Topps “Bunt 20” (E-Card) Year in Review

Now that 2020 is over, and with it my first full year using Topps Bunt digital cards on my smartphone, I wanted to share two things: (1) what I thought were Bunt 20’s most noteworthy developments regarding the cards themselves; and (2) some things I learned about managing one’s cards and account.

Card-Related Developments

One obvious thing that stood out to me was the large number of card versions that were created for some players (below, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.). This trend may well have begun prior to 2020, but as I said, it really captured my attention in 2020. A larger theme within the sports-card community is the increasing prominence of graphic artists in designing ever-more creative products.* This seems to me a likely explanation for all the versions of player cards.

Something I’m pretty sure originated in 2020 was “Free Pack Friday, with a nice-looking card of a leading player marking the date. These are some of my favorites…

Another new feature was the extension of the “Topps Now” concept to Bunt. Shown below (left) is a Now card for the September 13, 2020 no-hitter pitched by the Cubs’ Alec Mills. Other current events depicted in Bunt cards (although not apparently under the “Topps Now” heading) were the Dodgers’ World Series championships and Adam Wainwright’s receipt of the Roberto Clemente award for service to one’s community.

One last feature I enjoyed — though not unique to 2020 — were the retro cards of all-time greats, including two of the Hall of Famers who died in 2020 (Gibson and Kaline).

Managing One’s Cards and Account

Next, I discuss some issues from the user’s point of view in managing one’s cards and account (for background on some of Bunt’s features, see this earlier posting of mine).

I remain content to use the free gold coins as my Bunt currency and, therefore, I have maintained my record of not spending a single penny of my own. However, I did have my first experience getting to spend diamonds (which normally must first be purchased with actual cash).

Over the summer, Topps held a “make your own baseball card” contest. Users could go to a website and use the camera on their computer to take their own photograph, which Topps inserted into a baseball-card template. (Topps announces these kind of Bunt activities on its Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/officialtoppsbunt/ )

Users must supply their own jersey, as I did, if they want to be photographed in one. I chose number 62 for my year of birth and second-base as my position, as I once made a good defensive play at second in an intramural softball game in college.

For making my own card, I received a reward of diamonds, 150 of them, if I recall correctly. I don’t know if diamonds were given to everyone who participated in card-making, or just some people. As I learned, the packs of cards one can buy with diamonds contain more cards than the ones available for gold coins. Also, diamond packs are guaranteed to contain some minimum number of special cards, as opposed to gold-card packs, which carry only a small probability of containing a special card.

Two other things I learned more about were “Crafting” and “Missions.” Crafting might be better termed “Exchanging,” as one can give up two Tier 1 cards to receive a random Tier 2 card, give up two Tier 2 cards to receive a random Tier 3 card, and so forth, up to exchanging Tier 4 cards for a Tier 5 one. I lack a good understanding of what qualifies a card for a certain tier. In the comments to my earlier post, someone suggested crafting as a way to rid oneself of the voluminous unwanted duplicates one inevitably accumulates. In principle, yes, but once someone has accumulated thousands of cards, crafting to cull one’s collection would take too long.

Missions award supplemental gold coins for accomplishing small tasks, such as acquiring a certain number of cards, engaging in crafting, or initiating a trade. Rather than actively pursuing these goals, I take a totally passive approach to missions. Every few weeks, I check the missions area and see if I have inadvertently satisfied some of the tasks.

I still have not initiated any trades, nor I have I tried to learn the meaning of the point values on the back of some of the cards.

One final piece of trivia: Statistics show the Bunt app to be downloaded fewer than 5,000 times per month. Bunt may not be setting the nation afire, but I enjoy it.


*The SABR Baseball Cards Committee hosted a Zoom meeting on this topic (June 28, 2020). Here is the link to a YouTube video of the event.

Use vs Abuse

Last couple weeks ago Mark Armour and I had a brief conversation about markings on cards. In short, we disagree. Not a bad thing—we all collect differently and have distinct standards about what kind of condition we like—rather, like most good conversations, our discussion caused me to think more clearly about what my standards are.

