The PSA Autographed Baseball Grading Guide

Sweet Spot versus Side Panel Autographs

The location of the autograph will have no bearing on the grade of the autograph. Yes, it is true that many collectors prefer the aesthetics of a ball signed on the Sweet Spot versus the Side Panel; however, PSA will not factor this characteristic into the overall grade of the signature and ball. On the other hand, Sweet Spot signatures do tend to sell for a premium in the market but, once again, PSA is not making judgments based on market values – the grade is based strictly on condition and signature strength. A label of SS (Sweet Spot) or SP (Side Panel) will accompany the grade/authentication and it will be registered in our database as such.

The one way that placement may affect the grade is when the location, whether the autograph is on the sweet spot or side panel, is placed in a poor location for display. For example, an autograph that is signed on the sweet spot but severely off-center side-to-side or top-to-bottom may hinder the grade. The lack of eye-appeal can affect the grade of the autograph and/or the overall grade.

Personalized versus Non-personalized Autographs

Much like the above-mentioned issue of Sweet Spot versus Side Panel autographs, PSA will not view this issue as a factor in the grading process. So, in reality, you could have a scenario where a "To Bob, Sincerely, Babe Ruth" autograph grades a "10" and just a "Babe Ruth" autograph also grades a "10". Some collectors prefer non-personalized autographs and some are indifferent about them but this issue has no relevance to the PSA grading process. PSA is focused on condition, not content.

When it comes to grading an autographed ball that contains a salutation, inscription or notation, PSA will approach it as a whole with an emphasis on the actual signature and eye-appeal. For example, let's say that a ball was signed "To Johnny, Merry Christmas, Babe Ruth." If the "Babe Ruth" portion is extremely strong but the inscription exhibits more flaws, the autograph still has a chance of reaching a relatively high-grade since more weight is given to the signature itself than the inscription. This approach would include Stat Balls (where players fill the panels with their various achievements) as well.

The Issue of Ball Varieties

It is very commonplace for an Official League ball to sell for more than, for example, a non-league ball. There are various types of balls that are used to acquire signatures but, as a PSA policy, we have decided not to factor the type of ball into the overall grade. In other words, PSA will not make any decisions based on market values or rarity. So, in turn, it is very possible to receive a PSA grade of "9" on a Youth League baseball and a "7" on an Official League ball because PSA is focused entirely on the condition of the item.

This is really no different than the approach applied to PSA card grading. A collector may own a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle and a 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle. Both cards can achieve the PSA Gem Mint 10 grade even though there is a huge disparity in market value, with the 1952 Topps Mantle worth multiple times the 1968 example due to age, rarity, demand, etc. In the end, all balls will be graded independently of one another – just as cards are.

The Issue of Retracing

PSA will not grade any autograph that has been deemed retraced by a party other than the original signer at the time of the original signing. For example, if a pen is running low on ink or working improperly, some signers will go back and retrace over the beginning of the autograph to make it uniformly bold. This is a somewhat rare occurrence but retraced autographs, by the original signer at the time of the original signing, may be graded but it will become precluded from achieving any grade above "8" and that would only be acceptable if the tracing was minimal – limited to a portion no greater than approximately 5-10% of the autograph.

The Issue of Restoration/Enhancement

At PSA, once our experts have determined that a baseball has been enhanced or restored in any way, we cannot assign a grade to it. While the autograph can be authenticated by PSA/DNA, the intentional alteration of the baseball precludes it from receiving a numerical grade. Please keep in mind that this is not an uncommon issue in the marketplace. At PSA, we have seen everything from crude amateur re-coloring to professional enhancement – the type of enhancement that may be extremely difficult to locate for the average hobbyist.

The Issue of Shellacking

Shellacking, at one time, was a very common practice in the collecting and preservation of autographed baseballs. When it comes to PSA grading, the degree of shellacking will have an impact on the grade of the baseball itself. If the extent of the shellacking is light and does not affect the eye-appeal greatly, a baseball may still achieve a grade of "7" but no higher. Keep in mind that a shellacked ball may deteriorate as severely shellacked baseballs have been know to exhibit cracking over time, thus, hindering the grade with age.

Pre-printed Areas of Balls

Whether the ball is an Official League, Collegiate, or Youth League ball, most of them exhibit some type of pre-printed material (logos, league information, etc.) on some part of the ball. Some balls, however, are generic and do not. The pre-printed references within the Ball Grading section of this guide apply to known examples only.

