The revolution will not be televised

Way back in April last year I posted about how a bunch of us were planning on creating our own set of ToppsNOW-inspired cards for our teams. We were all excited and optimistic about embarking on the project although none of us new for sure whether we’d make it all the way through.

I’m happy to report that three of us have completed our sets. Matt Prigge and I finished ours in mid-December—we both decided to wait until after post-season awards had been announced in November before drawing a line under things—and Marc Brubaker just finished his this month.

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Matt stuck with the Rookies App all season. This had the benefit of allowing him to order packs of cards as the season progressed and forced him to stay relatively current. I suspect that the monthly rush of receiving the next batch of produced cards also allowed him to stay on task.

The app has a number of nice templates which Matt customized to make more Brewers-like. He did a great job at mixing an old-school 80s Topps esthetic with a more-1990s photo selection. The results speak for themselves and look fantastic.

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I made my cards in a combination of Photoshop and Indesign. Since I knew I would be away from my computer for a couple months last summer I selected a design that was extremely text-focused and didn’t rely on any image adjustments. I printed everything through MagCloud and then trimmed them to size after the fact.

My design inspiration was obviously 1993 Upper Deck. It fit my text-based needs perfectly while also remaining photo-centric. And it’s a perfect match for the kinds of photos I liked. I tweaked it slightly to be Giants-specific but it’s otherwise as close a copy as I could make with the tools available to me.

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Marc was a late addition to the group between starting late and having a team that went the furthest in the playoffs, he had the most work to do to finish his set. He created all his cards in Photoshop and got them printed locally.

Marc went with 1998 Upper Deck SP as his design inspiration. Marc and I are both photographers so we appreciate the rough filed-negative-carrier sloppy edges and generous white borders which suggest darkroom prints. Marc however improved in SP’s design by rotating and flipping the edge design so the cards don’t look like they’ve been run through a uniform Photoshop action.

Observations and Reflections

Matt and Marc both ended up making cards for every game of the season as well as the post season. I did cards for every Giants win, other highlights I felt needed to be called out, and in the (all too frequent) occasion of being swept, a single card for the series. We all seemed to feel that doing cards for the entire season was both a lot of work and became a bit of a chore and as such, are thinking about whether we want to commit to doing this again.

While we like the idea of ToppsNOW and making cards for an entire season, there are a lot of games where there’s really no good highlight. Or if there is a good highlight, there’s no good photo of it. Plus you have that looming specter of falling behind and having to catch up. Even with focusing just on wins—where there’s always something worth highlighting—I found it hard to keep going.*

*Though this could just be the Giants’ September.

What we all agreed was most rewarding though were the roster cards. We made cards for every guy who appeared in a game. As team collectors I think we all appreciate those cards of the September call-ups who never get proper Topps cards to reflect their appearance in the majors.

I know that we all plan on doing a complete roster again next season as well.

Also, the examples from our sets in this post are all Roster cards. It’s very telling that they are the first cards we all blogged about. Once Matt and Marc blog about their highlights cards I will write a second post which is just focused on examples of the different card designs we all came up with.*

*Highlights, Roster, All-Stars, Award-Winners, Post-Season, Memorials, etc.

Next season

All three of us are planning on doing something like this next season. It’s been a lot of fun to chat, encourage, and share design or photo-selection comments. I don’t know if any of us would have completed the season without the others’ support. Sometimes peer-pressure is a good thing.

We’ve also been discussing consolidating our efforts and making something that’s more like a proper “set” as both a way of coordinating things and encouraging more people to join us. We’re primarily suggesting roster cards—so 54 photos total. Names and positions on the front. Haven’t thought about backs yet but that may be more up to the discretion of each person.*

*Puzzle backs are always an option.

To this point I threw together a quick template which could be offered as an Indesign document or Photoshop template to whoever is interested. I’m serious. Please join us. It’s a ton of fun and there’s nothing like seeing the printed cards in-hand or in pages afterward.

One of My Favorite Things

As a child who grew up in the heyday of Topps Traded, Donruss Traded, Fleer Update, Score Rookies and Traded, and Upper Deck Extended, the idea that companies would issue cards whenever players changed teams was something I just took for granted. I didn’t even have to wait for the following year, odds were that I could find multiple updated cards the same season of the team change.