The discussion Mark and I had was specifically about marked checklists. He avoids them while they don’t bother me in the least. Do I seek them out? No. But I’m also not going to pay a premium for an unmarked one.

Checklists were intended for kids to be able to keep track of their collections. Seeing one that’s marked up tells me about a kid who was keeping track of his collection and I enjoy seeing how his set progress was going, what good cards he had, and who he was missing.

They also remind me of my first year in the hobby when I dutifully marked all my checklists. As I remember it, I enjoyed the activity as a way to both gauge my progress and to see what cards I still needed. I don’t remember studying the checklist as much as looking through them and feeling like I just missed certain cards if they were near a card I was checking off.

What I realized when talking about the checklists is that I really just like seeing cards that have been used. For example, 1964 Topps has these cool rub-to-reveal backs. Some of mine have been rubbed, others have not. I can’t bring myself to rub the ones I get (same goes with marking checklists now) but the fact that some kid followed the instructions over 50 years ago is very cool. Heck I know I certainly would’ve if I were a kid.

Technically I guess this kind of thing is back damage. Practically though I treat it the same as a marked checklist where the subsequent handling qualifies as usage.

There’s a whole bunch of other cards in this kind of category where the intended usage results in wear and tear to the card. Pop-ups, whether it’s a 1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Up or a junk wax Donruss All Star, are probably one of the best examples here. That the card has been punched out and folded and perhaps has even lost some of the pieces is immaterial.

The same thing goes with stamps and stickers that have been pasted into albums. I understand the desire for something to be nice and minty but there’s also something sad about it sitting in protective storage and never being used for its intended purpose.

My interest in usage though extends beyond the uses intended by card companies. I very much love annotations that reflect how fans have used cards to enjoy and enhance their baseball fandom. Things like the do-it-yourself traded cards which I’ve written about before demonstrate how people watch baseball through their cards.

For many people cards weren’t just something that you acquired and stored, they were references for when you had to look things up. Updating them each season with new teams and positions kept those references current and, when taken to extreme, results in something that documents a career better than a non-modified can ever hope to.

I also consider autographs to count as usage. They document experiences with players whether in-person or through the mail. Many times the choice of card is intentional whether it’s a favorite photo or a memorable season. And in all times the autograph is intended to complement the card as a way of enjoying the sport.

I love all of these things which indicate how a card was used by a previous owner. They tand in stark opposition to cards that have been abused or damaged though non-baseball-related activities. From drawn-on facial hair to flipping and bicycle spoke damage there’s a whole range of modifications that are deal breakers to me.

Yes I have some abused cards in my collection too but they’re the kind of cards I’ll always be wanting to upgrade. It’s the rare doodle that stands out as being clever to me, the rest I can’t help but see as mindless destruction.

When I look at a card that’s been damaged intentionally, the use or abuse question turns out to be the first thing I think of. I just hadn’t quite realized that that was actually the question I was asking.

Digital Marketplace

Last December I wrote a post about Topps Bunt, digital cards, and the ways that cards can exist in both digital and physical forms. It was very much from my point of view as a digital skeptic who distrusts the way that digital items are locked into proprietary software and rely on corporate maintenance to exist.

It’s one thing to sink a bunch of money into physical cards. If Topps dies, I still have the cards. Whereas with digital cards we have no idea what will happen in a decade. Will Topps be around? Will it be supporting the app still? Will it be maintaining a server where all that stuff exists on the web? None of us knows and that’s a leap of faith I’m unwilling to make.

At the same time, events in the hobby the past couple months have had reevaluating my thoughts on this. Yes this is related to Project 2020. No it’s not about the cards or even the values they had. Rather it’s about the way they were being bought and sold online.

It was wild to watch and I’ve never seen something where card prices were behaving like a stock ticker and people were buying and selling faster than the the shipping could keep up. While there’s been a market for digital only cards, I sort of ignored it until realized how many people are totally willing to flip cards without ever really having them in their possession.

In the same vein of things, I’ve been seeing discussions about flipping on COMC and can’t help but see that universe as also being digital cards. The same thing is going on there. There’s a big marketplace for buying and selling cards that you never physically own.

