Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The riddle of the autograph

I've never quite understood the concept of getting someone's autograph. Felt that way since I was about 7. As best as I can grasp it, you see someone famous (or, if you're at a minor league baseball game, someone not the least bit famous), walk up and ask them to write their name on a piece of paper. Why? So you can show your friends an illegible scribble? There's never a good story to go with it either. Dude, I saw the guy who played Uncle Charlie on My Three Sons at the wallpaper store. I went up to him and, get this, asked him for his autograph. Here it is.


I bring this up only because I witnessed a 40-year old autograph seeker today at, of all places, a hospital. A famous man (I won't say who, but someone who would be recognized anywhere on the globe) was getting off the elevator, probably to visit a sick friend or family member. I admit, I was taken aback at first glimpse. But never in a million years would I dream of doing this, especially given the location. This nincompoop walks right up and asks for his autograph. No conversation, no apologies. Since a hospital is no place to cause a scene, and there wasn't anyone else around, the famous person obliged, albeit with a rather annoyed look on his face.

I've wondered aloud about autographs before. Actually, a lot. I've covered minor league baseball at the Register for a while now, and I am amazed at the hordes of people, grown men included, knocking each other over for a lousy signature. People tell me it's OK for kids to do it. Anything for the kids. Still don't get it. I remember attending my first West Haven Yankees game at the old Quigley Stadium in the late 1970s with my dad. We got there early, and a bunch of kids were hanging over the railing hounding Mike Heath, probably the most well-known player on the team, for autographs. I asked my dad if I could go over to get his autograph. My dad kind of smirked, but handed me our scorecard and a pencil. I got the autograph and walked back to our seats. After staring at it for a few minutes, I looked over at my dad and said "What am I supposed to do with this?" He laughed. Guess he knew exactly how I would react.

Signing autographs, however, is a completely different story. I wish I could say my status as a journalist has people asking me all the time. But no one on the planet would buy that one. However, I have been the subject of mistaken identity a few times (though now that I'm into my 30s it doesn't happen nearly as much). About eight years ago, while I was still a part-time scribe, I was covering a New Haven Ravens game against the Binghamton Mets. It was an afternoon game, so I decided to write the story from home. After getting my interviews, I grabbed my bag and headed out to my car. To get to the parking lot at Yale Field, you walk right past the home team's clubhouse as well as the visiting team's bus. A kid stopped me along the way and asked which team I played for. Without missing a beat, I said 'the Mets'. He offered a pen and asked for my autograph. Having never been asked that question before, I couldn't resist. I took his notebook and signed my name. Before I knew what was happening, about 30 kids emerged from the woodwork and surrounded me, all shoving pens in my direction. I couldn't believe it. It was like a Hitchcock movie. Red-faced and sweating, I couldn't think of anything else to do but scrawl as fast as humanly possible, pray no one from the team saw me and get the heck out of there.

When my heart rate slowed back below 250, it turned into a funny story. And that's much more memorable than an autograph. See someone famous? If you can't just smile and nod, offer a handshake and few words. It's much more interesting to hear what the celeb had to say or how they reacted than looking at a piece of paper. But for Pete's sake, just don't do it at the hospital.


Blogger Jim Barton said...

Ahh, the ol' Quigley Stadium...did you ever think when we were 7 and watching guys like Heath play there that eventually we would spend three nights a week during our college years playing ball on the same field? I read somewhere once that in a poll of 600 major league players in the 80's, they were asked to name the best minor league park they played in, and the worst....the players were divided over the best park, but Quigley was the overwhelming choice for "worst park".
One of my favorite memories of Quigley was in legion ball, when Tony M. from WH clubbed Lance D. across the head with his aluminum baseball bat, leading to a bench clearing brawl on the scale of Miami-FIU.
Ahh, the good old days.

October 19, 2006 4:23 PM 
Blogger beisbolct said...

Chip you could have your own baseball card like I had when I worked in the clubhouse at the Ravens. Nothing like having to sign autographs for the 40 yr old man who collects cards. Was it that important to get my autograph?

October 19, 2006 4:39 PM 
Blogger Jim Barton said...

I saw something at Quigley that I have never seen before or since - a "catcher's balk". On an intentional walk, the catcher was not behind home plate when the pitch was thrown - he was about 20 feet to the right. BALK.
The best part was, it was the bottom of the 10th and the winning run for our team was on third base. What a way to end the game. Even "The Goose" went nuts after that one.

Two days later, same pitcher, same catcher, winning run on third again. The team calls time out to discuss how exactly to execute the intentional walk (you wouldn't think it was that complicated), but on the first pitch of the intentional walk, the pitcher throws the ball 20 feet over the catcher's head for a wild pitch - run scores, game over.

I used to tell people that if they came down to see a Twilight League game at Quigley, i could guaranty them three things: 1) pretty good baseball; 2) a weird play that would defy all logic (one night there was a "do-over" called by the umpire); and 3) at least one incredible argument between a player and an umpire that would make George Brett's pine tar incident seem like a friendly conversation.

October 19, 2006 5:42 PM 

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