Digital Footprints

A recent post by Jenny Miller about the Topps Bunt app got me thinking about digital cards. I’ve long wanted to see such a post on this blog but I suspect that our membership base is skeptical at best* when it comes to cards that only live in an app.

*And dismissive at worst.

I get it. This is a cardboard hobby and the idea of something existing only digitally doesn’t feel “real.” At the same time, the experience Jenny describes is closer to the pure ideal of the hobby than much of what’s going on with card releases. She doesn’t have to spend any money. She’s able to look at her collection and acquire new cards anywhere and anytime she has battery life on her phone. There’s no concern about finding a card shop or hoping that the card aisle hasn’t been raided by pack seekers. It sounds like a lot more fun than most of the bellyaching I see about the current state of the hobby on Twitter.

What really got me thinking though were the images Jenny used in her blog post. I’m online-averse in all my media. I prefer CDs/DVDs/BluRay to streaming. I prefer books to Kindle. As interesting as the Topps Bunt app seems it’s just not something that appeals to me…unless I can get the cards out of the app. As much as I’m a luddite, my concerns are actually more about being locked in to a corporate ecosystem and the fact that companies have a bad track record with regard to maintaining these things.

I just don’t trust these apps to last and while I don’t need ALL my cards to last another 20, 30, 40 years it would be nice to know that there’s a possibility of it. Jenny didn’t get her images out of the app (she confirmed with me that she pulled them from Topps’s Twitter feed) but she could have.

My phone (an iPhone8) produces screenshots that are 750×1334 pixels. This translates into 2.5″×4.45″ at 300 DPI. Even if you have to crop off a little of the image to get just the card this is enough data for good-quality printing. Yeah. There’s no reason why you couldn’t roll your own Bunt cards.

As much as it’s weird to me how the Bunt app cards show evidence of wanting to pretend to be physical items with their wrinkles, halftone rosettes, “autographs,” and peeling effects, they are actually something that can be taken into the real world if you wanted to.

Costco wallet-sized prints are 59¢ for four. Even if you didn’t print these, just being able to save them outside of the app gives you a level of flexibility and future-protection that alleviates a lot of my concerns. It also reminds me of a number of other card-related things we’ve covered on this blog where the original objects contain information that is no longer accessible for most collectors.

One of the best things about this hobby is how it’s a near perfect usage of technology—in this case print technology. Cards are the right size to hold and store. They’re durable enough to handle without falling apart immediately. And they don’t require any supplementary technology.

I very much love cards that push the into other technological realms though. They just require some help to be fully enjoyed if the other technology does not age as well as ink on cardboard.

For example, Auravision and Baseball Talk are both wonderful objects but the audio portions of them are tough to access. Record players may be making a comeback but they’ve not been standard in most homes for a long time. Plus you have to punch a hole in the middle of that nice Auravision photo to listen to anything. Similarly, Baseball Talk requires a special player which, even if you have one, is not guaranteed to work anymore since it’s a cheap child’s toy.

But the internet is a wonderful place. The Auravision recordings are up on YouTube. As are the Baseball Talk ones. This means I can have my Baseball Talk cards in my album and pull up the corresponding recordings on the web. Yes there’s always that fear that the recordings will disappear from YouTube but they’re out there, but there are tools out there that will download the audio from a YouTube video and convert it to MP3.

Another thing that YouTube has preserved is things like 2000 Upper Deck Power Deck. Sure you can just shove a baseball card sized mini CD-ROM into a binder page but reading the data is near impossible now. Most computers don’t have optical media trays and the ones that do are usually slot-loading ones that can’t accept non-standard sized or shaped media. So your only option to see what’s on the disc is to go to YouTube and hope it’s been uploaded.

I’ve actually been engaged in my own form of converting a somewhat-inaccesable product into one with digital footprints. I don’t have the toy to view my Viewmaster discs so I’m only able to see them by holding a disc up to light. This isn’t ideal. Scanning them into wiggle gifs produces a better way of seeing them.

I’m also going a step further and scanning the booklet so I can convert each image into a 2.5″ square card with a still image in the front and the booklet on the back. No it’s not the Viewmaster experience but it take the photos into a form that’s more accessible.