Yes, people point out that the cards on COMC are literally there and you can always request a shipment. But from where I sit this is remarkably close to how money used to work back when it was backed by a physical standard—something we abandoned almost a century ago.

I know I know. Cards aren’t money. But as we move into purely digital currencies and purely digital cards, I can’t help but wonder about if the upcoming generation will treat these things differently. I’m already seeing reports of blockchain-backed digital transactions of digital collectibles. I suspect such things will only increase in the upcoming years.

This is the kind of thing that likely freaks out a lot of us. Especially in this nostalgia-focused hobby. One of the only editorial points of view that Jason and I enforce is to focus on usage rather than value on here, this trend toward a digital-only marketplace for cards is one that has me asking myself what it means to actually use a digital card. I certainly hope that the usage is not only for flipping on a digital marketplace.

Some of those questions have already been answered in the Topps Bunt post where, refreshingly, the digital marketplace can serve as a pure version of card collecting where people can just have fun acquiring, trading, and set building. But those digital collections also feel incredibly ephemeral, focused on new items with no long tail or ability to deep dive into the past.

I don’t want digital cards to be emulating physical ones. I’d love to see them do things that physical cards can’t do. But I’d also like to see them be something that can be collected and shared across generations. At the end of the day what makes cards interesting to most of us here is the story they tell about baseball and our connection to the game, not the story about how much money we spent or the profits we made.

Take Comfort

These are strange times indeed. As we all withdraw from social interaction, at least in the near term, and find ourselves at home more often (though I’m home a lot!), there is some solace for those who have stuff – books, movies, and, for all of us present, cards.

 

For all we talk about cards in this space – what to collect, what we need, what we regret, what we envy – the true nature of this collecting business is the chords it strikes within us. There’s a nostalgia, for sure, a somewhat false recapturing of a youth that from today’s vantage point seems unblemished by trouble (though it really wasn’t at the time). There’s also the joy of having, and looking, at these totems that, at the very core, are created to make us happy.

I was once told that “things don’t love you back,” and, while that’s true, it also isn’t. The things we love reflect a kind of love back to us. There’s an emotion that is tangibly true when we look at cards. It’s real and not to be dismissed.

 

There’ll be times in the coming weeks that’ll result in many of us feeling lonesome. I saw a Doctor on TV last night warning that there’s a cost to isolation and we should all make sure to stay in touch, somehow.

Take some comfort in your cards. That’s what they’re there for.

Be safe, healthy and well.

 

Mother, should I build a wall?

When I was a kid my dad had his own small collection, not of cards but of Argus posters. These posters, at least the ones my dad decorated the house with, tended to feature beautiful nature scenes and inspirational quotes. They were essentially the memes of our analog home.

Much like today’s memes are intended to do, the messages on these posters tended to stick with me and become baked into my worldview.

There are no Argus posters in my memorabilia room, but one could argue that my entire memorabilia room is an Argus poster! No, not one of the many reminding us that happiness comes from relationships or experiences, not things, but a different one, which I’ll get to soon enough.

What I do have on my walls and loose on shelves are my very best cards, no matter the value. For example, here is my Roy Campanella collection, rookie card and all.

Just to its left is my Hank Aaron collection, again rookie card and all.

Wander around a bit and you’ll find more card displays to enjoy, including my own personal Cardboard Cooperstown.

Obviously there are risks to doing what I do. Theft? Maybe. Fading? Probably, though we tend to keep things pretty dark down there. Moisture? Flooding? Odor? Alien abduction? All possible!

But here’s what’s definite. When I walk past these cards they make me happy in a way that my cards in boxes or binders do not.

I know where some of you are. You would love a card wall, but you’re nervous about protecting your investment. Far be it from me to tell you how to collect, but I will plant at least two seeds in your mind. First off, the cards you display really don’t have to be your most valuable ones. For example, I’m sure I paid less than $30 total for all the cards in my Cobra frame.

Maybe add ten more dollars and the same holds true for my Steve Garvey collection.

