As Mark wrote about in Entry 4 of his 10-part series on the Topps baseball-card monopoly, a breakthrough in card design – although not always executed well at first – was the introduction of action photography in 1971.
It took 45 years, but Topps found a way to enhance the experience of viewing action cards, by letting fans choose the specific plays they wanted to immortalize, and do so with quick turnaround from order to delivery.
In 2016, Topps began its “Now” program, allowing fans to order specially made cards capturing action images of noteworthy events on the diamond, generally no-hitters and important home-runs. The idea is that, once a significant (in some fans’ minds, at least) development occurs, customers have 24 hours to go online and purchase an action-shot card of the milestone (as long as Topps has decided to make one).
I first heard of the Now program via this article on the runaway demand for a Now card of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major-league homer on May 7. According to the article, Topps “sold 8,826 cards of the 42-year-old pitcher hitting a home run on Saturday. The card went on sale at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday and stopped production exactly 24 hours later.”
Before the Colon card, the biggest-selling card (Jake Arrieta’s second career no-hitter) had attracted 1,808 purchases.
In August 2016, the sales figure for the Colon homer card was eclipsed by the Now card for Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, which sold 11,550 copies.
As a Cubs fan, I decided to look into Now cards commemorating the team’s World Series victory. Topps made several individual cards and sets available, with a one-week ordering window instead of the usual 24 hours.
I zeroed in on a single card, showing the Cubs’ celebratory gathering in the infield, immediately following the final out, which carried a $9.99 price tag. I’m pretty frugal, so $10 for one baseball card seemed a lot. But then I asked myself, “How often do the Cubs win the World Series?” and the decision to purchase a card became obvious.
The card took about two weeks to arrive and came enclosed in a clear plastic case, not a flat one, but one big enough to hold a deck of playing cards. The back of the card contained a paragraph-length summary of the series, with an emphasis on Game 7. I would have preferred a more data-laden back (like regular baseball cards), such as a listing of scores of all of the Cubs’ 2016 post-season games. I can’t complain, though.
The Now program seems like an excellent way for fans to celebrate their favorite players’ and teams’ accomplishments, including those on the quirkier side, such as when a certain aging, not-so-svelte pitcher goes deep.