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Photos: top left: David Maril with the late Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Orioles and Colts, the summer he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993; top right: a perspective shot of Maril at Wrigley Field; featured photo: journalist Ken Decoste with the late, great Harry Caray and Maril.

Cavalcade of Columns

The business of celebrities personally signing autographs often becomes impersonal

Trump’s autographs may have distinctive value if he maintains his current presidential pace

How much signed memorabilia was autographed by the actual celebrity?

By David Maril

What is the big deal about celebrity autographs?

It’s bad enough so many people are influenced in what they wear, drive and even think because of what a Hollywood celebrity or multi-millionaire athlete gets paid to endorse.

Autographs, if you come right down to it, only have real meaning at the end of letters or checks.

Hastily scribbling down a name hundreds, or even thousands, of times each day is about as personal as applying your logo with a rubber stamp.

During the 2016 political campaign Donald Trump, now officially our so-called president, could often be seen jotting down his signature on baseball caps, scraps of paper and whatever else his mesmerized fans handed his way as he worked through crowds.

Who knows, maybe Trump’s will be worth a fortune if he becomes the first U.S. president to quit because of a disdain for all the “losers, liars, so-called judges, and fake news journalists" that have the gall to question his ethics, temperament, expertise and judgement.

Still, the whole autograph process, to me, is superficial and a waste of time.

I’ve never understood why so many of us are obsessed with memorabilia personalized by the expanding group of rich and famous people.

WHEN I COVERED major league baseball, it seemed astounding, if not pathetic, to see a dozen or so adults crawling around on the sidewalk outside the players’ parking lot at Fenway Park hours after late-night games. They were trying to get a glimpse, through the gap at the bottom of the canvas covered fence, of the shoe-tops of their favorite Red Sox players getting into cars.

What’s the big deal with autographs?

Granted, there are collectors who actually make money wheeling and dealing by selling and trading, turning it into a business on the side.

I can’t, however, fathom the passion some people display building up their own personal collections of movie stars and other celebrities. Many professional athletes, for example, add to their fortunes by formally appearing at events to sign autographs.

Some of these celebrities don’t even look up at the people who are paying to have them sign.

FOR YEARS, CELTICS’ GREAT Bill Russell’s autograph was the one signature collectors craved. As a a player and coach, Russell had a strict policy of refusing to sign autographs. The NBA’s all-time, in my opinion, Most Valuable Player felt it was a stupid exercise in superficiality.

Russell preferred to shake hands with a fan and have a brief conversation to signing his name on an object. Because Russell’s autograph was in such short supply, it became extremely valuable.

In contrast, we had Cal Ripken, who would spend hours of his time signing autographs for anyone, especially kids.

When Ripken was an active player with Baltimore and the Orioles participated in a Cooperstown exhibition game, he stood outside the stadium for much of the afternoon signing more than a thousand baseballs, bats. shirts and scorecards.

To give Ripken his due, he at least conversed with fans when he signed autographs and most , if not all, were for free.

Supposedly his signature is on so many items, it’s not worth much despite that fact baseball’s all-time ironman is in the Hall of Fame.

MY FAVORITE AUTOGRAPH MEMORY occurred when Harmon Killebrew was a star for the Minnesota Twins.

One day preparing to cover the Red Sox, I listened to a sportswriter colleague from another newspaper complaining in the Fenway Park press box about his boss.

“I’ve got a managing editor at the paper who is a big Harmon Killebrew fan,” he explained. “He gave me this baseball and he practically ordered me to get it signed by Killebrew sometime in this series. I’ve put off doing it but tonight’s the last game of the series and he’s been calling me every day to get it done.”

For the most part, sportswriters who cover pro teams refrain from asking players for autographs or any other favors. It’s demeaning and unprofessional. You are there to cover the games and the athletes without assuming the role of hero worshiper.

This particular writer was old school all the way and the thought of approaching even an affable, unassuming player like Killebrew, and asking for an autograph, was very distasteful.

“That’s the last thing I want to be doing when I’m in here working,” he said. “I don’t even get autographs for my kids when they ask me. I’m not a free-loader.”

As the Red Sox game entered the seventh inning, he was still talking about how he hated to approach Killebrew and ask for the favor.

FINALLY, ANOTHER SPORTSWRITER friend, who was an outspoken columnist with a distinctive sense of humor, offered a solution.

“Give me the ball,” he growled. “I’ll sign it and the pain in the neck editor will never know the difference. Here’s Killebrew’s signature on this scorecard page and I can can come pretty close.”

He grabbed the baseball, took his pen and signed Killebrew’s name. At first glance, the counterfeit autograph looked authentic.

We waited a few weeks, until the next Red Sox home-stand, to find out what happened with the signed baseball

“I gave it to the managing editor and he was all excited,” the sports writer reported.

“He took it home and it’s mounted on the wall over his fireplace. He says it’s one of his proudest possessions.”

I can still hear my old columnist friend laughing over his success forging the autograph.

“Serves the boot-licking stooge editor right,” he proclaimed.

Which makes you wonder how many autographs on bats, balls and other memorabilia were actually signed by clubhouse attendants and team employees instead of the actual celebrity.

Ironically, the substitute signers probably put more thought and effort into producing the fake autographs than the celebrities.


David Maril has been a columnist, sports editor and copy editor at three newspapers published in Massachusetts, winning numerous writing and section-design awards. As sports editor of the Milford Daily News, he covered the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and the New England Patriots. At the Brockton Enterprise he served as vice president of the newspaper’s guild, dealing with contract negotiations and workforce issues through difficult economic times. He also served on the board of the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, where he is a lifetime member and voter in Major League Baseball’s annual Cooperstown Hall of Fame balloting. For several years was a columnist for Voice Of Baltimore. The son of the late artist Herman Maril, whose work is included in over 100 museum collections, David splits his time between Cape Cod, MA and Baltimore, MD. He currently serves as president of the Herman Maril Foundation, which supports curatorial projects, art education programs and exhibitions related to the study of his father’s work. The website, featuring his father’s artwork, is hermanmaril.com. A graduate of Park School in Brooklandville, MD, David majored in English at Clark University in Worcester, MA.

If you wold like to comment on this blog David can be reached at david@davidmaril.com.