By Bryan Petrulis
In the “Through the Years” article, we take a look at specific sports celebrities and how their signatures have changed over time. All the signatures highlighted in the article have been obtained directly from the player in person. 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 helps you build a better collection and helps keep fake signatures out of it.
In this edition, we highlight the signatures of long-time Major League Baseball players Larry Bowa, Craig Biggio and Scott Bradley, and what their signatures looked like over their careers.
Bowa was a long-time shortstop who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. He posted a .260 career batting average with 15 home runs and 525 RBI in 2,247 career major league games. He won two gold gloves and made five All-Star appearances.
Bowa was a light hitting, fleet of foot, and slick fielding baseball player and a good signer. I was not collecting when he was a player but I was able to get him as an MLB manager and coach.
One of these cards was his 1984 Donruss card (Image 1). As you can see, he gave a pretty decent signature. Breaking down his autograph you can make out a cursive “L,” an “a,” two small humps for “rr,” and a tail for the “y” all representing “Larry.” For “Bowa,” you can see a capital “B” with the tail coming back through the lower portion of the “B” before it goes back out to the rest of the signature. There is no discernible “o” but what looks like a straight vertical line representing the “o.” The signature then continues on to a “w” ending with a straight line with an absence of an “a.”
Over time, Bowa’s signature did not change much. I have also displayed two more Bowa signatures to illustrate this. Both have the appearance of a rushed signature but to varying degrees. Both have the capital cursive “L.” For the rest of “arry,” you can see a small circle for the “a,” a small hump for “rr,” and a tail for the “y.” The only difference is that the “a” on the 1984 Fleer card (Image 2) is not connected at the end while it is on the ’78 Hostess card. For Bowa, you have a capital cursive “B,” a straight up and down line representing the “o,” three humps that look like a “w,” and a straight or wavy line of the “a.” Again the only difference between the two signatures is on the ’84 Fleer card the tail at the end of the signature for the “a” is straight while the ’78 Hostess card (Image 3) is bumpy.
Bowa is still part of organized baseball as the bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies so you still have a chance to catch him in person. It looks like it is a different story through the mail, though. Since 2007, he has been very erratic about answering his fan mail.
The second player we highlight is former major league catcher Scott Bradley. He played for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds. During his career he amassed a .257 batting average with 18 home runs and 184 RBI in 604 career major league games. He was also one of the toughest players to strikeout as he whiffed only 110 times in 1,801 plate appearances.
Bradley was a good signer. I got to know Bradley very well from his time with the White Sox. He almost ran my brother over with his car as he was turning into the White Sox player’s lot. From that point until the end of his career he would leave us tickets to come watch the games whenever he was in town. He signed a bunch of cards for me and I got different variations of his signatures.
In 1988, Bradley signed his 1988 Topps card (Image 4) for me. For Scott, you can almost make out every letter. You can see a capital “S,” a “c,” an “o” that is not a perfect circle that is written more on top of itself, and “tt”. For Bradley, you can see a capital “B,” an “r,” a vertical line that looks more like an “i” than an “a” to represent the letter “a,” a “d,” an “l,” an “e,” and a “y.” It’s a pretty neat and legible signature.
But, many players have different versions of their signature. There is the “pay check” signature, as I like to call it, which is the neat legible version and then there is the “short stroke,” which is the quick version of the “pay check” signature. The short stroke allows a player to sign more autographs in a shorter amount of time.
I got Bradley to sign his 1988 Fleer card (Image 5) and got the short stroke on that card. For Scott, You can still see the capital “S,” but the “c,” “o,” “t,” and “t” are clearly missing replaced by a straight line. Probably the straight line used to cross the two t’s. For Bradley, you can still see the capital “B” but then it goes straight into the “l,” a hump for the “e,” and a tail for the “y.” Clearly missing are the “r,” “a,” and “d.”
As time passed the short stroke got even shorter, as you can see on his 1992 Fleer Ultra card (Image 6). For Scott, you can make out the capital “S” but then there is just a line that goes straight into his last name with no other letters of “Scott” visible. For Bradley, you can make out half of a capital “B,” then a line that goes into an “l,” finishing with a tail representing the “y.”
Bradley is still working in baseball as the head coach of the Princeton Tigers baseball team so you still have a chance to catch him in person if you live near a university that Princeton plays. It looks like it is a different story through the mail, though. He appears to be very erratic in care of both his home and Princeton. You might want to try an email to him via Princeton before sending to see how receptive he is about it.
The third player we highlight is Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. Biggio made his major league debut in 1988 with the Houston Astros. He spent all of his 20-year major league career in Houston. He finished his playing career with a .281 batting average, 291 home runs, and 1,175 RBI. He appeared in seven All-Star games, won four gold gloves and won five silver slugger awards.
When Biggio first came up, he would sign whatever you handed him. He was really great about signing. In 1989, I was able to get him to sign his 1989 Fleer card (Image 7). Biggio took his time to sign it. You can make out a capital “C” for Craig, then what looks like a backwards “c” for the rest of his first name. For Biggio, you can see a capital “B,” then the “B” connected to what looks like a string of the letter “o” all connected at the top. There are no visible “i”s in his signature of Biggio. The first two “o”s in the string are the double “g”s and the last “o” is actually the “o” at the end of his last name. Even though he took his time signing the card there are a lot of letters missing.
In 1995, I was able to get Biggio to sign his 1995 Topps card (Image 8). The 1995 autograph has similarities to the 1989 signature. For Craig, you still see the capital “C” but the backwards “c” representing the rest of the letters in his first name is not as pronounced and just looks like a large comma. For Biggio, you can still see the capital “B” but the series of “o” all connected at the top are not the same. You can make out one “o” representing one of the letters “g,” and then a backwards “c” or “u” connected to the first “o” by a hump backed line. There still is no visible “I” and the second “o” representing the second “g’ is missing.
In the early 2000s I had Biggio sign his 1998 Topps card (Image 9). This signature still resembles the previous two signatures in many ways but is slightly different. Craig remains the same with a capital “C” visible and a large comma representing the rest of Craig, but this time the comma is touching the “B” in Biggio. For Biggio, you still see the capital “B,” one circle or “o” representing one of the letters of “g,” and a hump backed line connecting the wavy tail which looks like a “u” or “c” just like the 1995 signature. But this time you can see a circle within the circle representing one of the “g” letters.
If you are looking to add Biggio’s autograph to your collection it might prove to be a little tough. Biggio is currently employed by the Houston Astros so you might see him in spring training with the Astros or at an Astros home game. At present, Biggio is not answering fan mail sent to his home or care of the Houston Astros. Since he is a Hall of Famer, keep your eye on the show circuit; I am sure he will make some appearances.
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 and you’ll always have a great memory of meeting that player.