In addition, please keep in mind that these are general guidelines and that there are always exceptions to the rule. For example, you may have a baseball that exhibits tremendous overall color and eye-appeal yet the pre-printed area or stamping may show signs of fading beyond the acceptable guidelines within a particular grade. Keep in mind that grading often comes down to eye-appeal so the graders may make exceptions based on the overall strength of the eye-appeal, despite technical fading of the pre-printed stamping.

The Issue of Removals

In the case where our experts determine that one or more signatures have been removed from a ball, that ball can no longer qualify as Single Signed by PSA. Some ball "doctors" will do this in order to enhance the value of signed baseballs because single signed balls generally sell for premiums in the marketplace.

Additional Writing

The existence of additional writing, by someone other than the primary signer, will not be factored into the autograph grade but it will be factored into the grade of the ball itself. For example, it is not uncommon to see a vintage Babe Ruth autographed ball with additional notations placed on the ball by the person who obtained it. It may simply be dated by another person or contain a notation about the event (Yankees versus Red Sox – Ruth hits two homers) or (The Sultan of Swat). Additional writing on the piece by a 2nd party, in most cases, would preclude the ball itself from reaching a grade above PSA NM-MT 8.

Keep in mind that clubhouse autographs are approached in a different manner when evaluating team signed baseballs. For clarification, clubhouse autographs are those that were made by a bat boy, ball boy or other clubhouse attendant for a particular team. It was very common for team employees to forge player autographs on team signed baseballs. In many cases, while many of the autographs on a baseball may indeed be authentic, some player autographs may be of the clubhouse variety due to player unavailability, etc.

While clubhouse signatures will be identified on the PSA/DNA letters of authenticity, they may not hinder the overall grade of a baseball since their existence is fairly common and the autographs were not forged in a malicious manner. Severity and eye-appeal may be factors but, generally speaking, the grader approaches clubhouse autographs as if they did not exist on the baseball.

Hand Painted or Photo Balls

A collectible that does exist in the marketplace is the hand painted or photo ball – usually seen on baseballs. Some are crude drawings and other examples exhibit fine artwork, created by professionals. PSA will treat hand painted or photo baseballs, for the most part, as a qualifier. For example, you may have a ball that grades out as a "7" with a HP (Hand Painted) qualifier. No hand painted ball can achieve a grade any higher than a PSA NM-MT 8. Since the ball has a painted area of the ball, it is very difficult to assign a grade without knowing what the condition of the ball is under the painted surface area. Our graders will do their best to take the characteristics of the ball as a whole in order to assign an overall ball grade but all balls that exhibit hand painted surfaces must be qualified for this reason.

Labels of Authenticity

Labels that are affixed to a ball, by another service or company, with not hinder the grade of the baseball in most cases. For example, an Upper Deck Authenticated Mickey Mantle baseball should be accompanied by a small UDA hologram on the surface of the baseball. This hologram was affixed for the purpose of tagging the item at the time of the original signing. While our experts must still authenticate the baseball on its own merit (since a UDA sticker could, hypothetically, be transferred from an authentic ball to a counterfeit), its existence will not prevent the baseball from reaching the upper tiers of PSA grading. If, for some reason, the hologram or label was affixed in such a manner that it detracts, noticeably from the eye-appeal, the grade of the ball itself may suffer.

A Note about Haiti Baseballs - Bobby Brown AL - 1984-1990

There are several ways a collector can protect his autographed ball collection and several ways a ball can deteriorate if not protected properly. There is one note about 1984-1990 Bobby Brown American League baseballs that needs to be explained. The baseballs with "Haiti" placed under the Rawlings logo stamp were made without the use of distilled water, thus, allowing for enzymes to potentially turn the color of the ball over time. You will usually notice yellow/brown soiling on these baseballs due to the flaw in production. While this may not affect every baseball produced with this stamping, it is a key to note.

Vintage versus Modern Grading Approach

While, like card grading, the standards apply to both vintage and modern era baseballs, there will naturally be some slight variances in what may or may not be acceptable for a vintage era baseball compared to that of a modern example. For example, in card grading, we cannot approach a 1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson card in quite the same way as we do a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card because there are differences in the way they were manufactured, etc. You cannot quite hold them to the exact same standard although, generally, the grading standards apply across the board. Please keep this in mind as PSA graded baseballs enter the market.