So that’s the first seed I’ll plant. The cards on your wall don’t have to be expensive. They just have to be cards you like.

As for the second seed, I’ll take you back to my dad’s poster that made the greatest impression on me. It showed a boat taking a beating from the waves and rain, on the precipice of capsizing but somehow, barely, still afloat.

Here was the caption, which also serves as the unofficial motto of my card walls.

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

John A. Shedd, “Salt from my Attic” (1928)

Enjoy your cards!

Many Will Enter, Few Will Win

A very long time ago I saw a comedian who found it funny to give people lotto tickets as gifts. Because the chance of winning was so remote, he quipped that the gesture was akin to giving someone “nothing.”

From 2003 through 2008, the Chicago Cubs held promotional dates in which prizes were given to a select few fans at several ballgames, typically no more than 100-500 of each. Although the chances of winning the prizes—autographed baseballs, jerseys, gloves, bats, and other sweet items—were slim, the Cubs did offer a bit of a consolation prize, at least for baseball card collectors, which was certainly better than nothing.

In 2003, the Cubs promotional schedule included 11 dates in which the giveaway was an official Rawlings baseball autographed by one of several players, such as Sammy Sosa, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams or Corey Patterson. The giveaway, however, was limited to 500 and given only to winners of a scratch-off game. All fans were given a game card, which was essentially a cool, though oddly sized, card for the player whose prize was being awarded that day. These cards measure 2” x 4” and are all set in a horizontal format.

Sandberg 6.5.03 frontSandberg 6.5.03 back

On June 5, 2003, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays faced the Cubs at Wrigley Field for the rubber match of the three-game series. Paid attendance for the game was 28,713 and the Cubs were giving away 500 baseballs autographed by Ryne Sandberg that afternoon. Fans were given cards that featured a photo of Ryno superimposed on a sun swept Wrigley day; to the right was a shimmering golden scratch-off circle. The back of the card listed Sandberg’s career statistics and the sweepstakes’ entry rules. By my math, the chance of winning that day one was roughly 1.7%, without accounting for unused tickets and others who may have taken advantage of the “no purchase necessary” entry method, and assuming the game cards were distributed to all who attended. Not surprisingly, I was not a winner.

The Cubs ramped up the promotion in 2004, issuing a total of 21 cards and offering both autographed baseballs and Mitchell & Ness Cooperstown Authentic Collection jerseys of players such as Andy Pafko (1945), Ernie Banks (1958), Bill Buckner (1978) and Greg Maddux (2002). On September 29, the Cubs lost the Reds in twelve innings. I did not win a baseball autographed by Ron Santo.

Santo 9.29.04 front

In 2005, the Cubs issued the largest set yet, ballooning to 27 cards and peppering the giveaways with Wilson A2000 gloves, signed photos and Mitchell & Ness jerseys for Cubs legends Hack Wilson (1930), Gabby Hartnett (1938) and Bruce Sutter (1979).

The Cubs scaled back slightly in 2006 with 25 cards, but continued to offer fantastic prizes, which included catcher’s mitts signed by Michael Barrett, official bases signed by Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and a helmet signed by Aramis Ramirez. They also offered jerseys of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente. (Unfortunately, it appears as though the game cards for these non-Cub legends may have featured only a photo of the jersey, not the person.) Some of the game cards in 2006 went full postcard size at 4” x 6.” On May 27 the Braves beat the Cubs 2-1. I did not win a Derrick Lee autographed baseball.

Lee 5.27.06 frontLee 5.27.06 back

The Cubs cut the giveaway promotion by over half in 2007, issuing only 12 cards and scaling back the prizes. They also did not bother providing any statistics on the flipside. On June 29 the Cubs beat the Brewers but, not shockingly, I did not leave with a photo signed by Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano 6.29.07 frontSoriano 6.29.07 back

The last hurrah for the promotion was in 2008, when the Cubs held just five giveaway dates. Perhaps the Cubs learned that giving away prizes to so few was not a great way to attract fans. Or maybe the players were simply fed up with having to sign so many things.