This kind of thing didn’t exist in previous decades. As I’ve gotten into vintage cards, especially in the lower grade realm where my budget lies, I’ve started running into evidence of how differently kids in the previous generation collected cards. Mark’s touched a bit on this in how he kept his cards sorted based on current team and it shouldn’t surprise me at all that the generation of kids that truly used cards versus storing them would take things into their own hands and modify cards to keep them current.

I don’t seek out these modified cards but they’re quietly becoming one of my favorite things to encounter when I thumb through a pile of low-grade vintage. In addition to just being fun reminders of how different collecting used to be, they serve as indications of the player’s future beyond the back information.

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The first such card in my collection was this 1958 Willie Kirkland. As a player about whom I was wholly unfamiliar, seeing the two corrected teams encouraged me to actually look up his career information.

I was kind of shocked to see that the previous owner had updated this card twice over 7 seasons to reflect his 1961 move to Cleveland and his 1964 move to Baltimore. I was also a little confused that the owner updated the Baltimore affiliation at the beginning of 1964 but didn’t update it again that summer when Kirkland moved to the Senators.

Still, the annotations suggest the wonderful concept of a child so enamored by baseball that all their cards are updated each season to reflect current teams. It’s not enough to just sort them to be in the correct teams, the cards themselves have to track the transactions.

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My 1964 Jose Pagan is an interesting case where rather than updating the team only the position has been changed. As a Giants fan, I don’t associate Pagan with Third Base at all (for good reason since he only played around 20 games there compared to close to 500 at shortstop). But he did switch to playing a lot more at Third when he was traded to the Pirates in 1965.

That the team name isn’t updated makes me wonder if this card was instead used for some other purpose. I’m imagining a game of some sort where kids would create a lineup out of cards they owned.

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The last of these cards I’ve come across is probably the best one in that it captures the 1966 Orlando Cepeda trade on a 1966 card. This is one transaction and career trajectory I was very familiar with. Yes I know that trading Cepeda sort of unleashed McCovey but it still pains me to be reminded that the Giants had to let him go.

I see this being an annotation done in 1966 so as to make that year’s set correct. Cepeda was traded in May and this is card number 132. Topps had no chance. And I’m sure Mark has this card paged with the Cardinals too.

As I stated previously, I’m not actively seeking these out. I just love coming across them and will totally set them aside when I do.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Bowman International

My seventh post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellogg’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond
  6. Donruss Super Estrellas

I have to be honest, I thought I was done with these posts unless someone were to create a new Spanish Language set. But the wonderful thing about this hobby is that there’s always, always, more to discover. Which means I was quite pleased to learn that 1998 and 1999 Bowman International not only highlighted where a player was from but also included localized backs.

These aren’t one-off parallels but rather a complete set which includes a number of Spanish-language backs—including for players from Puerto Rico who are technically not international players. I haven’t gone on a deep dive looking at the Spanish language text on multiple cards and the stats on these are pretty thin (although Cuadrangulares, Carreras Impulsadas, and Promedio suggest that things are translated fully rather than using the more Spanglish terms like Jonron). Oh, and the #PonleAcento action on González is always nice to see too.

What did jump out at me is that height and weight are in meters and kilograms instead of feet and pounds. None of the previous cards I’ve featured in this series have made this translation but it makes sense here since this set is less about being aimed at the Spanish-speaking market in the United States and more about presenting international backs.

Which means that the set contains cards in other languages too. While at first I was interested in only the Spanish-language cards, I couldn’t help myself and began searching for other languages.

Japanese was the obvious next language to look for and I was pleased to find many on the checklist. I’m not going to comment at all on the language usage anymore since I can’t read them but I do have to highlight how Topps changed the units on the Kanji cards from meters to centimeters.

Also, using a non-Roman font is an impressive commitment for just a few cards in a set. Graceful language switching is something that really only became common with MacOSX and Opentype fonts which could contain a full complement of unicode characters. Neither of these were around in the late 1990s.

