Must-click link: The lost art of the baseball signature

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Tyler Kepner of the New York Times has a really interesting story today about the seemingly lost art of the baseball signature. While signatures from most marquee players were once easily-identifiable, it’s increasingly difficult to to tell one from the next. Seriously, look at the baseballs in the story and try to figure out who signed them. It’s nearly impossible.

So, why the change in quality? Well, it’s likely a combination of factors. Curtis Granderson explained that he that he doesn’t have the time to write a neat signature when he’s signing for hundreds of people at a time. Others say that handwriting just isn’t a priority in schools like it once was. Here’s a sample of the story:

Kate Gladstone, a handwriting instructor from Albany and the director of the World Handwriting Contest, said Ruth had a model signature. Ruth attended St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a Baltimore orphanage and boarding school where a scribbled name, Gladstone guessed, would not have been tolerated.

Whatever players’ upbringing, signatures mostly stayed legible for decades. Even after Depression-era budget cuts de-emphasized handwriting in schools, Gladstone said, people born in the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s tended to be taught by well-trained instructors.

Today’s players, many born in the 1980s, were not. Children learned print and cursive then, as now, but handwriting was generally less of a priority in curriculums.

“In the ‘80s, we started to have people basically say, ‘Oh, handwriting’s not important, because in five or 10 years everything in the world will be computerized,’ ” Gladstone said. “But I don’t think we’re yet at the stage of typing our names onto baseballs.”

The entire piece is well worth reading, so check it out.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.

Watch: Cody Bellinger breaks NL rookie home run record

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Cody Bellinger helped the Dodgers to their first lead on Friday night, going deep for his 39th home run of the season and setting a new National League rookie home run record in the process. With two on and two out in the third inning, the Dodgers’ slugger launched a 2-1 pitch from the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, skimming the right field fence to give the team a three-run cushion:

The three-run bomb was Bellinger’s sixth of the season. In what is undoubtedly a Rookie of the Year award-worthy campaign, he’s logged 21 solo shots, 11 two-run blasts and a single grand slam. His historic home run topped former NL rookie leaders Frank Robinson and Wally Berger, at 38 homers apiece.

The Dodgers need to stay on top of the Giants to clinch the NL West or, barring that, have the Marlins pull off a win over the Diamondbacks. They currently lead the Giants 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Marlins, meanwhile, are staying just ahead of the D-backs with a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth.