By Steve Grad, Senior Authenticator, PSA/DNA
is swing rivals Mark McGwire's while his home run total continues to climb the charts; and if Bonds keeps hitting long balls at the current pace, he may dethrone Hank Aaron as the all-time home run champion.
As a rookie in 1986, few expected Bonds to live up to the hype. The son of former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, Barry made his debut in '86 for an underachieving Pirates team. In 113 games that season, Bonds hit 16 home runs but was probably remembered more for his speed on the base paths than for hitting the long ball. His 36 stolen bases led the team. As he progressed as a hitter, he was less inclined to run the bases and became known more for his home run prowess than his speed. By 1990 he was considered a legitimate power threat, posting his first season of 30 or more home runs by swatting 33.
Since that season and his subsequent free agent signing with the San Francisco Giants in 1992, Bonds has enjoyed 13 straight seasons of 30 plus home runs, including the 2001 season hitting a record-breaking 73 home runs. Obviously with the more home runs, comes more hype and Bonds has certainly done nothing to defraud himself of the hype that surrounds his play on the field.
As an autograph signer, Bonds has not been the most accommodating player in major league baseball history. For the record, Bonds has historically been one of the worst modern era players about signing autographs. It wasn't always that way. In 1987, a rookie with the Pirates, Bonds would sign for fans at the ballpark, spring training and team hotels and many of the 1997 Donruss, Fleer and Topps autographs that we see in the hobby were actually signed in the mail by Bonds who accommodated fans in that fashion during his rookie campaign.
As Bonds became more popular, his signing habits declined. On a side note, Bonds did send out (or at least the Pirates organization did) authentic signed 3" x 5" team issued postcards to fans that requested his signature up until his departure in 1991.
After the 1991 season, Barry's last year in Pittsburgh, he turned sour on signing autographs, especially for collectors hoping to obtain his signature at the team hotel or ballpark. Bonds would sign on occasion, but more often than not he would shrug his shoulders and say "no" or just completely ignore in-person requests. His signature on Pirates-related items, especially early signed baseball are fairly easy to find from reputable dealers, but any signed cards from after 1992 are fairly difficult to obtain.
Through the years, Barry's signature has gone through a metamorphosis, evolving and changing as his popularity grew. His earliest signature example, from a baseball signed while playing college baseball at Arizona State features an every letter signature, "Barry L. Bonds". As would be expected from a college athlete, his signature is in it's early stages and it's very slow and neat with attention paid to detail (the middle initial). It's fairly obvious by looking at his signature at this stage in his life; he had yet to develop a real 'autograph'. By the time Bonds left Arizona and started his major league career with the Pirates in 1986, his true autograph started to take shape. As seen on the pictured mini-bat, Barry's signature has made great strides. Comparing the two signatures, you can determine that Bonds has found a way of signing that he's comfortable with. He has signed this bat with conviction, confidence and speed. This is the signature that Bonds would use with the Pirates and still uses on occasion with the Giants, albeit with a few modifications.
In the many instances I have seen Bonds sign, from his rookie year to present day, they feature the two jagged and quickly written capital "B's" with small bumps that represent the rest of his signature. Occasionally, Bonds will include a 's' at the end of his last name or will include a 'y' in his first name.
The interesting aspect about Barry's signature is that he features two different ways in which he signs his name. During the last 12 years, Bonds has been signed by various vendors to sign his name. In the early to mid 90s, the old Scoreboard had Bonds under contract to sign baseballs and bats among other items. The signature he used on those items varied greatly from his in-person signature for fans and collectors. The vendor signature featured a smaller, slower and more rounded autograph. That autograph, was completely different from his in-person signature at the time, which was the more hurried and jagged signature like the example on the mini-baseball bat and the jersey.
During the past four years, Bonds has used his own company to market his signature and once again, he features a much different autograph than what he signs in person. While his autograph remains very rounded and is very similar to the earlier 1990s Scoreboard items, he now signs his whole name and, for the most part, every letter is visible. Collectors refer to this style signature as an 'every letter' version. Many of the items that bear his signature in this mode are on baseball bats, jerseys and game-used equipment.
Typical prices for Barry Bonds signed items: Signed Sam (game model) bat $600, single signed baseball $195, 8x10 $125, 16x20 $150, Giants or Pirates hat $350, jersey $500, index card $75, gum card $75.
While Bonds continues to slug home runs and makes a run at baseball history, his autograph will and should remain relatively affordable to the collector. As a word of advice to collectors, if you're looking for a reasonably priced/signed Bonds item, start off by looking for an item signed by Bonds as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Signed gum cards can be found relatively easy.
Steve Grad is a renowned autograph expert and Senior Authenticator for PSA/DNA. Steve can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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