I have found a new collecting category for my world that is rather aggravating, yet quite rewarding at the same time. I’ve been branching out from simple yearbooks to autographed balls. In particular, I’ve been intrigued by team-signed balls.
I think to have a piece of memorabilia connected to a specific memorable season, be it a World Series year or when a certain player hit a milestone, is pretty special. Heck, if I had a team-signed ball from my Little League days, I’d get a kick out of that, too. You can run down the names and remember little things about the season. In Little League, that might have been as simple as, “This guy always ducked out of the box with every pitch.”
I think a 1986 New York Mets team-signed ball would be neat to have, but you’d have to have the ’86 Red Sox team ball, too, to tell the whole story from that season. And any Yankees or Milwaukee Braves team-signed ball would be special, as both franchises had some legendary Hall of Famers go through their ranks. But a Big Red Machine or Musial-led Cardinals ball would be nice, too. There are definitely plenty of high-caliber choices.
But as I have been digging around in this category, I’ve also found that it can be a rather frustrating hunt. For instance, just because it says “team-signed ball,” that doesn’t mean it was signed by the entire team. With a roster usually consisting of 25 regulars, you’d like to find a ball with all of those regulars.
That means if it’s a 1987 Twins ball, I want Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, Bert Blyleven and Jeff Reardon, along with Randy Bush, Al Newman and Gene Larkin. And every team-signed ball should have the manager on the sweet spot, regardless of the future Hall of Famers on the roster. Good or bad, the manager was the leader of that team and should be recognized as such. (It carries a little more clout when it’s Joe Torre vs. Ned Yost.)
The other part I find maddening is trying to figure out who on the team did sign the ball. Some of the signatures are illegible and even with the help of Baseball Almanac, which lists complete rosters, I am lost. It doesn’t help that some team-signed balls include September call-ups.
Along those same lines, and I’ve said it before, it’s amazing how much easier it is to read older team-signed balls compared to more recent versions. I understand the autograph demands of today’s players is probably far greater and less cordial than 50 years ago, but you’d think team-signed balls, usually completed in a controlled setting, would be a good place to put forth a nice signature. Obviously, most players today don’t care.
Sure, you could get one of the stamped team-signed balls and accomplish some of the same goals I mentioned earlier, but everyone knows that’s not the same. Clubhouse signatures are another burr in my saddle. All of the players should sign the ball themselves, or it’s not a team-signed ball, plain and simple.
Another angle I’m considering is All-Star team-signed balls. I figure that’s one way to get a bunch of great stars (at least for one year) and future Hall of Famers in one spot. Plus, it’s humorous to see which players made the team, especially in the modern-era when you have that stupid rule where one player from every team is added to the All-Star roster. If you’re an All-Star, you’re an All-Star. A Washington Nationals fan isn’t going to stop watching just because Adam Dunn didn’t make the team. But I digress.
In the end, I’m a signed ball guy these days, for good or bad. For now, I’ll keep searching to make sure Rob Picciolo is on my ’82 Milwaukee Brewers ball.