Designwise though I’m a bit sad that Yoshii’s Kanji signature is printed sideways.  Yes I know this is how he signed his Topps contract. But given that vertical space I’d like to think he’d’ve wanted the characters to be stacked vertically instead.

Skipping around since there’s no reason to provide exemplars for every language for every year. We also have Korean cards. In the 1999 design, even the name on the front is localized so you have to recognize Jung Bong’s photo or signature.

I’ve really nothing more to add here on top of what I said about Japanese except to note that I find Hangul to be one of the most brilliant things humanity has ever invented and it’s fun to have a US card which features it.

The Ntema Ndungidi card though is fantastic. There are so many good things going on with it. Topps didn’t go with the colonial language and print this in French. Nor did it select the obvious “name an ‘African’ language” choice and go with Swahili. Instead we’ve got something that stumps Google Translate but which appears to be some kind of Bantu—probably Lingala. I love it.

I also love how Topps typeset his height to be “1,85m” and replaced the decimal point with a comma. Topps also did this in the text where it mentions his batting average but didn’t do it in the statistics.

Another point of interest here is that Ndungidi was born in Zaire—a country which no longer existed in 1999 when this card was printed.* Topps still marked his origin as Zaire on the card front and on the back his birth information says “Ex Zaire (R.D. Congo).”**

*Quick quick history. Zaire ceased to exist in 1997 when the Rawandan war spilled into Zaire and the resulting Congo war forced Mobutu Sese Seko into exile and installed Laurent-Désiré Kabila as the new president.

**Note, his regular Bowman card just says Zaire and appears to be completely unaware that that was out of date.

I’m still looking through the checklists to see if there are any other languages I’m missing. I thought Sidney Ponson would be in Dutch but Topps used English for Aruba. Sadly, none of the Canadian players appear to get French cards nor are their vitals in metric units. Nor does Benny Agbayani’s card feature Pidgin or Hawaiian. But I’m plenty happy with what I’ve found and this was a nice way to expand on the Spanish-language posts I’ve been making on here.

Baseball Americana

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Over Thanksgiving I took a trip to go see the Baseball Americana exhibition at the Library of Congress. It’s a single gallery, doable in an hour, and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in DC before it closes. While I’ve already written about the general show on my own blog, for the purposes of this committee I feel like it’s worth highlighting the specific role baseball cards play in the exhibition.

Being part of the Library of Congress means that ephemera like cards are emphasized a lot more than equipment and artifacts. One of the key points this show makes is not only has baseball existed for 150 years years, it’s been recognizable that entire time; the existence of baseball cards—the earliest being a carte de visite from 1865 — is a key feature of this consistency. As long as we’ve had a game, we’ve been making pieces of cardboard featuring players’ pictures and trading and collecting the results.

Does a modern card (well, 1994 Bowman) with 4-color offset lithography, gloss UV, and foilstamping compare at all to a 130-year-old Goodwin & Co single-color uncoated photographic print? Not at all from a production point of view but seeing them next to each other in the same case and even my 6-year-old recognizes them as part and parcel of the same concept. Heck, even some of the poses are exactly the same.

The show continues with a display of a number of cards of stars of the pre-integration period. These are wonderful to see (and lust over) but the emphasis of this part of the exhibition is in who’s playing baseball and the cards are contrasted with photos of African-American ballplayers.

The clear takeaway to me is that while cards have always existed, their role in defining who real ballplayers are cannot be ignored. Seeing who we’ve chosen to make cards of is a powerful statement about who counts and who doesn’t in the sport.* I half-jokingly refer to Topps Flagship as the “card of record” but there’s a kernel of truth in there. Cards chronicle the history of the game and collecting them connects us to that history.

*Note, my takeaway isn’t just a race thing. When we see collectors express concerns about companies only focusing on rookies or stars or large-market teams it’s because of the way that cards function as a record of who matters.

Cards were my entrée into baseball history. They served a similar function for my kids. As much as my eldest hits Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference, and Retrosheet on the iPad, cards are why he knows who he knows and what sustain his interest and connection to the sport.

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Later on, a sample of Japanese cards shows how the sport has transcended the United States and become more global. This is exactly right and, while I haven’t gotten into international cards,* I can’t deny that it’s really interesting to see how an American thing goes global and how baseball cards end up fitting into other country’s card-collecting traditions.

