All MLB game balls will now be stamped with Manfred's signature
By Mark Newman
Now, it's official.
"Robert D. Manfred Jr." is the cursive stamped signature as of today on all Rawlings game balls to be used in Major League Baseball, representing Manfred's first day as MLB 's 10th Commissioner, succeeding Bud Selig, who retired and is now Commissioner Emeritus.
"You have no idea how many questions I've gotten about the baseballs," Manfred said, laughing. "It's interesting. I never thought about the baseballs. I was so caught up in the election and trying to do my job. And the day after [being elected Commissioner in] Baltimore, Howard Smith [MLB senior vice president of licensing] came down to get my signature so they could begin to produce mock-ups of baseballs and choose one. And it really hit me that day -- what an absolutely unbelievable thing it is to have your name on the balls that are used in Major League Baseball.
"I mean, it really just hit me like a ton of bricks."
The 21st century represents the only time in Major League history when every game ball from Opening Day through the World Series clincher was stamped with the autograph of a Commissioner, and for a generation that script stamp has said: "Allan H. Selig."
Before 2000, regular season game balls were stamped with the respective signatures of the American and National League presidents, and Commissioner signatures were commonly stamped on balls for such jewel events as the All-Star Game and World Series.
The first league president to sign an NL ball was likely Harry Pulliam, starting in 1908, at the latest, on Spalding baseballs. Nick Young was NL president from 1890-1902, but there is no surviving evidence of his signature. Starting in '01, Ban Johnson's stamped signature began appearing on game balls for the fledgling AL, on baseballs manufactured by Reach, which also had supplied the ball for the American Association of 1882-91.
AL and NL presidents continued to have their stamped signatures appear through 1999, when the last league presidents to sign official regular season game balls were Gene Budig (AL) and Leonard Coleman (NL). Selig consolidated the league offices into one Commissioner's Office in 2000, so there became one specified official Rawlings ball and one person's signature.
So technically, Manfred becomes the first Commissioner to start his term with his name on every baseball used in every game. How would he self-analyze his new autograph?
"I've modeled myself, both in terms of legibility and technique for signing a baseball [after] I actually received a small tutorial from Joe Torre," Manfred explained.
"If you've ever seen a Joe Torre-autographed baseball you can tell it's the product of a Catholic school education. He has absolutely beautiful handwriting," Manfred added with a laugh. "Mine is not as good as Joe's, but it's legible. And he actually taught me exactly where to hold the baseball so it's nice and steady and you get a good signature on it. So I learned from a master."
While he is known as "Rob Manfred" around the game, the new Commissioner said signing the ultimate sweet spot required a formal approach. He looked into the history.
"You know what? There's nobody more informal about his name than Allan H. (Bud) Selig," Manfred said. "And if you look at the [past] baseballs, it says 'Allan H. Selig.' So I figured, if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.'
"I also looked back at the other Commissioners. You know, Peter signed 'Peter V. Ueberroth.' Fay was 'Francis T. Vincent Jr.' I thought it was a tradition that was worth maintaining because of the significance of having your name on the ball."
During a question-and-answer session after his farewell visit to employees at the MLB Advanced Media headquarters in Manhattan on Friday, Selig was asked what it had meant to know his name was on every official baseball used during most of his tenure.
"I've been honored to have my name on every baseball over those years," he said. "But I have to say this honestly: I just loved going to work each day as Commissioner, and all of those other things were nice, but not something I paid a lot of attention to."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. MLB.com national columnist Paul Hagen and MLB Official Historian John Thorn contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.