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A look at how autographs have changed for three former major league players

The autograph of professional athletes can change over time. Case in point, Ken Griffey Sr., Torii Hunter and Brian Lawrence.

Editor’s Note: In the “Through the Years” article series, we take a look at specific sports celebrities and how their signatures have changed over time. All the signatures highlighted in the articles have been obtained in person, directly from the player. Many collectors like to have the autographs in their collections certified. But many times “real” autographs fail authentication for one reason or another. Here we try to illustrate that there are variations of a player’s signature. Sometimes these variations occur due to the circumstances in which the autograph was obtained, for example, if the player was in a hurry, in a crowd, at an autograph appearance, or even the weather. Hopefully this will help you build a better collection and will help keep fake signatures out of it.

By Bryan Petrulis

In this installment of Through the Years we highlight the signatures of major leaguers Ken Griffey Sr., Torii Hunter and Brian Lawrence. We will focus on what their signatures looked like over the course of their careers.

Ken Griffey Sr.

Ken Griffey Sr. was an outfielder who made his major league debut for the “Big Red Machine” in 1973. He would have two separate stints with the Cincinnati Reds while also playing for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners. He compiled a career batting average of .296 while hitting 152 home runs and driving in 859 runs. He was also a three-time all-star and played with his Hall of Fame son Ken Griffey Jr. for two seasons in Seattle.

 1983 Topps

1983 Topps

Griffey Sr. was a 29th round draft pick out of high school who was primarily used as an outfielder during his career and was an OK signer. The first time I got Griffey to sign for me was in 1985 when he was a member of the New York Yankees. That was the first time I ever tried going for an opposing team playing the Chicago White Sox. He signed one card for me, which was his 1983 Topps card. As you can see, it was a very rushed signature. Breaking down his autograph, for Ken, you can make out the “K,” an “e” and then a bumpy line for the “n.” For Griffey, you can make out a cursive capital “G” and then a tail representing the rest of his last name.

 1992 Topps

1992 Topps

In 2010, I was able to get Griffey Sr. to sign his 1992 Topps card. This version of his signature was very similar to the signature I got back in 1985. For Ken, you can see the capital “K,” a closed “e” and a hump of the “n.” But this time the “n” does not continue into the capital “G” in Griffey. For Griffey, you can see the capital “G” but this time it is not as clear as the previous version and this time the “G” does not loop over itself to continue into the tail. The tail in this signature is also longer than the previous version and is represented by a straight line with a hook at the end instead of just a small hump.

 1991 Topps

1991 Topps

Griffey Sr. also managed a season in the Arizona Fall League. I was able to get him to sign a few cards but this time I received his every letter autograph. One of the cards he signed for me was his 1991 Topps card. As you can see, you can make out every letter of his name in this signature. Ken is basically the same as the previous two signatures, just neater this time. For Griffey, the capital “G” is again present but it continues with all of the letters of his last name visible with the “y’ ending in an upward tail. I have also seen versions where the tail ends in a downward tail. One of the unique characteristics for Griffey Sr.’s signature is it is always at an upwards slant from left to right meaning the end of his signature always finishes higher than the “K” or beginning of his signature.

Griffey Sr. has proven to be a hard autograph to obtain. He is not currently working in affiliated or independent baseball and it does not appear he is answering any fan mail.

Torii Hunter

Torii Hunter began and ended his 19-year career with the Minnesota Twins. He also played for the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers. Hunter played in 2,373 career major league games, and was a .277 career hitter with 353 home runs and 1,391 runs batted in. He was also a nine-time gold glove winner.

 1994 Classic

1994 Classic

Hunter was always a good signer throughout his career. In 1996, Hunter signed his 1994 Classic card (Image 4) for me. For Torii, you can see a disconnected “T” meaning that the vertical and horizontal lines that form a “T” are not joined. You can then see a “.” and a “-” above a straight line representing the “orii” in Torii. For Hunter, you cannot clearly see any letters. You can see a vertical line with a hook at the top almost representing a cane. This is the left hand line of the “H.” The left hand line of the “H” is not connected with the right hand line of the “H” which here is written like an “S.” You can then see what looks like a “C” and then a “T” after the right hand line of the “H.” It looks like the “T” starts in the middle of the “C” with the bottom of the vertical line of the “T” going through the bottom half of the right hand line of the “H.” All of that represents the rest of Hunter.

