Keeping Score

How Topps Is Taking Baseball Cards Digital (Without The Gum)

With two new Apple apps, Topps tries to take baseball card collecting into the future.

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Suzanne DeChillo / The New York Times / Redux

An iPhone with the application, Topps Pennant, a data-based platform for statistics geeks, in New York on April 5, 2012.

Remember baseball cards? Those cardboard collectables that came packaged with a stick of gum, which you’d flip, trade and store in your stock drawer? With the release of two new Apple apps, Topps, the iconic card company, is now trying to take card collecting into the future.

One of the new apps—Topps Bunt, available on the iPad— allows you to collect virtual cards, each assigned a point value depending on the player’s performance, and play fantasy baseball against friends and online neighbors. The app is social; you can interact with—code for “talk smack to”—your opponents, and trade cards, just like you used to do on the stoop. “Baseball is weird. Be weird,” is the tag-line for Topps Bunt. We don’t think of baseball, or this app, as being all that weird, but whatever. We see how tech-savvy kids, in particular, will enjoy moving cards around the touch-screen, instead of sticking them in their bicycle spokes.

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The other app, Topps Pennant (which is available on both the iPhone and iPad) doesn’t have all that much to do with baseball cards, but it preys on the feeling those cards invoke: nostalgia. With Topps Pennant, you can pull up play-by-play data from any baseball game from the last 60 years. So if you are curious about the opening day lineup of the first baseball team you followed closely—for me, for example, it would be the woeful 1983 New York Mets—and want to know how that game unfolded, have at it. The app will be great for settling silly bar-room debates, and for wasting terrific amounts of time.

“This is the first time we’re making an earnest push into digital,” says Michael Bramlage, VP of digital at Topps. “But we’re doing more than just digitizing a physical baseball card. You’ve got to do more.”

The new apps are promising, but I must admit, I was most happy to hear Bramlage say that the old-fashioned print cards are still in business. (He even called them “thriving.”) You can still pick them up at Walmart, Target and hobby stores around the country. I want my kid to play around on these apps, and discover baseball history. But he should also see the cards I saw.

Plus, as someone concerned with any and all dental bills, they no longer come with gum.

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