The Dos and Don’ts of Seeking Autographs from Athletes

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Baseball player signing baseball

With MLB spring training upon us, March Madness coming, and playoffs for the NBA and NHL around the corner, now is a perfect time to seek in person (IP) or through the mail (TTM) autographs. Some collectors prefer these types of autographs as they provide a unique personal connection with the player, the autographs can be personalized, and make far better stories than buying the autograph online.

Professional athletes are very busy individuals and signing things for fans is usually not high atop their to do list. As any collector knows, athletes do not sign cards for the major card companies in a reasonable time, which is a contributing problem to the notorious redemption process. However, do not be discouraged as seeking IP or TTM autos is not impossible. You just need to know the proper etiquette, add some patience, and a dash of luck. Here is a guide to help understand the dos and don’ts of seeking autographs directly from the player.

The Dos and Don’ts of Seeking Autographs from Athletes

In the off chance that Mr. Derek Jeter is reading this article do not worry I understand. Sometimes things get lost in the mail and you are a very busy man.  But it has been 11 years since I sent you some cards to sign. The address is the same. Feel free to reach out to me if you need my mailing address again! Oh sorry got a little side tracked. Anyways, I am 1 /1 with IP autographs. While at a charity event, I was able to get the entire Portland Sea Dogs to sign the same baseball.

As for TTM autos, I have limited success going 2.5/8. I have sent requests to Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. Of those, Rodriguez sent back my cards unsigned. However, he included an autographed 5×7 photo of himself. Posada sent my cards back unsigned and a letter explaining he could not sign my cards due to a contract obligation. However, he included some stuff from Yankee Stadium including a team set of cards, stickers, a schedule, and brochures. Strasburg sent me back all three cards I mailed him signed! As for the others, well I just assume they were sent via pony express and they will get here eventually even though were sent over a decade ago.

The Dos

TTM and IP autographs are not limited to baseball. They will work for all sports. But generally, the same principles apply to all athletes of all sports. First do your research. Some players do not sign autographs and are extremely hard to find. It is not a foolproof system, but check eBay for a player’s autograph. If there are not a lot of listings for that search, it may mean they do not sign often.

Some notable examples would be Hunter Pence and Zack Greinke. Players are paid by companies like Topps to give autographs. However, not all players take this deal and do not always sign autographs. If you looked at the mentioned players you would see the only autographed cards of these players would be almost a decade old, from their rookie year. Other players, like Pat Neshek will sign almost everything you send them. In fact, Neshek has a special PO Box to mail requests in the off-season. Research is important. It will help set your expectations.

Pro Tip: All-Star athletes will be harder to get autographs from. They often have clauses in their contracts that limit how often they can sign. They also draw larger crowds and requests.

Once you have decided which player(s) you wish to seek an autograph from.  Decide what item(s) you wish to try and have signed. Remember you are not limited to just cards. However, they are easiest to mail and send back. I have seen some of my followers on Twitter, who have had success sending balls and photos to players or bringing them to the stadium. I have never seen someone successfully mail a jersey, bat, stick, or large ball (football/basketball) and get it back signed. But, I have seen baseballs and golf balls mailed and returned. It depends how ambitious and lucky you are feeling.

If you are going to mail anything to a player, make sure you include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Players are not going to take the time to write your mailing address on a new envelope or pay for postage to return your object to you. If you are going to send something heavier than cards, make sure there is enough postage on your SASE to cover the weight of your item. Once you are ready, mail your item to the player and list their home stadium as the address, unless your research shows the player has a preferred mailing address.

Pro Tip: If you’re mailing cards, send more than one. Players often keep collections of themselves. They will probably keep the card you send them if they do not have it already. I send at least three base cards to each player.

Set realistic expectations. Players are often on the road for over half a year. They may spend three to four days at their home stadium in a given week. During those days, they have warm ups, any team obligations outside of the stadium, games, press conferences, and cool downs. Don’t take it personally. It took over three months to get some of my cards back. Players are not paid to sign items or cards. Their job is to play a sport of a professional level. But players do enjoy connecting with their fans. That is why they sign and talk to the fans at the game.

Pro Tip: As soon as you drop cards (or other items) in the mail, be prepared to never see that item again. Act like you already lost it. This is probably why people do not send high end cards or bats through the mail. If you get it back, great! But you will probably not see them again. If you are bringing something to a stadium, do not be surprised if you leave with that item unsigned.

The Don’ts

You are asking a player for a favor. To take time of their schedule and day to do something for you.  Always remember that. You owe that player the utmost respect. Do not call them by their number at the stadium. Learn their name. If you are going to send for TTMs, you should include a letter to the player explaining why you want their autograph and how big of a fan you are. Do not misspell the player’s name. Put yourself in their shoes. If somebody needed your time or signature, would you give it to them if they couldn’t take the time to learn your name or how to spell it properly?

Players and collectors alike hate few things more than greed.  This includes autograph hounds. These are adults who show up with as many things as they can find hoping to have the item signed so they can resell it. Do not get greedy. Do not ask for more than a few items to be signed, especially in person. It happens every season unfortunately, but some adult will push a kid out of the way to get a better spot in line for a player’s autograph or wrestle a tossed item into the stands away from the child. This is part of the greed. Don’t be that person.

Pro tip: Ask the player to personalize your auto by putting To: (your name). The personalization devalues the item which affects the resale opportunity. The player will be more willing to sign the item since they are signing for you. It will reinforce in their heads the item is going to stay in your collection and not end up on the secondary market.

Autographs are difficult to obtain, whether it is in person, TTM, or purchasing items on the market. I am not promising you will get every item you want signed. Athletes are people and enjoy being treated as such. They do not live to sign items for us. But they do enjoy connecting with their fans and one way to do that is to sign items sent by the fans. Do not be afraid to send fan mail and ask for an autograph. Just make sure that you do it in a way that does not appear greedy or impersonal.

Finally, I’d love to hear from you! Send me your success stories whether they are IP or TTM autos by emailing or tweeting them to me.

Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images

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