The Autograph Expert

Autograph Analysis and Signing Habits of Brooklyn Dodger Batboy Charlie

S igning baseballs that were given to big shots and their kids was an irksome chore for the players. The balls sat around in their boxes for so long that if they had been tomatoes, they would have rotted. When, after a suitable interval, large, uninked gaps remained on the balls, DiGiovanna picked them one by one from their boxes and carefully forged the appropriate signatures. Many an aging Dodger fan now preserves in his rumpus room a baseball whose stitched cover is densely scribbled all over with the signatures of (Dodger Batboy)Charlie the Brow".

Frank Graham, Jr., in Farewell to Heroes (1981)

Think Back. High School World History. Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Pop Quiz.

What device made it possible for scholars to decipher this ancient writing?

TICK-TICK-TICK-TIME'S UP! The Answer? THE ROSETTA STONE.

What surfaced this week in my office is the hobby's equivalent to the Rosetta Stone. A handwritten letter from 1952 of a former Dodger batboy to a fan. I've been waiting for this type of item to come out of the woodwork to hopefully solidify and prove the growing theory.

Perhaps the most famous big league batboy of all time was Brooklyn Dodger Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna (b.1920). Charlie was certainly the envy of every teenager growing up in Brooklyn. He was the home team batboy that you've undoubtedly seen sitting on the field in all of those 1950's team Dodger photos. His dark complexion and "uni-brow" are identifying traits that may remind you of his figure.

Dodgers team ball
This is an example of a 1955 Dodgers team ball with clubhouse signatures

He came into the organization as a favor to his Uncle Pete, a Brooklyn politician in the early 1940's. As a youngster, he started working as a clubhouse boy, turnstile checker, aide in the dressing room and then rose to the rank of visiting team batboy. In 1952, he moved over to the home team dugout vacated by veteran batboy Stan Strull. Later, he actually relocated with the club to Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles were O'Malley bought a house for him, his wife and three kids. He prematurely died of a heart attack at the age of 30 in 1961.

"Chain-smoking Charlie" left a legacy to our hobby as a result of his daily mundane chores by accommodating each ballplayer's laziness. The laborious task of signing hundreds of team baseballs was one of the duties that "The Brow" accepted and mastered. He came under a lot of heat from the Dodger's front office to provide a required six dozen signed baseballs weekly. Unlike the typical adolescent batboys of his era, Charlie was mature and he possessed a talent in handwriting which would closely mimic the styles of his teammates. Duke Snider once revealed that Charlie could sign his name better than he could.

DiGiovanna was a creature of habit like most of us. In an effort to avoid duplication, Charlie would sign the players names in sequence to avoid possible duplication. On most of the National League balls that he penned, check under the circular Spalding logo and you will generally find the signatures of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Carl Erskine in that order. Flamboyant trademark letters, showing strong individual characteristics, using a name by name comparison, are evident in the k's, d's, e's and h's.

DiGiovanna had an upright, rounded style whose looping letters often tilted obtusely. Often when a new player joined the team, DiGiovanna would practically print his name with subtle breaks between the letters. Examples of this are found in the signatures of Dixie Howell, Rocky Bridges, Roger Craig and Ed Roebuck.

Dodger team ball
This is an example of an authentic 1955 Dodgers team signed baseball

Now old, Charlie didn't get his paws on every ball that left the clubhouse, but he still signed a large percentage nevertheless. At times, he would even "fill in the blanks" of partially signed balls that a portion of the players had already obliged themselves. Don't think Charlie was an anomaly in the autograph world. This non-malicious, forgery practice occurred in the 1920's and remained prevalent into the 1980's. I've spoken to numerous batboys that have admitted to secretly penning the names on a regular basis.

Longtime New York Yankee clubhouse attendant Pete Sheehy dutifully replicated the signatures of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, etc. over his 50 years affiliation with the club. Teams outside the New York area were not immune to this practice either. I often examine team signed baseballs from Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Pittsburgh that have suffered the same fate.

The "clubhouse" or "ghost signed" balls are not completely worthless. As vintage pieces of memorabilia, I regularly notice that they are still selling in auctions for hundreds of dollars despite being recognized as invalid autographs. Despite many of these Brooklyn baseballs being sprinkled around the hobby, the actual autograph of Charlie DiGiovanna is rare in itself. The letter is the only known example in the collecting hobby world.

One must keep in mind that these balls were signed to accommodate mostly fans, not collectors. Autograph collecting was not as popular or sophisticated, and rarely was monetary value attributed to them prior to the 1970's. The recipient of one of these balls never questioned the legitimacy. Batboys like Charlie "The Brow" DiGiovanna were quietly performing their assigned duties.