Do I expect Bunt to be around in a decade? No way. But I do expect JPGs of the cards to be available someplace. Maybe not all of them, but someone next decade will have an archive of a bunch of them. And I have my fingers crossed that a few cards will even be printed out the way I’m printing out my Viewmaster photos.

SABR48 Gets a Baseball Card

For the second consecutive year the official SABR convention baseball game (June 22, at PNC Park) was awarded a Topps Now card. A year ago Topps honored Jacob deGrom for the 2017 SABR47 game, and you can read our posting on that game here.

For SABR folks fortunate enough to go to Pittsburgh this past summer you may remember that the game was a pitcher’s duel between the Diamondbacks and Pirates. This did not go unnoticed by Topps

2018 ToppsNow #355 Nova Corbin SABR A

2018 ToppsNow #355

The card features both starting pitchers in a game that went into the 11th inning scoreless. The combined line for the two pitchers was 15 innings pitched, 6 hits, no walks, and 20 strikeouts. While the card does honor an MLB record – the record is in the opinion of Team Phungo a bit dubious. Mostly because of the volume of caveats involved.

7+Scoreless IP AND

8+ Ks AND

NO BBs AND

Less than 3 Hits

… For each starting pitcher

Talk to a probability nerd and that is something like EIGHT conditions that need to be met – no wonder it is the first time it ever happened. With this in mind, rather than research previous comparable games I will simply summarize each of the starts featured in the dual photo on the card.

Ivan Nova’s 8 innings, 3 Hits and 0 runs were all season superlatives for the veteran starter. His game score of 84 was also a personal best for 2018. It was one of two starts where Nova went 8 scoreless and did not get the win. The Pirates had a similar game on April 26 against Detroit which they won 1-0 on a walk-off home run by Corey Dickerson.

The Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin had a breakout season in 2018 which resulted in the southpaw placing 5th in the Cy Young voting. During his June 22nd outing he matched a career high with 12 strikeouts. By games score (83) the start ranked in the top 3 for Corbin in 2018.

The Topps Now card features photos of both pitchers, a description of the record in the text at the bottom, and the date of the game.

2018 ToppsNow #355 Nova Corbin SABR B

2018 ToppsNow #355 (b-side)

The back of the card goes into a little more depth on the game including the 2-1 final score and also mentions Ketel Marte, who recorded the game winning hit for the Diamondbacks.

Circulation

ToppsNow cards are only available for a limited time and have limited print runs. There were 169 copies of this particular card that were released. Topps created five cards for games played on June 22, 2018 and this card finished in the middle of that group:

353 Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners : 2 HRs, 7 RBI in 4-Hit Offensive Outburst (print run=161)
354 Franklin Barreto – Oakland Athletics : Pair of 3-Run HRs Power Win in 6-RBI Performance (print run=137)
355 Ivan Nova, Patrick Corbin : Starters Set MLB Record with 7+ Scoreless IP, 8+ Ks, 0 BBs, and Less than 3 Hits Each (print run=169)
356 Jesus Aguilar – Milwaukee Brewers : 1st HR Ends No-No, 2nd Powers Walk-Off Win (print run=199)
357 Manny Machado – Baltimore Orioles : Go-Ahead, 2-Run HR in the 15th Inning Fuels Victory (print run=173)

The biggest shocker here is that 2019 Free Agent darling Manny Machado warranted only 4 more copies than Nova/Corbin.

Snapshots

Both images used on the card were taken by Pittsburgh based freelance photographer Justin Berl. Both pictures reside with Getty Images: Ivan Nova Patrick Corbin. It is kind of impressive that Berl got both shots as they are taken from different sides of the diamond.

Sources and Links

SABR Baseball Cards Committee (2017 Game)

Phungo Game Dated Cards Index

getty images

Justin Berl

Baseball-Ref

Cardboard Connection

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.

SABR47 Gets Its Own Baseball Card

When I returned to collecting a decade ago I quickly learned that there are several different types of card collectors. To the outside world I guess we are all Just Baseball Card Collectors, but within the community there are several sub-types.

I think of myself as a Team Collector (Phillies), Set Builder (1959T, 1954T, 1971T maybe 1964T Jumbo), a bit of a Player Collector (Utley, Rollins, Thome, Garry Maddox, Ozzie, Matt Adams, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, and many Others), and a Type Card Collector.