*My forays into Spanish-language issues are more of a language-based interest.

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The only miss card-wise for me is that in the section that shows the increase of statistics in both scouting and the appreciation of the game. There’s a comparison of card backs and the nature of the statistical information that we’ve felt is appropriate over the years. Unfortunately we don’t actually get to see the backs and they’re merely described to us.

Plus there’s so much more that could be here. I would’ve loved to see a comparison of backs drawing a line from T205’s slashline of G/AVG/Fielding to the traditional slash lines of the 1960s, the whole range of proto-SABRmetric backs in the 1990s, and finally today’s inclusion of stats like WAR that I can’t even explain to my kids how to calculate. It’s not just that stats exist, it’s what stats we care about and how that impacts our understanding of the game.

Topps 3D!

 

As a photography junkie I’ve long been fascinated with the way that three-dimensional imaging has paralleled the history of the medium from the early stereographs through the Viewmaster toys I grew up with (and which my son still played with in his preschool).

That baseball cards have multiple examples in these genre* is fantastic. But it’s the application of lenticular printing to baseball cards in the late 60s with the 1968 Topps 3D release followed by the run of Kelloggs cards starting in 1970 which is particularly awesome.

*Stereographs; Dixie Lids with their stereoviewer; Viewmasters

Between the Kelloggs 3D cards in the 1970s and 1980s Sportflics magic motion cards, I’ve found myself developing a specific weakness to lenticular baseball cards and their low-tech magic.

distracted

Yeah.

I’m not explicitly chasing sets of these but they’ll always turn my head and getting samples of all the different sets* is something I’m enjoying doing. I only have a couple samples of 1970s Kelloggs so far but each and every one is a joy to get and hold and look at.

*Well besides the 1968 Topps 3D sets which is just insanely expensive.

Most of the time I’m able to keep things in-line with my main collecting interests but this is not always the case. For example, last summer Topps released an On Demand 3D set. I normally ignore their on demand offerings since even the nice ones seem to only feature the same handful of teams and players. Plus they rely a ton on design reuse but usually do an even worse job of executing the old designs than Heritage does.

Lenticular 3D though? Of course I bought a pack. I wasn’t expecting to wait quite as long as I did but they finally arrived the week before Thanksgiving.

 

It was awesome. While it would’ve been nice to get some Giants I’m not even upset that I got Cutch as a Yankee. They look great in hand and I’m kind of regretting not buying more than one pack. The only disappointment (and it’s a small disappointment not a major critique) is that the action cards only show two frames of movement.

I haven’t had a ton of experience with lenticular 3D cards and the ones I do have are kind of fragile due to the all-to-common cracking issues caused by aging plastic and differing rates of expansion due to the way paper reacts to ambient humidity and temperature much more than plastic does. So this is the first time I’ve had a chance to take a really good look at them.

 

One obvious note to make compared to the older cards is that the current 3D cards depict action and the 3D effect works really well on pictures where the pose has considerable depth to it. I really like the Carlos Martinez for this reason and even in an animated gif it pops.

I hadn’t thought much about the physics of the lenticular effect before either but making these gifs made me realize that the lenses have to go up and down in order to create the stereo effect. While tilting the card is the only way to get the impression in a gif, the vertical lenses split the image into two. As a result, each eye sees a slightly different picture and your brain assembles the result in 3D.

Which means that I’m surprised and impressed that Topps printed horizontal cards in this set since that means they had to do two distinct print and finishing runs in order to accommodate the two designs.

 

Of course this also means that I’m a little confused by the choice to do action with vertical lenses since every other lenticular action card I have has horizontal lenses and has to be tilted up and down for the effect. From Sportflics to Topps Screenplays, they’re all animated with vertical movement. The current Topps action cards are  the first lenticular action ones I’ve seen that get tilted left/right instead.

As I think about it, tilting up and down for action makes a lot of sense since you don’t want to confuse the eyes with combining two distinct action images into single still image. Which may be why the current action cards feature only two frames. Any more frames and your brain will try and combine adjacent frames into a 3D image instead of seeing things as action.

