Tuesday, July 20, 2010
See that nice autograph in the picture to the left? I don't have to tell you whose name that is, because you can read it. I can take out my signed photo of Jean Beliveau and show it off to Habs fans and they admire not only the picture of Le Gros Bill with the Cup, but the beautiful, legible signature as well. My kid can look at that and say, "Mom, who's Jean Beliveau?" (okay, my grandkid, because my kids know who Beliveau is...) and I will be able to tell him that's one of the finest men to ever wear a Montreal Canadiens' sweater. Similarly, the names of Yvan Cournoyer, Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey and Jacques Lemaire will live on in their autographs because they signed with beautiful, legible penmanship a fan can cherish forever.
Then we have the modern player. I don't know if it's because the education system is failing abysmally to provide adequate instruction in cursive writing, or if the players actively try to develop a "signature" that in no way resembles their actual name, but I challenge you to decipher most NHL player's autographs.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't bother me. I'm past the age of waiting for NHL players to sign my scrap of paper outside the rink. (Yes, I admit I do have Tomas Plekanec's autograph, but that's on a game-worn jersey, so it's different. (It is!) Plus, he's one of the few who actually signs a name you can read.) Once though, I was a kid who thought a Canadien's...any Canadien's...signature was a treasure to be carefully folded and tucked away with the most cherished of keepsakes. It was a tangible link between me and my heroes. Mats Naslund actually touched this paper; for one moment we met and he acknowledged that he knew I was out there rooting for him. The autograph is just a reminder to me of that special moment. I came across the little scraps of paper from childhood not long ago, and read the names on them. Naslund, Serge Savard, Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Bobby Smith...they're all clear and well-defined. Others, like Chris Chelios, Claude Lemieux and Mike McPhee are reasonably understandable. Only two of the whole pile...I'm talking to you, Petr Svoboda and Patrick Roy...are known only unto God and those who cheered for them for years.
Now, of course, autographs are much more than just treasured mementos pasted into a kid's scrapbook for posterity. They're important to charities who sell them to raise money for good causes. They support the businesses of people who collect them en masse and sell them, in turn, to richer collectors who can't or won't ask for them in person. They're even a source of income for the old players who sign them and actually need the money to offset poor pension plans. Yet, it's interesting that the more commercial players' signatures become, the more illegible they become too.
Some of it's understandable. Russian players, for example, grew up with a Cyrillic alphabet, so their names would be difficult for most North Americans to decipher, even if the guy wrote it clearly. Others may just have bad handwriting, be writing at odd angles in a crowd of autograph seekers or be in a big hurry. But it's hard to imagine a modern player who's asked to sign more autographs than Jean Beliveau or Maurice Richard did, and they managed to make theirs meaningful and readable.
The reason this is on my mind is because a while back I came across an advertisement for an auction of "Blackberry Curves, used and autographed by NHL All Stars." The slick little devices were to be sold to raise money for charity, and the signatures of the hockey players were supposed to make them more valuable than the generic one you just pick up anywhere. The thing is, there wasn't one single recognizable name on them. Unless the owner pointed it out and said, "Hey, see my blackberry, autographed by Sheldon Souray?" you'd never have a clue what that scribble is supposed to be. I just don't get how the careless, indecipherable scrawls that pass for autographs today have any value at all, let alone actually add value to an item. And, outside an iconic signature like Alex Ovechkin's, I can't see how some of these players' autographs will evoke memories in the future when the people looking at them have no idea to whom they belonged.
Fans give a lot to make sure the NHL stays afloat and the players are rewarded very handsomely for their efforts. I appreciate that the players give back by offering their time and autographs to the fans. But, if they're doing it anyway, how hard is it to make sure someone can actually read it? I look at my Jean Beliveau signature, and Bob Gainey's and Yvan Cournoyer's, and I'm glad there was a generation of players I'll always remember because if I forget, I can just read their names.
Posted by J.T. at 8:25 AM