around, IMO.

    • Sign Ahead - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      I wanna live somewhere that has a baked clams franchise. Just one would be sufficient. But a wide enough selection that there could actually be a “best baked clams franchise” sounds a little bit like heaven.

  12. lrjacobson - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    Two summers ago my son and I took a small baseball trip before he moved to California. We attended some Major league and Minor league games over a long weekend. One stop we made was to Hagerstown Maryland and got to see both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper play. I was able to get Manny Machado’s autograph before the game but Harper wouldn’t sign. We decided to wait after the game to try to get Harper’s autograph. A small group of people also waited outside the visitor’s door as they left to get on the bus. Harper never appeared. Many people left and a group of about 12 of us were left when we found out that the team employees had parked Harper’s SUV behind a locked gate. This way he could get in his car and drive away without signing.
    On the other hand, my family enjoys going to Broadway shows and like to wait outside the stage door for autographs of the cast. They are ALWAYS friendly, signing for everyone and even stopping to take pictures. They actually thanked us for coming to the show. These performers perform often 8 times per week. Most recently we met Matthew Broderick who was wonderfully nice. Some of these baseball players can take a lesson

  13. lifer124 - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    I ushered in Milwaukee for a number of years. I was near the clubhouse entrance before the ’02 All Star game and saw probably half the NL team walk in. It never struck me to seek an autograph, it was just cool to see them. There’s always some guy who would pester players during the season for autographs while they’re at work going to the cage or whatever, I always just saw those guys as kind of d-bags. But I definitely remember small encounters with players. Marquis Grissom saying “whats up big guy?” in his funny voice always cracks me up, or Prince Fielder holding a door for me. The best guy around that I recall was Ben Sheets. He’d run around with a Saints helmet on like a wild man just having a good time, he didn’t care if it was with stadium employees or fans or whoever. These guys are just people, men with wives and families just doing their jobs, and when you see them away from the crowds, it’s much easier to realize that.

  14. joebone - Feb 8, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    I was in the gallery watching Michael Jordan at the Western Open Pro-Am several years ago when it was held at Butler outside Chicago. Michael made a great approach shot and made his short putt for the birdie, and as he moved to the next tee he was mobbed by autograph seekers, none of whom seemed to be actually attending to the golf. Needless to say, Michael brushed through the crowd, signed nothing— but when I hollered “great shot, Mike” he whipped around, looked me right in the eye and said, “Thanks, buddy.”

    So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. Certainly better than any autograph.

  15. yousuxxors - Feb 8, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    there isnt a person on earth that would make ne go crazy meeting them. i dont get it either.

  16. stlouis1baseball - Feb 8, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    My most prized possesion is my Ozzie Smith autographed baseball.
    Followed closely by my Albert Pujols autographed picture.
    Hell…I even have my Roger Clemons autographed baseball in a display case.

  17. garrettberthiaume - Feb 8, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    I couldn’t disagree more, autographing is a very fun hobby, and there is an entire subculture containing it. People love it, and just because you “don’t understand it” doesn’t make it invalid. Maybe some people don’t understand “hiking”, or “collecting coins”. How is collecting autographs any different?
    http://www.gbautographs.com

  18. hojo20 - Feb 8, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Great post Craig, I could read these stories all day.

  19. hodaghunter - Feb 8, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    I remember being in Arizona for spring training one year about 6 years ago now… Ryan Braun was in AAA ball at that time and with the club for spring training. Guy took about 30 minutes of having a conversation with me before asking to sign the ball I was holding onto at the time. Cool guy all around that’s why I’m still a fan of his.

  20. hodaghunter - Feb 8, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    On the other hand I remember being in 7th grade and going to a Reds game. It was just the 6 of us kids getting some pre-game behind the scene tours. Bunch of players stopped by and chatted with us and shared some jokes, signed some stuff. But the one thing at the time that always stuck with me is when I said hello to Deion Sanders, who prompted responded with, “Don’t f**king talk to me kid.” I was baffled and pretty crushed by that since I always loved watching primetime on the tv…

  21. sportsnut101 - Feb 9, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    Some players hate to sign but yet if it wasnt for the fans there would be no1 watching their games or getting them these big pay days

    I know they can’t stand there n sign 1000 autographs. But least 20 a game wouldn’t hurt. I shouldn’t have to buy a meet n greet for 400 to get it Isn’t the ticket price enough.

  22. sufferingphilsfan - Feb 9, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    I actually get the point of Craig’s article..for once. Autographs are stupid–but its the connection people get with someone that they wouldn’t get any other way..they took the time to do something..special for someone–may sound silly but it is what it is…what i find silly is that some aloof POS like Jeter wouldn’t or couldn’t sign someone’s stuff…He’d be working a real job without fans–not dictating how someone has to behave to get his signature..now for the rip job on Craig..yes, the resident sycophant sportswriter for baseball players.

  23. packersfansuck - Feb 9, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    Yankees suck.

  24. jaybyrd99 - Feb 9, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    The memories as a child are priceless. Richie allen in 1969 patted my head during a rain delay while i was on my father’s shoulder. That is a memory i cherish forever as he was my favorite as a 5 year old . Flash forward to 1994 Clearwater . He was Dick Allen then, helping the phillies . I introduced myself , tapped him on the head and told my childhood story quickly so he wouldn’t hit me haha . He then got a ball and signed it for me and today that’s my most cherished autograph . It sits behind glass in my family room.

    • sufferingphilsfan - Feb 9, 2013 at 7:59 AM

      that’s what its all about…memories..he took five seconds to pat your head and you remember that for a lifetime..imagine if jeter or another one of the prima donnas took those five seconds to pay attention to some kid–back in 86 tom hume pitched for the phillies..we were outside the vet at the time and people were waiting to see the players..mike schmidt comes roaring out of the clubhouse..out the door and into a waiting car which practically runs people over getting out of there..tom hume comes moseying out with his wife..kids..stops and talks to us..introduces us to his family…a regular guy..not a star ..but imagine if these guys took that time every once in a while…the benefits would be tremendous..instead we have care package derek…pin cushion arod..and hammerheads like jayson werth yelling at fans in the stands…

  25. cameltoehoe - Feb 9, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Sounds like Melissa has the problem. Obsessive anybody?

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