Through the years, it was not uncommon to see the losing cards folded on the ground or tossed in the garbage bins. Although there were presumably 30,000 to 35,000 of each of these cards manufactured, the number that survive at this point is appreciably thin, especially in good condition.

Overall, the Cubs issued 101 player cards, including one for the 1908 Cubs infield featuring the famous trio of Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, along with oft-forgotten third baseman Harry Steinfeldt. By my count, Derrick Lee and Ron Santo appeared on the most cards with eight. The winning cards were hole punched and returned to the winner with the prize. Accordingly, there are at least two versions (winner/loser) for each card, if you are into variations!

Completing the entire six-year run of these cards would be a daunting task. The cards are not numbered, apart from the serial number on the face of the card, and there is no hobby consensus as to what to call them. Some sellers label these card as a stadium giveaway (“SGA”), which is appropriate—though not fully accurate—in that these were not the giveaway, just a means to randomly distribute the giveaway. It does not appear that these cards are terribly plentiful—either scanned or for sale.

A full checklist can be found here, showing the date of each card giveaway and the prize offered. A second list shows the number of cards for each individual.

Cubs SGA Cards Checklist

Anyone have these cards in their collections? Ever win a prize? Did other teams do a similar promotion?

Sources:
retrosheet.org
Chicago Cubs magnet schedules 2003-2008

Collector’s Paradise (My Coolio Weekend in Cooperstown)

Yes, Shoebox Treasures, the new baseball card exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, is extraordinary. Yes, I had a lovely talk with Doug McWilliams, the legendary Topps photographer, at Doubleday Field during the Hall of Fame classic. Yes, I’m given special things on the plaque for Shoebox Treasures (and, being named in the Hall of Fame is, in some respects, the same as being in the Hall of Fame, which, taken a step further, is like being a Hall of Famer), but this, and the other things, are not what made this past weekend great.

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Starting on Thursday, when my friend Jimmy arrived from Chicago, the weekend was filled with gatherings of friends/collectors. In my living room, or on my front porch, and at Yastrzemski Sports and Baseball Nostalgia, Jimmy, Mark Armour (the new SABR President and co-founder of the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, Mark Hoyle (Red Sox collector extraordinaire) and Jason Schwartz (one of the new co-chairs of the committee) talked baseball, baseball cards, and our collections. It was incredibly fun, incredibly enlightening, and somewhat rare to be surrounded by so many like-minded people.

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(L to R, Mark A, Tom, Jimmy, me, Mark H. Jason took the pic.)

On Saturday night, Tom Shieber, senior curator at the Hall and key cog in the cards exhibit, joined us and tossed some 1982 Topps packs our way, resulting in a new, exclusive, club of stickered phones.

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As Jimmy and I were walking to Main Street on Sunday to meet the guys for some group baseball card buying, which was enormous fun, with everyone now knowing each other’s interests and pointing out their finds, he asked me for my Mission Statement. He loved that Mark Hoyle had a very specific mission – he collects Red Sox cards. Which kind of Red Sox cards? All of them.

I thought I had a pretty good answer. “I collect complete sets and build sets that are of interest to me.”  Jimmy wasn’t having it.

“But that doesn’t tell an outsider anything in detail about what you collect.”

“I don’t care what someone outside of me thinks about my collection,” said I.

Still, the question refined and reaffirmed where my head has been at lately. I am a collector of complete sets and I do like to build complete sets. Could be a baseball, other sports, non-sports, whatever. I like the sense and order of completion. In fact, that day I managed to put together a complete 10 card set of 1993 Kellogg’s College Greats from the cheapo bins at Yaz Sports, and bought two cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s Football set I’m working on. I was true to my mission statement. (I did buy one baseball thing – a signed index card and TCMA 1960’s card of Juan Pizarro).

Further, my toe-dipping into selling my pre-war cards has gone full blown. Why? They don’t really fit what I collect and have no emotional ties. They’re cool, some way cool, but that’s doesn’t feel like quite enough. Yesterday I began listing them.