 

Note: that all the motion holograms I’ve see have been left/right tilt—suggesting that our eyes/brains process them differently than lenticular images. And I guess that makes sense too since holograms are 3D no matter what angle you view them at.

What do Baseball Cards Want?

There was a bit of an interesting discussion/freak out on card twitter this week over a restored T206 Honus Wagner card. Restoring in this case involves cleaning the card front and back, replacing the trimmed borders with material from other T206 cards, and filling in missing pigments.

Predictably and understandably, many collectors were appalled and outraged at this. We, as a group, tend to treat our cards as items whose aging must be arrested. We lock them away inside increasingly-secure plastic holders and handle them with kid gloves on the rare occasions that we look at them.* The idea of modifying a card by accident—let alone on purpose—is anathema to the collecting ethos and immediately makes people suspect malicious intent or ignorance.

*One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this SABR group is how frequently it champions the use of cards. Sorting and re-resorting things. Changing the contest in which they’re displayed, etc. etc.

So there were lots of reactions about how this is destroying the card. Or how it was no longer worth anything. Or how it was setting up the opportunity for someone to defraud an unsuspecting buyer.

My reaction though was one of excitement as this represents one of those occasions when baseball cards cross over into the art world. The issue of art restorations is one that’s fascinated me for a long time; the first thing I did was re-read Rebecca Mead’s wonderful New Yorker piece, remind myself of all the different ways that we’ve both “preserved” and “restored” items in the past, and think about what it means for us to have invested so much money and/or emotional weight in small pieces of printed cardboard.

“People always ask, ‘Who do you feel responsible to?’ If a collector comes in and says, ‘I want to have a piece fixed this way,’ do you do it as the collector wants it, or as the artist wants it? I always say we are responsible to the art work, not to the artist or to the collector.”

—Christian Scheidemann

Centering the discussion on the card itself allows me to really think about what restoring does and what it means to restore a card. I proceeded to jump down a rabbit hole and read posts about when museums have chosen to restore objects.* When they haven’t.** Plus discussions about how restoration is really a commitment to having to maintain the artwork over the course of its lifetime.***

*MoMA’s restoration of a Jackson Pollock is interesting in how it addresses previous restoration efforts as well as emphasizing the fact that the restoration is not intended to make the painting new but rather let it show its age while taking care of it and stabilizing the artwork.

**I found myself thinking especially about Cleveland’s bombed (literally) copy of The Thinker here.

***SFMOMA’s post about its “unconventional” approach to Barry McGee’s work is a great read.

In everything I read it was clear that restoring artwork is about balancing the immediate health of the item with its long-term prospects while keeping it “true” to itself. Restoring an old item so it looks brand new is not the point. It should appear old and reflect its history without looking like it’s going to fall apart.

Interventions should also be obvious without being distracting. The goal is to make it clear that things have been mended yet foreground the original piece. This is a delicate balance and is the reason why the restoration cannot be thought of as one-off fix. The item will continue to age along with the restoration and there’s no way for anyone to know for sure how their relationship will work in another 50 years.

All this makes a lot of sense for me when it comes to trying to preserve an item that’s been kept in reasonably good condition. It’s less relevant for items which are heavily damaged—such as the T206 Wagner in question. Sure, the question of being true to the item still remains. But which truth? The item as it was originally or the item as it’s become today?

Comic books have already ventured into this territory with restoration companies bragging about the level of restoration they can accomplish. The restored Wagner is very much in a similar vein. As much as I appreciate that it wasn’t restored to look pack-fresh and instead still looks like the century-old card that it is, something about doing that much addition just doesn’t sit right with me. The damage is part of the history of the card and obscuring that feels dishonest.

I found myself returning to a post The Getty made about how to display a collection of vase fragments since it points at a middle way of restoring a piece. While representing a much more extreme example of damage, the final restoration suggests the finished original while also being clear about what’s original and what’s new.

*The Getty’s post has more detail but lacks the side-by-side comparison that the Tumblr post has.

This approach is one that I feel would work great for damaged baseball cards where instead of rebuilding the trimmed areas and missing pigment so things look perfect, the restored areas were called out by using neutral pigments or a slightly-differently-toned paper. We would still be able to appreciate the card in its complete state while also being able to see how the original was altered over the years.

