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Anatomy of an Autograph

By Bob, May 13, 2010 1:52 pm

This is the third post in the series “The Art of the Autograph.”

I’m writing this post by leaning heavily on my graphic design experience, knowledge of the players and their backgrounds, and vivid imagination to make these observations about autographs. No empirical research, no in-depth study of Graphology, no founding in fact … just personal opinions. With an apology to Otto Preminger for taking liberties with his 1959 movie title: “Anatomy of a Murder.”

Several years ago I began to notice the difference between the beautiful and carefully written signatures of yesteryear’s players and the signatures of many of today’s players. Those of yesteryear: Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Fergie Jenkins, Enos Slaughter – players whose autographs reflected their grade school training in, what I remember as, the Palmer Penmanship method of handwriting. Ovals that flowed into each other, designing letter forms that created a beautiful and readable sentence – an art form apparently not being taught today.

Joe DiMaggio

Bob Feller

Fergie Jenkins

And today’s players: Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Orlando Cabrera, Derrek Lee, J.T. Snow, Nick Swisher, and others; autographs most often given hastily with an attempt to sign for as many people as possible, as the crowds have become overwhelming.

Tim Lincecum

Jonathan Sanchez

Orlando Cabrera

Some have a flair (see Randy Johnson) with a capital initial …

Randy Johnson

or the Zorro-like stroke of the pen (see Derrek Lee) …

Derrek Lee

and many are simply unreadable. I’ve seen fans obtain player’s autographs, look at them, turn and ask “who was that?”

And with a stretch of the imagination, you can see part of the player in his penmanship – the big overhand curve ball thrown by Barry Zito (look at the Z on his signature and you’ll see that 12 to 6 breaking ball of his).

Barry Zito

Look at Ozzie Guillén‘s autograph and hear his staccato-like, undecipherable rant when he’s talking to the Press or chewing out a player.

Ozzie Guillén

Frank Robinson‘s forceful signature,

Frank Robinson

Frank Thomas, “The Big Hurt,” with his long sweeping swing,

Frank Thomas

and Joe Pepitone, his signature reflecting his love of Broadway lights … as I said: “a little imagination.

Joe Pepitone

I will always be grateful, though, to have a player sign a ball for me – whether I can read the signature or not … thanks Miguel Tejada.

Miguel Tejada

Any chance of bringing back the Palmer Penmanship School of Handwriting?

Something Very Rare Has Happened

By Bob, May 11, 2010 8:32 am

A ball signed by Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game during the 1956 World Series.

In the history of professional baseball, which spans 165 years, only 19 perfect games have been recorded, with the 19th being pitched May 9, 2010, by an Oakland Athletics left-hander named Dallas Braden – an unlikely candidate to accomplish one of sports’ most difficult feats.

Selected in the 1,383rd round in the baseball draft in 2004 and never considered amongst the top Major League prospects (supposedly lacking the tools to be a consistent winner in the “bigs”), Braden beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4 to 0 … 27 batters up, 27 batters down. And life as he knows it will never be the same.

Pitching a perfect game is cosmic. All the stars must align to make it happen – and while it’s happening, you are oblivious to what’s going on around you.

A ball signed by Randy Johnson, who pitched a perfect game in 2004

Defense, that oft underrated part of the game, of course, has to be perfect. Balls hit hard, normally going for base hits, must die in the gloves of well-positioned fielders. Pitchers must hit their “spots” and umpires – always ready to “call them as they see them” –  must see them where they’re thrown. And all this luck must last for nine innings. These events have come together only 19 times in baseball history.

In a very small way, I share some of this excitement.

On a hot July afternoon in 1948, a fourteen-year-old right-hander, nicknamed “Baffling Bobby Hellman” by a Des Moines sportswriter, tossed a six-inning perfect game in Optimist League competition (Optimist League games were limited to 6 innings and played by boys 12 to 14 years old). Given outstanding support, I fanned nine hitters … 18 batters up, 18 batters down.

Ours was a team loaded with talent – future high school and college stars were in the lineup with our record for the summer of 14 wins and one loss, a testimony to the championship caliber of our players.

The ball that clinched Baffling Bobby Hellman's perfect game

That win capped a magical summer  - we silenced the soda fountain crowd when we walked in. Bragging rights in the universe as we knew it, were all ours. After a summer like that, you assumed everyone in the crowd was a scout sent out to offer you a contract … you were king of the hill – at least for the summer – and as luck would have it, for several summers to come.

Another Boyhood Hero Has Died

By Bob, May 7, 2010 9:28 am

The good Sisters of St. Francis were baseball fans. And every fall our classrooms at St. Mary’s were filled with the sounds of the World Series being broadcast on a radio that was strategically positioned to allow the good Sister and her classroom to catch every sound of the game that plays so well on the radio … while still attempting to teach a class.

I remember the World Series of 1950 and the beating that the Philadelphia Phillies and their ace, Robin Roberts, took at the hands of the New York Yankees. I can hear the rhythm of the game, but unfortunately, remember very little about the class being taught.

I’ll not attempt to list all the stats of Robin Roberts, one of my boyhood heroes. Sports Illustrated (SI.com) has a beautifully written tribute article by Joe Posnanski detailing Roberts’ accomplishments on the pitching mound. I urge my baseball friends to read this article. He was a throwback from the deadball era – a pitcher that finished what he started, and a hero to Philadelphia Philly fans.

Roberts was the ace of the 1950 Philadelphia Philly team known as the “Whiz Kids.” He began a string of six straight years where he started 37-plus games and finished 20 or more each year – an incredible pitching feat in any era.

DiMaggio, Williams, Spahn, Mantle, Reese, Robinson, Hodges, Furillo, Reiser, Campanella … and Roberts – all boyhood heroes whose accomplishments still live in my mind on the radio.

 

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