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Anatomy of an Autograph Signing – Josh Hamilton

Five hundred baseballs, three hundred photos, two hundred bats and one hundred jerseys silently await Josh Hamilton’s signature inside the boardroom of a Seattle hotel. Matt Hazzard walks around a giant surfboard-shaped table in the center of the room—making sure each item is in its place—before the MVP arrives for the autograph signing. Over the past four hours he and a colleague have turned the empty space into a memorabilia showcase. Once the guest of honor arrives the transformation will be complete.

Josh Hamilton autograph signing setup

Photo credit: Major League Alumni Marketing

It’s Tuesday afternoon, several hours before Hamilton and his Texas Rangers teammates will take the field against the Mariners. The signing had been scheduled far in advance and turned out to be impeccably timed—just two weeks after Hamilton’s historic home run derby. Joining the team from MLAM is an authenticator from MLB who will secure an individually numbered tamper-proof hologram to each item Josh signs. “Each major league city has three to four authenticators whom we coordinate with at each signing,” Hazzard says. Where do I apply?

Hazzard is the Director of Memorabilia for Major League Alumni Marketing (MLAM), an arm of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) facilitating athlete appearances and over 1,000 signings each year. (Incidentally, approximately 97% of current ballplayers are card-carrying members of the alumni organization). In addition to its exclusive agreement with Hamilton, MLAM’s holds rights to rising stars Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. According to Hazzard, the contracts do not limit the players’ ability to sign for fans at the ballpark but prohibits signing for other companies. Also reserved for MLAM product are certain inscriptions, such as the latest commemorating Hamilton’s four-home run game on May 8, 2012.

Items for today’s signing are sourced by MLAM based on the number and type of pre-orders they receive from companies and individual collectors. Customers also had the option to send in their own memorabilia. Each piece is accompanied by a description informing Hamilton which pen to use, where to sign and whether an inscription is required. Hazzard will closely monitor the quality of the first few signatures of each item type to determine whether a pen change is needed. “The amount of pressure applied when signing their autograph varies by the player,” Hazzard says. “It can even change depending on the kind of item so we’ll do some testing to see what is working well.”

I asked Hazzard to detail which pens he uses for each item and he generously complied:

Jerseys
“For the Hamilton signing, there are three types of authentic Rangers jerseys available. The white jerseys have blue numbers and we’ll use a silver Elmer’s paint pen. We’ll use a blue Sharpie on the blue and red jerseys that feature white numbers.”

Photos
“There is a new photo out commemorating Josh’s four-homer game which has a darker background so we’ll use a silver Sharpie. We also use the Elmer’s silver paint pen on dark photos. Some fans request the fast-drying Staedtler pens.”

Bats
We have two types of blonde bats—a Louisville Slugger which is the brand Josh uses and Rawlings Big Sticks. On both we’ll use blue Sharpie.”

Balls
“There’s no particular brand of pen that we’re loyal to but it will be a blue ballpoint. We stay away from the gel and roller pens.”

Cards
“Some fans will send the exact pen they want used on their card which we’ll accommodate. We typically use Staedtlers on these if something else isn’t requested.”

Today Hamilton will autograph over 1,000 pieces—many featuring the new “4 HR 5/8/12” inscription (MLAM comes up with the exact text)—in about two and a half hours. MLAM will provide lunch but there will be no extended breaks, the process is extremely efficient—especially on a game day.

After Hamilton is finished signing Hazzard will spend three and a half hours (we’re up to ten hours total, if you’re counting at home) packing the items for shipment to customers around the country. Baseballs are given special attention, wrapped tightly in plastic bags before they are boxed. “Even balls in cubes will roll around during transit,” Hazzard says. “We want to ensure our customers receive their item in perfect condition.”

Remaining stock will be distributed across a number of MLB channels, including the MLB.com Shop, MLB auctions and direct sales through MLAM by phone (an online store is currently in development). If you’re interested in a piece from the Hamilton signing, contact Dayna Watts at MLAM at 719-475-1847.

I’d like to thank Matt Hazzard for taking me behind the curtain and offering rare insight into the execution of the Josh Hamilton signing on May 22, 2012—the anatomy of a private signing is a topic that has fascinated me for some time. I encourage you to follow MLAM (@MLAMBaseball) and Matt Hazzard (@mhazzard1652) on Twitter for information on upcoming events.

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

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