On the other hand, all the cleaning and soaking to remove dirt and accreted material—specifically the paper glued to the back—is something I’m still struggling with. Much of that material contains a lot of information about how the card has been used over the years and I hate to get rid of it. It’s good to know how it had been displayed before (in this case, pasted into an album) and be reminded that every generation’s best practices will likely give a subsequent generation hives.

There’s also always the risk of removing too much material. There’s a long history of over-cleaning objects in art world.* Even in sportsland the Hall of Fame just recently underwent a massive restoration project on its Conlon photos which, while it cleans up the photos, completely obliterated the history of how those photos had been used in print.

*Sometimes by accident. Other times, such as with removing all the paint from Greek and Roman sculptures, on purpose.

Do I know how I’d want to restore a damaged card like the Wagner? Of course not. Nor do I fully trust anyone with a single concrete answer as to the best solution. The discussion and thought experiment about how different approaches could help or hurt our understanding though is one which I’ve enjoyed and hope to see continue in the comments here.

Barajitas estadounidenses: Donruss Super Estrellas

My sixth post featuring Spanish-language baseball cards released in the United States. I didn’t intentionally plan on posting a bunch of these during Hispanic Heritage Month but the timing just worked out that way. Previous posts are:

  1. Introduction and 1978 Topps Zest
  2. 1993–2000 Pacific and Pacific Crown
  3. Other assorted Pacific cards and oddballs
  4. 1991 Kellog’s Leyendas
  5. 1994 Topps and beyond

After Pacific stopped releasing bilingual cards in 2000, Donruss picked up the Spanish-language mantle in 2002. From 2002–2004 Donruss released a small 100–150 card set* of Spanish-only cards.

*Set count depends on whether you think short-printed “base” cards count as the main set.

Since this is exclusively in Spanish I have fewer comments to make except to note that comparing the Spanish-language abbreviations across all the cards I’ve covered in this series reveals that there’s no real standard in terms of what each stat means. Some cards say “AVG” while others have “PRO.” Some have “D” and “T” versus “2B” or “3B.” It’s clear that part of being a Spanish-speaking baseball fan is to have a certain flexibility for the multiple names that each statistic has.

Anyway the best example for this flexibility is how on previous cards I’ve featured Home Runs have been abbreviated as HR or called cuadrangulares, in this case Donruss has abbreviated them as JR for “jonrón.”

Donruss’s 2003 offering is much the same as the 2002 one. My same observation about stats applies here. Where Topps has used G and P (ganado and perdido) for wins and losses, Donruss uses V and D (victoria and derrota). All equivalent to words that we use in English (wins, losses, victories, and defeats) but as someone whose understanding of the game came from stats I’m kind of amazed now that stats in English are so standardized.

I think the only thing that comes up as a standard variant in English is SO vs K. And yes this variant exists in Spanish as well where Donruss uses K while Topps used P for strikeouts.

Donruss also had inserts in its sets. Surprise surprise this one is called “Leyendas” as well—making it the third different “Leyendas” set I’ve mentioned in these posts.* The text here feels a bit more like it was written in Spanish rather than translated from English and is an example of “cuadrangulares” being used for home runs. Also of note is that where the other Cepeda Leyendas cards have all mentioned him winning the “MVP,” this one says “Jugador Más Valioso” instead.

*Yes I have an Orlando Cepeda card from each of them.

And in 2004 Donruss mailed it in with a third Spanish-language set the indicates how low a priority this set was for them. Yes, this is a completely different card than the 2003 card. No I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking they were the same.

To be fair, the checklists between 2003 and 2004 aren’t identical. But there’s also nothing new for me to comment on with the 2004 set.

It’s been 14 years now since the last Spanish-language set. With all the #PonleAcento action and Latino fan outreach in the past couple of years,* I’d love to see a new set come out. A checklist like Pacific’s which focused more on the Latino players would be cool but even a 200-card Topps Latino could be fun at this point. I’d be first in line to get it for my kids to help them with their Spanish lessons. And I’d love to add a few more posts to this series as well.

*Though it’s been impressively difficult to actually find a #PonleAcento shirt available for purchase.