Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pirate Autograph Project: An Origin Story

"It's not the destination so much as the journey."
There may be no phrase that more accurately captures card collecting (well, other than "you're going to lose money busting wax).  So much of collecting is the thrill of the hunt.  Whether it was ripping packs as a kid hoping to hist your favorite player, or endlessly scouring ebay hoping to see that elusive card, we're hunters.  And when we finally track down that elusive card, it's on to the next chase.

But the why always lingers.  Each collector has their own story, whether it's trying to recapture that childhood hobby, or the first time you peeled back the wax seal on a pack.

Kate and I went to see Deadpool over the weekend (which was awesome, by the way).  I was reading an interview with Ryan Reynolds where he said that if the film wasn't going to be an origin story, he wasn't interested.  And I think that's a really interesting perspective - grounding the how with the why.  And as the second Spider Man origin story, or the maddeningly long Captain America origin film teach us, if the journey isn't interesting, it makes the destination a lot less fun.

So this is my origin story.  Or at least the story of why I got the crazy idea of tracking down an autograph of every single guy to step onto a baseball field wearing a stylized P on their cap.

In the spring of 2004, or thereabouts, I joined the Beckett forums.  I was in 10th grade, loved baseball, liked collecting cards, and that was about as developed as my collecting identity went.  In an era when pulling an autograph out of a box was a possibility rather than a guarantee, my autographed collection was maybe a dozen cards between certified autos and cards I had gotten signed at local shows, etc.

As spring training approached, I saw a thread on TTM autographs.  I read through pages long threads dating back as far as I could find them.  I could write a letter, and end up with an autograph?  It seemed like the greatest thing on the planet.

I asked my parents for a book of stamps and some envelopes, and began carefully crafting my first requests.  Every day after school was filled with excitement, going to the mail box and hoping for a return.  And I certainly got off to a good start.  When that first white envelope came back in the mail, inside was my 2003 Donruss Team Heroes card signed by Duke Snider.

I was hooked.

In those days, the extent of resources and ttm collectors that are out there today were far more limited.  You either had to buy an autograph list containing home addresses of players, or scour the internet for addresses.  And as a high school kid, scour it was.

Somewhere around 2005, I stumbled across a site dedicated to Pittsburgh autographs.  I had been adding Pirate autos as often as possible, but my TTM options were limited to whose cards I already owned or could find in the dime box at the LCS.  Suddenly I saw dozens and dozens of signed vintage cards.  Players I had never heard of, but whose signature I suddenly wanted.

It was a pretty basic looking Angelfire page, but the Steeler Chief's website was, to my 15 year old brain, the holy grail of card collecting.

As I was starting to think and post about my autograph project over the past week, I wondered if the Steeler Chief site was still up.  After all, chunks of the internet get phased out all the time.  Like my old Myspace page.  But there it was, not much different from when I first discovered it.  It looks like the site has been inactive since 2007.

But suddenly I had a whole new hit list of players whose autograph I wanted to track down.  I started buying vintage cards on ebay and sending them out to the reliable signers.  And a few unreliable ones, which never came back home.

As I reached college, I was in accumulating mode.  I had hundreds of Pirate autographs, and jumped at the chance to add new players when I could.  But there was no real rhyme or reason.

Somewhere around 2008 or 2009, I found that one of my fellow team collecting buddies was working on acquiring autographs from every Astros player who had suited up for the club.  Tough, but as an expansion franchise it wasn't totally unreasonable.

I decided to see if I could compile an all time roster for the Bucs as well.  And just out of curiosity, see how many signatures from that bunch I already had.  I think you know how this one goes...

Some OCD set in, and I was shocked to discover I already had a few hundred different signatures.  And if you already have that many, why not try for them all!

It's been a journey from there.  The low hanging fruit - players with certified autos or who are reliable TTM signers knocked out somewhere around 20-25% of the players who have played in the modern era.  And from there, scouring ebay, card shows, and flea markets has helped fill in some gaps.

At north of 50%, I still have a long way to go.   And I don't know that I'll ever truly complete the project.  But it's been one hell of a journey so far, almost a full decade into collecting Pirate autographs.  And I can only hope the rest of the chase is as fun.


  1. This was a fascinating read; it's always intriguing to find out the motivation for a unique project. I might have to borrow this concept for my Cubs All Time Roster Collection.

    1. It's definitely been a fun project, even if it something that's been more of a "back burner" project for me.

  2. 50% is quite an accomplishment. Any modern players prove to be more difficult than you initially thought?

    1. The toughest ones are the guys who ended their playing just a couple games for the Bucs - guys like Danny Kolb, Chan Ho Park, etc. They don't have any cards as a Pirate, and then basically disappear from the face of the planet.

      I'll take autos in another uni as a placeholder, but ultimately I'm hoping to have them all pictured in a Pirate uniform.

  3. Great read. It's a daunting task, but will be fun for you.

    It's not as ambitious as yours, but my Topps Yankees Project was done entirely by TTM: http://thelostcollector.blogspot.com/2015/12/in-its-entirety-topps-yankees-project.html