Sunday, April 11, 2010

Milton Bradley: The Death of a Signature

In today's hobby a lot of us have commented on how illegible signatures have become.  Many current players scribble so fast that the symbols they create seem to ignore the alphabet entirely.

In fact, there are numerous players out there, that if you were to cover the picture that often accompanies their autograph, most collectors would be hard pressed to identify the name.

Whose autograph is this, for example?


No, it's not Milton Bradley.

It is nobody and it is everybody, essentially.  By that I mean it is completely abstract so even knowing who it is isn't very satisfying.  If you are able to tell me who this is, it is almost certainly because you have seen his auto around before, not because you can actually read the roller coaster mess of ink.

I understand why this happens, to a degree.  Everywhere players go they are hounded for autograph requests.  You could perhaps justify the above autograph if you received it outside a hotel with a mob of fans surrounding a player. 

However when a baseball card company pays a player to sign cards I feel he should slow down just a little bit and make the signature legible.  He is paid to fulfill a contract and the expectation is he will at least try to offer something reasonable.

True, some players simply have wacky autographs that can't be helped.  A distinctive look that is difficult to read is one thing, but when it is not even possible to decipher a single letter, things have gone too far.

The saddest thing is when you come across a player that once had a nice, clean, visually impressive signature, only to find that he abandoned it in favor of the speed and ease of a sloppy auto.

Milton Bradley had one of the most dramatic changes in signature style that I have ever seen.

Take a look at this 2000 autographed card I have of him:

It's a fine signature and this card is representative of how he was signing in 2000 and 2001 when he was new to the majors.

But by the time the 2002 cards were released, his signature had taken a startling turn for the worse.  And by 2004 a once strong auto had morphed into this:

Although it isn't the worst signature I've seen, it is alarmingly different.  The only letter I can really make out is the letter B (and maybe an L that mated with a T).

Side by side:

If they weren't both certified you'd have to believe one is a forgery.

It's a bit disheartening that the demands on players results in the extinction of their "real" signatures.

Sure, there are still players out there that take pride in creating a clean autograph, but I would argue that the percentage of players who do so has dwindled consistently with each passing decade.

Have any of you seen a modern day player's auto alter as dramatically as Milton Bradley's did in such a short span of time?

Have you passed on buying certain auto cards because the signature just looked too distant from the player's actual name? 

As for the initial mystery auto I showed, here is the card:

Michael Bourn (Gold Glover and NL Stolen Base leader in 2009).

And yes I did buy this card for a dollar.  Perhaps that means I am part of the problem as well.

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