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Baseball Card Trading App Comes With A Virtual Stick Of Gum


It's a new year - time to clean out the closet and the basement, start anew. Should you bother to save your kids' beloved baseball card collection, or are sports cards just too old-fashioned? Some kids today might be more likely to reach for cards of Magic the Gathering or Pokemon. Yeah, they're still around, instead of baseball. But Topps, the best-known of the sports card companies, is not ready to give up on the younger generation. Get the app. David Roth wrote about baseball cards for Slate.com, and he joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, David.

DAVID ROTH: Hi. Thanks for having me.

WESTERVELT: So for a couple years now, Topps has had an app - say it ain't so - for baseball card-collecting and trading cards. These are virtual cards, not the cardboard ones that come with a stick of gum. I mean, it's called a Bunt, and you've tried it out. Tell us what you think.

ROTH: Oh, it does - I should point out the packs do come with a stick of gum. It's just a virtual stick of gum.

WESTERVELT: Don't try to chew that gum.

ROTH: No, that's what I was (laughter) - the whole thing is basically just an exercise in using your imagination, if you're old enough that you need to imagine for this stuff. If you're 13 to 25, which is, like - 80 percent of the Bunt users are - then I don't imagine there's anything weird about a piece of virtual gum showing up on your phone, exploding and then turning into baseball cards.

WESTERVELT: Well, it's been around for a while. I mean, can Topps call Bunt a success?

ROTH: Definitely yes. It's doing this crazy volume of - you know, trades are happening more than once a second. People are opening packs roughly at the same rate. It's big, and it's also - it's a strange breakthrough for the baseball card business because the expensive part has always been making the actual baseball cards.

WESTERVELT: Well, call me old-fashioned, but aren't we losing something about using an app? I mean, I loved holding the cards, reading the stats on the back - sometimes obscure information about number of home runs and the local hobby of the player. I mean...

ROTH: Yeah, I wrote baseball cards for Topps for some time, and I remember reading them as a kid. And most of that was plug-and-play from the media guide, but I still remember Greg Harris, I believe, is the pitcher who - it said his hobby was sleeping on the back. And I'm 36-years-old, and I saw that card when I was, you know, 10.

Topps is not stopping making regular baseball cards. But I think that they've sort of realized, in this case, that this can be a bridge to collecting actual paper cards that you hold in your hand. And if you can get a kid to care about baseball cards - you know, if they start of the phone, even if they never leave it, there's a generation that's gaining this experience that made baseball cards meaningful to us in the first place.

WESTERVELT: Fair enough. So as a kid, I developed a minor obsession with Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose, and I have a whole bunch of his cards and some signed baseballs. But as we know, Pete Rose has had his problems, and he may not ever get into the Hall of Fame. Those cards worth anything?

ROTH: Depending on when these Pete Rose cards are from and how thoroughly you went over them, which is, like, kind of - this is the ugly paradox of sports card collecting. If you really cared about Pete Rose, and so you're looking at his cards all the time, and you're going back over the stats, like, all those little kid baloney fingerprints on the back are not helping the value very much.


ROTH: Yeah, it is.

WESTERVELT: David Roth is the founder of the independent sports website The Classical. Thanks so much for talking with us.

ROTH: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.