Some athletes, though, are compliant signers because they remember what it was like being on the other side--the triumphs and the disappointments. "I was a Dodgers fan," says San Francisco Giants pitcher Brett Tomko, "and I spotted Davey Lopes, went up to him and asked for an autograph. He said, 'I don't have time, kid.' That made a lasting impression." Los Angeles Kings center Jeremy Roenick is the NHL's version of Ripken, partly because he used to collect autographs as a kid. " Gordie Howe was without a doubt the most cherished autograph I ever had," says Roenick. "I am a firm believer that without fan support and interest, what would the NHL be? We'd be a beer league without fans." Which is what it was last season.
Many athletes are autograph seekers themselves. Another San Francisco pitcher, Scott Eyre, was an inveterate collector as a kid and has enlisted fellow southpaw Noah Lowry on autograph searches. "I didn't have the nerve to ask [Roger] Clemens because he gets so many requests," says Eyre. "But I'll have one ready for [Greg] Maddux when he comes in." Like most players, Eyre sends over a clubhouse attendant with the autograph request. "You don't want to look like a green fly, latching on," explains Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Wise.
That gives you some idea of what autograph seekers go through: Major leaguers are too intimidated to ask for autographs from their peers and dispatch minions to collect them.
Fellow PGA pros routinely ask the legends of their own sport for autographs, though this practice turned nasty in 1997 when Woods refused an autograph request from Billy Andrade, who was gathering auction items for a charity tournament. When word got out, Tiger took a lot of heat, and since then he has granted most autograph requests from his fellow pros. He'll even stop as he signs.
Just as a sportswriter resents other journalists who ask stupid questions, the veteran collectors scorn the nonpros who get signatures on index cards. "I don't know how many times I've seen somebody run around waving a piece of paper and shouting, 'Who's this?'" complains Johnson. "What's the point of getting the autograph? It could be a plumber. She could have a Great Plumbers of the United States collection."
Then, too, longtime autograph hunters tend to judge athletes on the basis of who signs, just as sportswriters often evaluate an athlete by the amount of interview time he's willing to offer. "Baseball has become a little tainted for me," says Petrulis. "I come down here and I see whether they're jerks or nice guys, and I find myself rooting for them by the personalities or whether they sign autographs, rather than by their abilities."
"That's exactly my feeling," says Johnson.
Then they laugh at their own melancholy. "But we'll be back," says Petrulis.
"It keeps me out of the bars," says Johnson.
The veterans rarely go to card shows, where they have to pay. But they also won't go to stadiums or arenas. "Hotels are the only places you're guaranteed to see everyone," says Petrulis. Adds Johnson, "It's so hard to get autographs at Wrigley these days. They should just put in a moat between the stands and the players."