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Harmon Killebrew counseled younger players on the importance of an autograph

Believe it or not, there once was a time when you could read an athlete’s signature. Now we recognize illegible scribbles, shapes and scratches which we identify with a specific player. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of requests celebrities now receive. Maybe it’s the apathy of my generation. Whatever the cause, the artful full name signature given by Mariano Rivera or Elvis Andrus is a rarity.

Harmon Killebrew autographed card

Harmon Killebrew autographed card

On May 17, baseball lost a legend when Harmon Killebrew passed. An underrated great, in my opinion, “Killer” cranked more home runs in a career (573) than all but ten major leaguers. A few days after his death, I had the opportunity to purchase an autographed card of his and I challenge you to find an example of a more conscientious signature.

Signing an autograph was an act Killebrew took seriously and a principle he shared with many younger Twins players, including Torii Hunter. In a video recently published by ESPN, Hunter recalls Killebrew’s counsel about the importance of giving a legible signature. (Incidentally, the first autograph I obtained after being introduced to in person graphing was Torii Hunter’s, and I remember admiring his “letter-perfect” signature across the sweet spot of my baseball).

What do you think has impacted the way today’s athletes and celebrities sign their names?

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.

2 comments… add one

  • Michelle June 8, 2011, 3:16 pm

    Hey Matt- Do you find any difference in artistry or readability of autographs from women versus men? How about those that are famous because of an art form (acting) versus sports?
    I remember as a middle school girl I used to practice my signature all over my text books (often adding the last name of my latest crush) and I worked for hours on all the details- how to dot the i’s (I used big almond shaped ovals to represent the eyes on my face), whether or not to capitalize the first letters, and how to add flare by putting my whole name on the landing of one of the letters in my name.
    Was I the only girl out there who did this (I suspect not) and therefore do girl celebrities tend to have practiced or at least put more thought into their autographs more than their male counterparts?

  • Matt Raymond June 10, 2011, 10:04 am

    Hi Michelle, interesting question.

    As I alluded to in my post, I think the biggest difference is by generation. If you look at signatures as recent as the 1980s and before, whether they be in sports, politics or film, they tend to be very legible. Today’s autographs are severely rushed (in general) and I think that is consistent across gender and industry. While you can always find exceptions, I don’t have any evidence to suggest that women in film or music, for example, sign their names in a flowery, more artful way.

    I’m also not sure it’s limited to celebrity. I think a majority of us practiced our graph on the back of a notebook (I know I did) and I would guess the way we sign our name on a credit card receipt is much worse now than when we were in grade school. We also need to consider society today–we are all more busy and, arguably, more self-absorbed than the generation that came before us, which may contribute to a desire to complete activities in as little time and with as little effort as possible. When there are twenty people waiting for you to walk from a hotel entrance to a car waiting fifteen feet away, you may feel compelled to come up with an abbreviated signature to fulfill all the requests without (sometimes literally) missing a step.

    Celebrities are also signing a greater volume of autographs than ever before which is certainly a contributing factor. I graph high school basketball prospects and can clearly see a change in many of their signatures as they get older (and the demand for their signature rises).

    I look forward to the perspective of others on this.

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