Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mike Schmidt versus the Autohounds versus the rest of us

Like the rest of you, I caught this article by Schmidt this morning on Wax Heaven.

Now, my experience is anecdotal at best. But, as a guy who's recently posted a couple of autos on the site, here's my two cents.

First, we have the autohounds. I'll start with them because, as a species, they are the most perplexing. Do they do it for the money? I can't imagine they do, if only because there's next to no money in non-certified autos. None. Zip. And if we take into account the fact that even certified stuff is subject to forgery or even questionable certification, then we're looking at folks who clearly cannot be doing it out of financial motivation unless they possess no understanding of the market and economics.

Now, I'm sure a few autohounds make quite a living moving high-end merch, and good for them. I'll just come out and say that they and their customers are probably buying fakes 25% of the time unless all this stiff is obtained in person by the hound him/herself, which it ain't.

When I lived in NC, these guys would be stacked 4 deep waiting to get into the ballpark, carrying duffel bags which were full of binders which were full of cards. And yep, in my experience they wanted to get players to sign each and every one. Although my favorite thing was going to the park early, I never even thought about going after autos, as much because those guys made getting the player(s) I wanted impossible as because pre-game warmups mean short beer lines and an empty park. I did get my Price jersey signed at a Bulls Fanfest in March, but there was next to no one there and it was an event for stuff like that.

The papparazzo like autohounds seem like they just enjoy the chase. Again, there is NO logical financial motive. Obtaining the auto must be secondary to the chase itself, and the bigger the target (ie HOFers like Schmidt) the better the hunt. If these guys had the money I'm sure they'd participate in canned big game hunts and stuff like that, and real hunts if they had more cash. But they don't, so sending their 16 y.o. daughters after Schmidt in a Holliday Inn parking garage is the best they can do.

Which brings us to the players. Most of these guys have no financial motivation to ask for money for autos. I imagine most of them, whether in person or TTM, ask for money to stem the tide of auto requests. I mean, I've seen some pretty indignant comments over old times who ask for $5 to do ttm, but let's get real. Players from the 1950's had no million dollar contracts and, what's more, better things to do with their time than spend all day signing. If their asking for $5 helps those guys make ends meet and helps weed out people who don't really want their 'graphs, then so be it. Logically, HOFers and "more sought after" players will ask for more, not so much to cash in on their names but to turn more folks away ahead of time. Especially for the current players a lot of that cash goes to charity, so it's clearly a way to reduce the number of auto requests.

Which, I'll admit, sometimes sucks for the rest of us. First, however, I don't want to overlook guys like Jonny Gomes and Bobby Shantz. I know that those players may not mean anything to you, but getting their autos was an absolute thrill for me. As a kid I lived too far from a big league park to get to games with regularity, as in I saw maybe 7 games by the time I turned 18. Being able to get to games is much more a part of my adult life than my childhood, and following different players like CC, David Price, and Gomes is a great past time. I am genuinely uninterested in getting mountains of autos from players I don't follow. I am interested in getting autos from players whose careers I find interesting for one reason or another, whether they be current players like Gomes or past greats like Shantz.

That said, I find myself being more and more tempted by getting autos from former players TTM. I could get certified sigs off ebay, but the cost is prohibitive and wouldn't really give any living connection to the player. After I got the letter from Shantz I sent off three others to former players I hope to hear back from. Two are from my home state, one has the best nickname in the history of baseball nicknames. If I do hear from them, great. If not, great.

So maybe there's a little autohound in me, but in the end I'm a lot more interested in hearing that Mr. Shantz loved to go fishing with Bender in West Palm Beach, or watching Jonny Gomes jog over to sign my jersey. It's not the object, it's the memory associated with it, and more than the objects that's what I'll pass on.

Feel free to agree/disagree. Why do the rest of you collect/not collect graphs? How much is too much to pay? How much would you pay?

I hate to admit it, but I still don't own the 99 Topps Traded CC auto, primarily because it usually sell for $15 and up, which I find a little steep considering that you can get some great T206 cards for less than that.


  1. I love getting autographs! I waiver back and forth, being into it and against it. I don't like getting them at the ballpark too often, I don't like being the creepy adult pushing kids out of the way. I also don't buy or resell autos. Lately, I have been getting back into TTM autos. I like writing the letter, telling the player why I connect with them and waiting and hoping for a response. Like your letter from Shantz, earlier this month I got a nice letter from former Devil Ray Ben Grieve. It was awesome because he read my letter, signed my card, but also wrote back. That made me feel good, like we connected. I was writing a book a few years ago and interviewing old timers. I wrote a lot of letters. Those who wrote me back, I would arrange to go to their town and talk over coffee. I'll never forget the 4 page hand written letter I received from Johny Sain! Keep up the great work and Carl Crawford, MVP!!!!

  2. I would never seek out a player for an autograph in person. First, I couldn't get over how weird it would seem for a guy my age to be doing that. Second, it has never been in my personality to do anything like that (I've mentioned this before on the blog). Third, I just don't care enough about today's current players to go through that effort.

    I do enjoy the TTM stuff that I do, simply because it avoids all of the above, and also, I can seek out the players I'm interested in -- and those players are retired, the players of my youth. I may end up being wrong, but outside of those particular players I don't think I'll do any more TTM after that.