Mrs Phungo has another word for the type of hybrid-collector I am: “Hoarder”.

There is one other collection I have that is a purely narcissistic pursuit. I collect cards that represent games that I have been lucky enough to attend. The easiest to find are those cards which are related to noteworthy games: Opening Day, Postseason, or All-Star games. Sometimes it involves trying to find the photo on the card within Getty Images and tying that to a game. The collection includes cards that reference games on the back, perhaps a milestone home run or superlative pitching performance.

Thanks to #SABR47 in New York I was able to add a new card to the Phungo Games Checklist.

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom

Topps issued a card dedicated to the game that SABR members attended during this years convention. Jacob deGrom had a great night no-hitting the Phillies for the first several innings. The Mets won the contest 2-1, illustrating a point mentioned in a Dave Smith’s SABR presentation: the one run margin is the most common outcome in baseball.

Topps Now is basically a line of instant cards produced the day after a game and sold for just 24 hours. SABR Weekend was so busy that I never checked for the card the day after the game. However on Sunday I was checking Twitter while on the train back home from NYC and a Mets fan in my feed mentioned the card. The Topps Sale was over, but I was able to find the card on the secondary market.

The 24 hour window for Topps Now means the cards have a limited print run which Topps is happy to publicize. For deGrom the Print Run was 342 cards.

The photo on the card can be found in Getty Images. According to the information accompanying the photo it was taken in the first inning by Mike Stobe who is the team photographer for the New York Islanders.

42 over 92

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom (b-side)

The back of the card summarizes deGrom’s start followed by noting an accomplishment that revolves around some not so round numbers. In deGrom’s first 92 starts he gave up 1 run or less 42 times. The 42 successful starts matched a record held byDwight Gooden, a Met pitching star from the 1980s.

I took a deeper look at the 92 starts of the two pitchers and as you can imagine there were some big differences, much of which has to do with the changes in the game.

The big differences are in the Complete Game and Shutout categories. These differences are further reflected in the fact that Gooden averaged 1+ inning more per start than deGrom.

 

Sources and Links
ToppsNow

SABR47 David Smith

Retrosheet David Smith

SABR47 Game
Phungo Game Dated Cards Index
Baseball-Ref
Getty Images
LinkedIn

 

Apostrophes

Oof. While 2017 marks the first time that the mainline Topps Sets haven’t used the Chief Wahoo logo,* it also appears to mark when the apostrophe catastrophe  hit the front of baseball cards. This has been driving me nuts all year with Topps Now and seeing the National Sports Collection Convention cards just twisted the knife.

*Yes, many of the 2017 Topps insert sets still use Wahoo.

Paul Lukas’s four-year-old article does a good job at spelling out what’s going on but the short version is:

is an apostrophe which stands in for missing characters whether in a contraction of a word like “Athletics” or when replacing the first two numbers in the year.

is an open single quotation mark which is used when it’s necessary to nest quotations. It’s not supposed to be used in contractions of words like “Orioles.”

Because “smart” quotes in word processing programs assume that apostrophes only follow other characters and open single quotes only follow spaces, they use the wrong character on any abbreviation where the apostrophe starts the word.

As a former typesetter this kind of thing is a pet peeve. And I know I know, I’m especially sensitive here because of my background and many, if not most, people never notice things like this. But it’s also indicative of a larger trend away from hiring trained professionals. Seeing repeated typographical mistakes like this implies that Topps doesn’t employ anyone who’s been trained to set type. The inevitable conclusion here is that Topps doesn’t care about properly set type and just lets the computer do what it does. And the next question is wondering what else Topps doesn’t care about doing properly.*

*This is a subject for another, larger post but I’ve already had conversations on Twitter about Topps’s handling of photographs and how many of them seem to be getting hammered by a script which aggressively opens up shadow details.

Donruss

I can’t let Donruss off the hook here as this year their cards show evidence of the apostrophe catastrophe too. The ones based on the 1983 designs are fine (1981–1986 Donruss all used the apostrophes in their design) but the ones based on 1991 are not. That Donruss is referencing old designs which do it correctly makes it even more annoying when they make a mistake.

Anyway that’s three different sets from two different companies this year which are using an open single quotation mark instead of an apostrophe. I’m not willing to throw in the towel yet in terms of accepting this new status quo but it’s not looking good.