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Catching the White Whale (My Paul Pierce Dilemma)

Paul Pierce made me quit graphing in 2008.

Outside a Boston nightclub where he was hosting a pre-playoff rally, my buddy and I were ignored by the Celtics star and peppered with f-bombs by his security escort. We were the only collectors there and had even made the donation to his Truth Foundation to get admission to the event. Standing on the sidewalk, we asked politely for an autograph as Pierce waited a few feet away for his ride to arrive. It would have only taken him a few seconds to sign. Five minutes later, the car pulled up.

Ray Allen autographed 11x14

Should I pay to add Paul Pierce to my collection?

Watching him pull away, the absurdity of it all sunk in. What was I doing out at 2am on a weeknight worrying about getting some athlete’s autograph? How much time had I spent chasing celebrities who obviously don’t give a shit about me? For a few weeks I kept my Sharpie capped, but I couldn’t stay away from the hobby. It was like getting rejected by the girl you liked in high school. No matter what she did, it was nearly impossible to give up the chase.

The year before I had seen Pierce at Josh Beckett’s Beckett Bowl but was unable to get one of the few autographs he signed on the red carpet. In the fall of 2008 he stepped out of a limo and cruised right past a small group of us entering the Celtics annual Shamrock Foundation dinner in Boston. In December 2010 he hosted his annual “Truth Strikes Again” bowling tournament but I wasn’t willing to shell out $150 and drive to Connecticut for a shot (incidentally, I heard he signed). Bad luck or bad timing, one way or another he has eluded me.

Paul Pierce—the greatest Celtic of my generation and my white whale.

Now I have a dilemma. Pierce is doing a public signing on March 3 in the Boston area. It’s the easy way out—like if Captain Ahab had commissioned the navy to capture Moby Dick. Where’s the thrill? Where’s the story? I would fork over $79 and simply cross him off the list. I would try to graph Pierce in the future, but now I’d have a safety net. I would, essentially, admit defeat.

On the other hand, I’d finally get an autograph (perhaps on this 11×14 already signed by Ray Allen). I could stop stressing about keeping tabs on his next appearance, putting the time in, hoping he actually picks up a pen in my presence. I could move on.

What do you think I should do?

Who’s your white whale and would you pay to finally get their autograph?

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

16 comments… add one

  • Chris February 21, 2011, 11:07 am

    My white whale was Mark McGwire; I was in middle/high school during his years with the Cardinals. I tried several times a season to get him; I can’t tell you how many times I waited down by the dugout to get him only to have him sign for everyone around me and skip over me. Being a kid with nothing more than seasonal part time work, there was no way I could afford a private signing for him. I had pretty much thrown in the towel on ever getting an in person autograph from him.

    Fast forward ten years: I’m attending spring training and McGwire is back with the team as hitting coach. I was finally able to catch him before a game and get a beautiful full signature right on the sweet spot of a ball. The next day, I was able to get him to sign the “Bash Brothers” poster of him with Canseco — and he has sworn to never sign anything with Canseco on it! (I posted a link to the signed poster in my website)

    It’s tempting to shell out the cash for a paid signing, but in the end, the thrill of the hunt makes for the more rewarding autograph. When people see the poster, I’m much happier to answer the question, “how did you get that?” as opposed to, “how much did that cost you?” To me, the experience of finally catching my white whale and the story that goes along with it is every bit as valuable as the actual item he signed.

  • Matt Raymond February 22, 2011, 6:03 pm

    Thanks for your comments Chris and great story!

  • Laura February 21, 2011, 5:40 pm

    Don’t do it! I would never pay that kind of money, even if he was my favorite player. I think it’s just more fun trying to get them to sign, and while it might take more time paying $79 for an autograph isn’t really worth it to me. It can be tough at times, but think of the satisfaction you will get once he signs. I don’t think I would ever pay more then $30 for a signing.

  • Matt Raymond February 22, 2011, 6:05 pm

    I appreciate the perspective Laura. I agree, anytime you can get a graph out in the wild it’s much more rewarding.

  • canadagraphs February 22, 2011, 10:53 am

    I personally have never been in the position where someone is doing a signing for money that I needed desperately because I knew there was no other way. I’ve vowed I would never do it for an absurd price (my untested, probably flexible cap would be maybe $10-15).

    I have bought some off friends that I know for my collection, but they were all in the $0.50 to $3 range on cards. Never anything of substantial value.