 2000 Topps

2000 Topps

The second autograph I have for Hunter is his 2000 Topps card I got during the 2000 season. This autograph, as compared to the 1996 autograph looks very similar with a few variables. You can still see the disconnected “T” but this time the top line has a little tail underneath the main line. You can also still see the “.” over the straight line, but the “-” is absent. Also, the straight line representing the rest of “orii” is now touching the vertical line of the “T.” For Hunter, you can still see the “cane” and “S” that form the “H” but this time it is connected at the bottom. You can see a loop with an “s” through that loop representing the rest of “unter.” The loop is actually the “t” while the “s” is the cross on the “t.”

 2007 Topps

2007 Topps

Shortly after that, Hunter changed his autograph. He went from giving out the short stroke to every letter autographs. In 2012, I was able to get Hunter to sign a few cards for me, one of which being his 2007 Topps card. As you can see it is a big autograph that takes up 2/3s of the card. You can also make out every letter of his name. For Torii there is the disconnected “T” with the top line, with the tail under the main line. The “.” and “-” is replaced by “o,” “r,” “I,” and “I” which runs into the “H” in Hunter. For Hunter, the unique way Hunter signs his “H” is still there, it is just closer together and is once again connected at the bottom. You can also clearly make out a “u,” “n,” and a “t.” The “t” is crossed with the line that looks like an “s.” It finishes off with the loop that represents the “er.”

When asked why he changed his signature, Hunter said his grandmother thought his autograph was sloppy and that he should take more pride in it. He took more pride in his signature by signing every letter to his name.

Hunter is a great signer in person. Unfortunately, it does not look like he is currently answering his mail. It looks like he might be a special instructor during Spring Training so you could try him in care of the Twins Spring Training complex when Spring Training is open.

Brian Lawrence

Lawrence made his major league debut in 2001 with the San Diego Padres. He played for the Padres and New York Mets. He finished his playing career with a 50-63 record, a 4.19 ERA and 597 strikeouts in 963 innings.

 2004 Topps

2004 Topps

When Lawrence first came up, he was a pretty good signer. In 2004, I was able to get him to sign his 2004 Topps card. Lawrence had a short stroke signature. You can make out a capital “B” for Brian and a small line at the bottom loop of the “B” which represents an “r.” The rest of his first name is absent from this signature. For Lawrence, you can see a capital cursive “L,” a double hump and then a straight line. The double hump and straight line represents “awrence.”

 2004 Fleer

2004 Fleer

In 2005, I was able to get Lawrence to sign his 2004 Fleer card. The 2004 autograph is similar to the 2005 signature except the “B” in Brian continues into the “L” in Lawrence and the bottom line of the “L” finishes higher than the rest of the signature. The bottom line of the “L” then continues on into what looks like an “O” and straight line to finish out the signature.

 2004 Topps Total

2004 Topps Total

It has been a long time since I saw Lawrence in person, but I was able to get him this past season as pitching coach of the South Bend Cubs in the Midwest League. Again, Lawrence would sign whatever you handed him but there was not much left to his already scant signature. I was able to get him to sign his 2004 Topps Total card (Image 9). His signature is now just his initials “BL.” You can see the “B” almost looks like an “R” because it is not closed at the bottom. The “B” continues straight into the “L,” but the “L” does not look like one. It almost looks like a hump with a straight line rising at a 45 degree angle.

Lawrence is a good signer in person. Currently, he is a pitching coach in the Chicago Cubs farm system. In 2018, he was at South Bend. He has been moved up to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for the 2019 season. Looking at his past mail signing habits it does not look like he answers his fan mail so you will have to try him in person.

As you can see, a player’s signature can change over time or even from day to day. As long as you know you got it in person, it will always be a real one to you as well as the great memory you will always have of meeting that player. 

Bryan Petrulis is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at bryjay41@hotmail.com.