It’s quite likely that more autographs were signed in Northeast Ohio last weekend than during the rest of the year combined.
We experienced a confluence of blockbusters: the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at the same time as the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction festivities.
Toss in some open-to-the-public practices at the Cleveland Browns training camp in Berea and you’ve got plenty of happy autograph-hunters.
And some unhappy ones, as well.
When it comes to nailing down autographs, timing isn’t everything, but close.
Even the most gracious autograph-signer on the PGA Tour isn’t going to stop in the middle of a round because a cute kid is holding out a notepad. And even the surliest pros have a hard time resisting if you catch them in relative isolation when their workday is over and you ask politely.
Choosing the right time and place is vital, and seemingly millions of Americans have it down to a science. That’s probably why we lag so far behind other developed nations when it comes to knowing much about real science.
When you think about it, this whole equation is silly: An autograph is nothing more than proof that you once made a personal connection with a famous person — for about 10 seconds.
Or maybe you didn’t. What is even more curious is the value placed on autographs collected by someone else.
I wish I had one-tenth of 1 percent of the money people in this country spend every day buying and framing stuff that was autographed by people they have never met.
As I was watching the huge crush around some of the stars at Firestone last week — and the lengths to which security personnel were going to keep them at bay — I was reminded how much the autograph game has changed.
A couple of millennia ago, when I was 12 or 13 years old, my mom took me to a golf tournament known as the Cleveland Open, played at Aurora County Club. As we approached the practice putting green, I immediately recognized the two biggest names in golf: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
What did I do? What came naturally. I took my little pad of paper, strolled right out onto the putting surface and asked them for autographs.
One after the other, they smiled, put aside their putters and made a kid happy. Nobody else paid the least bit of attention.
Today, if someone were to attempt that move at the Bridgestone Invitational, multiple security personnel would swoop down faster than Usain Bolt in the middle of 100 meters.
During my youth, a fan could go to an Indians game and roam around in the players’ unsecured parking lot on the northwest side of Municipal Stadium. The players had to walk through the stadium concourse to get to their cars, and you could hit them up from the instant they left the locker room until they put their keys in the ignition.
Today, the players’ lot at Progressive Field is guarded only slightly less zealously than an American embassy.
One of the reasons for the transformation — beyond the absurd amount of attention we now give to pro sports — is that little kids are often squeezed out by adults, many of whom are in it for money.
A Beacon Journal photo taken at the Browns’ first full practice in late July showed grown men nearly crushing a couple of kids while vying for a signature from Trent Richardson.
Some adults will do or say almost anything to turn autographs into money.
Last week’s Sport Illustrated included a feature story about Johnny Manziel, who has had some interesting adventures since winning the Heisman Trophy last year as a freshman. The article was written before news broke that the NCAA is investigating the Texas A&M quarterback for allegedly selling autographs.
After reading the story, you certainly can understand Manziel’s mindset, even if you can’t endorse his possible willingness to break one of the NCAA’s most basic rules.
Among the tales in the article: A man in military fatigues approached Manziel and his family while they were eating breakfast. The man said he worked for a charity that donated sports memorabilia to American soldiers serving abroad, and asked Manziel to sign some helmet decals.
As Manziel’s breakfast grew cold, he signed decal after decal after decal.
“A few days later,” the story said, “Manziel’s father looked on eBay and found that the decals had been slapped on maroon helmets and put up for sale.”
On other occasions, Manziel included personalized messages when he signed photos, only to discover later that the messages had been wiped off and the now-generic autographed photos were being offered to collectors.
The amazing thing is not that so many athletes are frosty toward autograph-seekers but that so many agree to sign.
Nicklaus is among the best. Even after half a century in the spotlight, he will take the time — sometimes an hour or more — to sign his name for everyone who asks.
Which brings us full circle.
Gold in a box
The other night, I dug around in an old box of souvenirs and discovered that I still have those autographs from Jack and Arnie.
Somehow they still seem worthwhile. Part of their value is their tie to my mother, who headed off to that great putting green in the sky nearly 28 years ago.
But, yes, I suppose another part of their appeal is the memory of having made a connection, however brief, with two people who were better at their particular craft than anyone else in their generation — and, in Jack’s case, perhaps every generation.
So I will keep those two autographs, as well as the one from Muhammad Ali that I have hung onto since encountering him one day in 1978 at Hopkins airport, standing at a ticket counter, sans entourage, at the crack of dawn.
I will keep Ali’s signature because it reminds me that one of the most famous people on the planet — a guy who didn’t know me from Adam — took the time not only to sign my piece of paper, but to joke around with me for a couple of minutes.
Such is the potential magic of autographs.
But only if you get them without lying, stealing or bullying.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.