So near the end of last season, I was walking around the not-so-affectionately called SBC Park, and a guy at the Rawlings booth on the Promenade called me over and asked me if I wanted to sign a bat they’d made.
It turned out the bat in question was a special bat commemorating the 700th home run of Barry Bonds, and they planned to give it to him, but before they did they wanted 700 fans to sign it. Not the celebrities who only show up when big home runs are impending, and not even the fans in the exclusive club levels. Just the regular guys walking around the main promenade.
I laughed and walked off.
And then about 10 minutes later, I came back and I signed the bat. So yes, Barry Bonds has my autograph. I don’t have his, and I don’t have a particular desire for it.
I’ll be the first to admit that, as I’ve gotten older, the mystique of the autograph has been lost on me. When I was a kid, my father excitedly gave me a business card of his, on which had the signatures of Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett, who both happened to be at the same airport where my father was flying out on business. I thought it was cool too, because for a moment, it meant that these people I saw mostly only on TV were real.
But when I was 12, I was driving along with a friend and his mom when his mom whirled the car around sharply on the small neighborhood road we were on. She’d just seen Joe Montana driving the other way. She followed him to his house, where she pushed us to get his signatures on torn pieces of binder paper. And he obliged. But it just seemed wrong.
When I was growing up, I’d watch other kids in school pass the time by signing their name repeatedly, trying to find their signature. It was something that they treasured. It was something they hoped they could give out someday, and the truth was, they cared more about it at that moment than probably anyone receiving it might.
But with celebrities, the concept of the signature has become something different. The market for them is not unlike a stock market. There are prices for signed celebrity memorabilia that people collect just to sell at its peak, and they get really pissed if they don’t. The average celebrity’s signature is given out so often, many actually have a rubber stamp to do it with. On red carpets, in restaurants or stores or even dingy laundromats, they get things shoved at them with the expectation that they have a pen and can sign.
And, of course, they get disrespected or disparaged if they don’t.
People even collect books of them, the autographs they’ve badgered people into doing. Instead of a photo album to show where they were, they keep books with the signatures to show what people they ‘met,’ in passing moments that the celebrity probably forgot quicker than a stoner sitting in on a calculus class.
Somewhere, Kilroy is turning in his grave.
There really was a time once when your signature meant something.
It was something you put on a card that your bank kept, so that when someone tried to make a huge transaction, they had it to compare to the guy trying to close your account, to make sure it was you. Now, that’s been replaced with questions about the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on (which is eerily similar to the high school test to find out your porn star name).
It was something that you put at the bottom of a credit card slip, so that (hopefully) it’s you, and only you, are authorizing the use of your money. Now, that’s been replaced by a series of numbers in most places.
It used to be something you’d sign at the end of a heartfelt letter to someone you cared about. Nowadays, you just type it at the end of an email, or even then, have it ‘cyber-rubber stamped’ in a pre-written ‘signature’ your email program automatically adds to the end of your letters.
Heck, you don’t even have to sign your tax documents in most cases anymore, you can just email them in without putting a pen in your hand and onto paper.
But the more I was there thinking about that bat and signing it for Bonds, the more I realized the fallacy, the misconceptions about what a signature should mean. When you sign something, it should be because you really mean it. You sign cards to your loved ones, or write a message in a book to someone because you want it to be special.
An autograph isn’t about receiving something from someone, it’s about giving it to someone, to tell them something.
And that’s why I signed that bat for Bonds. I know fully well that the bat may have gone into some dingy, rarely visited corner of his impressive trophy room. Heck, it might have ended up in the trash, which is where a lot of those heartfelt greeting cards eventually end up anyway.
It doesn’t matter. Through all the questions and allegations and witch hunts, Barry Bonds has changed the way I saw the game. Watching him play, in the good years and the several bad ones while I was in high school in the 90’s, made me love baseball. And while the home run dragged me in, it opened up the opportunity to understand that the game is so much more than a ball going over a fence.
And as I watched Home Run #715 on Sunday, without one of my most special friends and my father there at the now even-less-affectionately called AT&T Park, the sentiment behind that signature remains.
Thanks, Barry. For the past 13 years, and however many are left to come.
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