    Personally, I wouldnt do it. Luckily, we have never had anyone here in Vancouver that full of themself. Even our most unpleasant superstars have at the least been “bad” signers, but never “impossible” signers. The fact that he is such a major name for your region makes it hard to avoid, you are an autograph hound & havent gotten him. It would seem automatic to most that someone from there would have got him when thats their hobby.

    This probably wont make you happy to hear, considering we dont even have a team here anymore…but I actually got Pierce… twice on the same trip once. I never would have imagined way back then that he would be this elusive…especially where he plays.

    Good luck with whichever decision you make Matt.

  • Matt Raymond February 22, 2011, 6:11 pm

    Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who hasn’t graphed him :) Thanks for the comments. How long ago did you get him? Sometimes environment (physical location and the company of others) makes all the difference.

  • Reho February 22, 2011, 3:28 pm

    There will be plenty more chances for you to get him at a paid signing in the future. Wait it out at until he retires and moves out of the area. Because if you pay $79 for him on that 11×14, you still will have to pay for Garnett, so keep trying to get Pierce for free and save your money for Garnett, which you know you have to pay for.

    My white wahle is Michael Gilchrist and he is only in high school. The first time I saw him he was being carried off the basketball court and the second time his head had already gotten too big and he wouldn’t sign.

  • Matt Raymond February 22, 2011, 6:33 pm

    Based on our last experience with Gilchrist, he’s your unicorn.

  • Do February 22, 2011, 3:43 pm

    I feel your pain. I’ve gone through the same thing many times with several players over the years. The hunt is why we love it and do it. Just imagine if every player was like Dwight Howard, we would get bored of this sport called graphing very fast.

    My suggestion would be to save the money and put it toward Bill Russell. He is doing a paid signing in April for about $150. He is the type of guy worth paying for because he never signs for free. Also, is graph can only go up in value as he gets older and does less paid signings.

    Also, why be in such a rush to get the photo done? Pierce is here for another 5 years and my guess is you will have 10 or so more chances for him. If you’re going to spend money on the photo, save if for KG’s next signing.

    Good luck and happy graphing!

  • Matt Raymond February 22, 2011, 6:38 pm

    You’re right there would be no rush if it were easy. Interesting suggestion about Bill Russell. I got the books signed in 2009 so I don’t feel a sense of urgency to get him again, but Havlicek is doing an April signing near Boston. He’s someone I may regret not getting when he’s no longer around (morbid, but you have to consider these things).

  • Abby February 23, 2011, 8:48 pm

    If he truly is your white whale, I would say let it happen naturally. Keep the thrill of the chase! When it does finally happen without warning, it will be a great moment. Let fate take its course. Oh- and a tip. If you become a local hero and get picked for ‘Heroes Among Us’ you can end up center court with him during a game. I don’t think he could deny you a graph then. While you are out on the hunt for your next graph, be on the lookout for a damsel in distress. You could kill two birds with one stone.

  • Matt Raymond February 24, 2011, 7:00 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Abby. Your suggestion on how to get Pierce is the most creative I’ve heard. It would be an amazing story if I took down an assailant with a Sharpie and saved the day :)

  • RIck Canale March 12, 2011, 4:01 pm

    back in 1986; I was a graph hound. baseball mostly. I would hang out at the visiting team hotel (usually sheraton boston). the Indians were an up and coming team then and Julio Franco was the goal as he rarely signed.
    I caught him at the hotel and he said I will catch you at the park. Most visiting stars would say this; thinking you were not a fan and perhaps a runner/reseller.
    well I went to the park that day and asked him during bp; he made eye contact, but no response.
    tne next day, I went to the hotel and got the same get you at the park. this day I was in the midst of a group of graph hounds. I turned it right back and said, you said that yesterday. he looked at me,walked over. perfect sig and only signed for me and left.

  • Matt Raymond March 14, 2011, 10:26 am

    Thanks for sharing your story Rick. Glad you got Franco and always fun to hear about graphing 25 years ago.

  • danny March 15, 2011, 9:34 am

    Honestly man you already have on of the toughest players in sports on your piece and you’ll spend that money trying to get Pierce (through transportation, etc.) so I would just fork up the $ and pay the $79. Good luck with it!

  • Matt Raymond March 16, 2011, 6:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing your perspective Danny. I decided not to attend the signing after all. Now, the next signing…

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