Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sharpie Scribbles -- Chapter II, Pete Incaviglia vs. Cory Snyder

-- by Josh Suchon

Note to readers: The feedback on the “You Were Lucky, Hershiser” story was so positive, and triggered so many memories from a childhood where my playground was the Oakland Coliseum, I’ve decided to share more of these stories. I’m blatantly stealing this idea from “Cardboard Gods” author Josh Wilker, who used his baseball card collection to tell the story of his childhood in the 1970s. Wilker gave me his blessing, so I’m going to use my autograph collection to tell the story of my childhood in the 1980s.

This is the story of two outfielders who were first-round picks, made their major-league debuts in 1986, hit a lot of home runs, struck out a ridiculous number of times … and took drastically different approaches to signing autographs.

Cory Snyder signed his name like he’d been practicing it his entire life, and wanted to show off what he created.

Pete Incaviglia signed his name like a guy closing out his bar tab at 2 a.m., and wanted to dispute the charges the next day.

If you couldn’t get Snyder’s autograph, you were the worst autograph collector ever. If you obtained Incaviglia’s autograph, you wondered what was the whole point in collecting this stuff?

There’s at least 13 Snyder autographs in my collection. There’s probably a few more, but I got tired of pulling them out of the protective sleeves this afternoon to take these photos.

The only reason I don’t have 13 more Snyder autographs is I didn’t have anything else left to get signed, or I got completely bored from the lack of challenge. I got his signature inside the Coliseum, outside at the parking lot, inside the team hotel, outside at spring training, and writing him in the mail.

Can’t tell you which autograph was obtained in which location because there’s too many for my memory. It does seem like the cleaner the loop, or the longer the loop, the more likely it was signed while seated and taking his time – which would mean through the mail. The shorter, or sloppier the loop, was obtained at the ballpark.

It’s crazy, but I have more Snyder autographs than any other player, and he only came to Oakland twice a year with the Indians. Imagine if Snyder played for the A’s and I had access to him every day? I might have used Snyder autographs as wallpaper in my bedroom.

Then there’s Incaviglia.

The one, and only one Incaviglia autograph that I obtained was so awful, it’s the inspiration for the name of this feature – Sharpie Scribbles.

It’s by far the worst autograph out of the 1,200-something in my childhood collection. It was the source of great laughter the day he signed it, and remains hideously hilarious to stare at now.

Granted, Incaviglia is not the easiest name to spell. A shortcut would seem to be in order. But look at this thing. It’s like he forgot how to spell his last name, crossed out a couple letters midway, and just scribbled a few more things at the end.

I’m pretty confident the Incaviglia scribble was obtained in 1987. That was my first year of serious Sharpie Scribble collecting, and I alternated between a red and black sharpie. This was before I was wise enough to bring a small clipboard to place the cards on, so there was a better writing surface, instead of the players cradling the baseball cards in their hands.

I vividly remember it happened in the player parking lot at the Oakland Coliseum before a game. I’m pretty sure Incaviglia took a shuttle with teammates from the team hotel. I recall there were about a dozen people getting autographs that day.

It wasn’t a mob scene – this was the Texas Rangers in 1987, after all -- but I’ll give Incaviglia the benefit of the doubt that somebody probably bumped his elbow mid-signature. Sure hope that’s the excuse.

Still, this is a pathetic effort.

These days, at age 38, I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between your on-field performance and the care you take to signing your name for a kid in a parking lot. Back then, at age 14, the effort you put into scribbling your name had a direct correlation on what I thought about you as a human being.

That autograph meant Incaviglia was a slob, he signed his name the way he butchered fly balls in left field, and his lackadaisical approach to spelling was the reason he would always strike out so frequently.

And that meant Snyder was an artist, he signed his name with the same grace as he unleashed bazooka-like throws from right field, and the style of that arc in his signature was the reason he’d eventually stop striking out.

This was pure nonsense, of course, but those are the kind of conclusions you make at age 14. When you’re that age, you look for reasons to like somebody or not like somebody.

The list of reasons why I’d like a player back in those days: their willingness to sign autographs; their actual talent on the field; the quality of the autograph; the coolness of their name; and the way they looked.

Snyder looked very much like a kid who went to BYU. Very white, almost albino. Classic cop moustache. Trim, clean cut and preppy. Can’t remember what he wore to the ballpark, but the image that sounds right is lots of pole shirts and slacks, like Kevin Costner in Bull Durham.

If he wasn’t in a Cleveland Indians uniform in these baseball cards, you’d think Cory Snyder was Jeff Kent. It was almost like a young Jeff Kent, who was a senior in high school when Snyder made his big-league debut in 1986, took one look at Snyder and said, “yeah, that’s the look I’m going to rock the next three decades.”

It’s not hard to understand why I’d want so many Snyder autographs.

Snyder was on the 1984 Olympic team. He was fourth in balloting for the 1986 Rookie of the Year, behind my hero Jose Canseco, hated rival Wally Joyner and the forgotten Mark Eichhorn. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was a Topps all-star rookie and a Donruss rated rookie and a Fleer major league prospect.

And, evidently, he never said no to an autograph request.

Snyder was going to be a star, his baseball cards were going to be worth a lot of money, and his autographs were going to be worth even more money. Or so I thought.

Incaviglia looked very much like a kid who went to Oklahoma State. Can’t recall his attire to the ballpark either, but it’s fun to imagine cowboy boots, jeans, dip in the back pocket, and a t-shirt that showed off his biceps and was untucked to hide an expanding gut. It would make the autograph story better if I said Incaviglia had a big wod of tobacco in his mouth and he was spitting all over the ground as he signed. But that’s just not true either.

The horrible scribbling didn’t stop me from trying to get another Incaviglia autograph. Getting those scribbles was a sport, and I didn’t take a moral stand based on a bad signature. I was just never successful at getting another Incaviglia scribble.

The signature is supposed to look like this.
It occurred to me, as I was writing this, that it would be best to see what an Incaviglia autograph is supposed to look like. A quick Google search of “Pete Incaviglia autograph” led to a plethora of examples.

Few were any good. Most were bad. None were as bad as mine. The best one, shown at the left, shows the intended scribbling. In theory, I can see what Incaviglia was trying to scribble for me that day. It's still pretty ugly.

Upon more reflection, maybe the 14-year-old Josh was correct. Maybe his autograph was a metaphor for his baseball swing – all or nothing. Too many loops, not enough decipherable letters. Too much whiffing, not enough solid contact. 

It didn't seem like Incaviglia cared about strikeouts or a sloppy signature. If he messed up an autograph, who cares? He was a big leaguer. He'd get asked again the next day, over and over, by another group of kids. If he struck out, who cares? He's a power hitter. He'd be in the lineup the next day because there's a chance he'd hit one 450 feet. 

In the batters box, Cory Snyder and Pete Incaviglia were incredible similar. With a sharpie in hand, they were totally different.

For all I know, Cory Snyder might the biggest jerk ever. But he signed at least 13 autographs for me over four years, and put some thought into a clever signature. That means he was always good people in my mind.

Pete Incaviglia could be the coolest guy ever. But the one time he scribbled on one of my baseball cards, it was the worst autograph in my four years of collecting. Fair or not, that’s what I think of him.

At least he provided the inspiration for “Sharpie Scribbles.”

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