Here are some of the ones I’m moving out:

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They’re sweet, and maybe I’ll miss them, but I know if someone wanted to trade a complete 1966 Topps set for a handful of pre-war beauties, I’d make that deal in a heartbeat. A full set that has a direct connection to my early pack buying days for a bunch of random cards?

That’s me, completely.

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.

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.

A team by any other name

On December 1, 1970, the Red Sox traded infielders Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado to the White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio. Red Sox trades were always somewhat startling to me at the time, much like hearing that we had traded our family dog for a cat on the next block over. Why?

Once I recovered, at some point in the next few days I got out my baseball card locker and moved my most recent Mike Andrews card (probably this one) to the White Sox slot, and moved Aparicio to the Red Sox. (Alvarado did not yet have his own card–for simplification, I will ignore him for the remainder of this post.) Then I got out the team stacks and tried to figure out who would play where. This was my childhood, basically.

As Topps was preparing its 1971 baseball card set, the relevant question for me: was this December trade early enough in the off-season for Topps to put the players on their new teams, or would they be left with their old teams?

The answer: “its complicated.”

Teammates?

Andrews (card 191) was in Series 2, too late for Topps to switch his affiliation, but Aparicio (740) was in Series 7 and got transferred. Today this seems ironic–the extra time allowed Topps to give Aparicio a worse card.

This has always been a problem for Topps, but especially in the days of multiple series — Topps’ team designation often depended on when the guy was traded and what series his card happened to be in. My favorite example of this was the 1969 Dick Ellsworth — the Red Sox traded him to the Indians in April, after the season started, but he still got onto a (hatless) Indians card late that summer.

When I got the Andrews/Aparicio cards in 1971, likely in April and August, respectively, I put them on their correct teams — my team stacks were always current. But the point of this post, and yes this post does have a point, is: how do I sort them now?

If you own a set of baseball cards — 1971 Topps, 1987 Fleer, whatever — you probably either store them in a binder of protective sheets, or in a long storage box. In either case, you probably either organize them numerically, or by team. (There are other ways to organize them — I will not judge.)

I am a “team guy.” When I look at my cards, I use them to immerse myself in a season, to recall (or imagine, if it was before my time) what the 1967 Cardinals or the 1975 Reds looked like, who their players were. Taken as a whole, the box or binder can represent a baseball season — with the league leaders, the post-season cards, the Highlights cards, helping to tell the story.

So that’s the first thing — the cards look backwards. Although I bought the 1975 cards in 1975, they do not (today) do a great job of telling the story of the 1975 season. The “Home Run Leaders” cards are the 1974 leaders. The stats on the back stop at 1974. My team was the Red Sox — how can I revel in the 1975 Red Sox with no true cards of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn? If I want to revel in 1975 (and I do, believe me), I need to be looking at these Rembrandts.

Excuse me, I need a moment.

OK, so that’s the solution — sort the 1976 Topps cards by team, and create a 1975 Red Sox starting lineup using the cards. Right? The 1976 cards depict 1975 teams. The end.

Well, no. We still have the Aparicio/Andrews problem. Although Topps placed both men on the 1971 Red Sox, they were two ships passing in the night. Looking at this from the White Sox perspective, you can’t use the 1971 “Topps team” to make a legitimate 1970 lineup (no Aparicio) nor a 1971 lineup (no Andrews). For the Red Sox, you can make a fake lineup with both players.

The solution, it seems to me, is to put the players on their correct teams. Either you organize by their actual 1970 team (putting Aparicio back on the White Sox) or by their actual 1971 team (putting Andrews on the White Sox). Pick one, but you cannot make them both Red Sox without promulgating a lie.

Since I already claimed that baseball cards look back a year, the best way to use the cards is to allow the 1971 Topps set to celebrate the 1970 season. So Luis goes back to Chicago.

If you look at my 1971 Topps set, organized by team, about 90% each team is the same as how Topps designates them, and a handful are mismatches. It looks a little funny, but my “team” depicts a group of players who played together in real life. So it works for me.

So you’ve got some work to do.  But before getting to all that, I leave you with Dick Allen of the 1970 Cardinals.

Allen