It seemed like a sign of the times when Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo announced a mandatory autograph policy at the start of spring training. Simply put, give fans something special during hard economic times and they're even more likely to dispose of their disposable income on tickets.
Yet, Colangelo couldn't have envisioned the fallout that has followed. Players appear to have some reservations about having a mandatory 10-minute signing session before every night home game, which will include everyone except that game's starting pitcher.
"At this time and place, it’s a requirement,’’ Colangelo said when he announced the policy.
The first session is scheduled to take place before the Diamondbacks-Dodgers game April 1. April Fool's Day. Seems fitting, with the flap the announcement has caused.
Players are reluctant to discuss the issue. Steve Finley declined comment. When asked for his reaction, the usually media friendly Luis Gonzalez said, "I don't want to talk about that stuff. I have no comment."
Player representative Craig Counsell has a wait-and-see attitude.
"Let's see how it works out," he said. "It's pretty different. I think it could be good. But, we don't know how it's going to be done. We haven't heard specifics. All we know is 10 minutes after B.P."
Scott Brubaker, the Diamondbacks vice president of marketing, said security will be tight and the sessions will be enjoyable for players and fans. He didn't discuss logistics, such as if fans will need special tickets or whether there will be lines and security for each player.
"There have been mumbles and grumbles," Brubaker said. "Players are creatures of habit. You play 162 games for a number of years and you get into a routine. Anything else is a break from that routine. I honestly think after the first few times we do this it will become part of the guys' routines.
"We think this is going to be so popular that the players will enjoy it, too. They will be given pens and they'll sign whatever people bring."
That's not what Jeff Thalblum of Phoenix, the Valley's top sports card show promoter, is hearing. Thalblum, who has had many Diamondbacks players signing at his card shows over the last several years, talked with several of them during spring training in Tucson. Thalblum said the players revealed some proposed details of how they understand the sessions will be conducted.
"I heard it's going to be black-and-white team-issued photos like 5-by-7 or 4-by-6, or color baseball cards with a drug or stay-in-school message," Thalblum said. "The player will be given a stack of them and a Sharpie. He will personalize the photo, which means maybe each guy can sign 15 or so in 10 minutes. Players won't sign the things people bring with them."
Not so, Brubaker said.
"If they have balls, jerseys, cards, photos, whatever," he said. "There will be no restrictions. As far as personalization, which makes an autograph worthless on the market, that's up to the players."
It's unfortunate that market value seems to be an issue to players who are making millions. Why begrudge a dealer from making a few bucks on a signature, especially when most of these players get $20 to $65 minimum per autograph at signing sessions?
Autographs have become a big business and major league players seem to want more than a small piece of the pie. Some pay attention to eBay and frown upon those who seek to profit by selling signatures.
Diamondbacks players spoke Monday with union leader Donald Fehr about the subject. Perhaps what Thalblum heard is what players hope to have done. It's also likely they might have been more receptive if Colangelo hatched the plan after conferring with them, rather than issuing what's tantamount to an edict.
"Talking to players, it's not that they don't want to sign, but they don't want to hurt the value of their autographs with signing," Thalblum said. "I also heard that baseball card companies called (Major League Baseball Properties) and said they didn't like the idea that they were paying a player big money to sign 500 cards to be put in their packs, only to have fans be able to go to the ballpark and have them sign for free.
"I had one player tell me that if people are allowed to bring their own items to get signed, he wasn't signing any baseballs on the sweet (center) spot, any World Series balls, jerseys or any bats. He'll have a laundry list of what he won't do. And, anything he was going to sign, he was going to sign in a thick, black Sharpie. If he gets away with that, others will follow."
Security seems to be the biggest concern among players. Brubaker said that will be properly addressed.
"It's going to be a natural thing," he said. "A controlled natural thing. We're certainly going to be more mindful of security. We're going to have to be fluid and make tweaks when necessary. There are going to be 30 people, that includes the coaching staff, spread around the ballpark, except for center field."
Players seem to understand what autographs mean to fans. And, many players have great memories. If they see a person they signed for the night before, just say something like "I got you yesterday. I'm going to make sure someone else gets me today."
"Autographs are part of what we do," Counsell said. "Signing for kids is a great thing. It gives them a connection to the game. I think our guys do a good job signing autographs already without this. It's tough to satisfy everybody."
How many autographs can a player sign in 10 minutes?
"I'd say a maybe two or three a minute," Counsell said. "So, we're talking between 10-20 for each player each game. And, that's if you're just signing, not making much eye contact and talking with them, posing for pictures or shaking hands."
Players realize while they might not like being told to sign autographs, there will come a day when requests for signatures dwindle, if not die.
"It's flattering when people come up and ask for an autograph," Matt Williams said. "Someday, no one will want it. You have to appreciate it while you can."