Monthly Archives: January 2014

Synthetic Leather Baseball Ink Test Phase 2

Bleeding blue and fading it too

It’s been a long, cold (and occasionally warm) winter, but spring training is almost here. For those of you lucky enough to attend, it’s a great time to get autographs from your favorite players. If you can manage to pick up a stray baseball, that would be a great thing to get autographed. But what kind of pen to use? It sure would be helpful if someone had a long-running experiment to see how different types of ink hold up over time in different conditions. You might think you’re in luck if you read ahead, but there’s just one small problem: official MLB baseballs are made with natural leather and the cheap $2 versions I use have synthetic leather covers. Since I don’t feel like spending $64 or more on this test, you’ll just have to settle for results that may not apply to your situation.  (Update: So it turns out that you can get natural leather balls for about $3 now. We’ll add them in for the next round.)

Review of Test Configuration

Full details can be found here. Back at the beginning of June in 2013, I took some baseballs and some writing implements and put together a little test to see how the various inks would hold up on synthetic leather. Test Ball #1 was placed on a windowsill with no protection from the sun other than the window and the fact that the window only got direct sunlight in the morning. Test Ball #2 was placed in the same location in an Ultra Pro ball cube, but one that didn’t advertise UV protection. Test Ball #3 was locked away in a dark closet. Two months later, all three balls were photographed to document the initial results.

31 July 2013 Results
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #3

Long-Term Results

Two months wasn’t long enough to see the full effect of sunlight exposure, so I left the experiment going for another five and a half months. It should be noted that as the experiment progressed, the balls were exposed to less direct sunlight each day with a lower angle of incidence. Still, the results aren’t pretty.

16 January 2014 Results
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #3

Let’s break down the results by ball to catalog the damage.

Test Ball #1

Test Ball #1 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Poor Test Ball #1. After 7.5 months in the sun, the surface of the ball itself is showing severe damage. The yellowing is uneven, possibly the result of interactions with oil transferred by fingers. Whatever the cause, it was something not seen in either of the other test cases. There’s your ball cube selling point right there. As for the ink, it was a mixed bag. That extra 5.5 months almost completely destroyed the black Bic, blue Sharpie, and red Sharpie. The black Sharpie faded out a little bit more and the blue Bic remained solid but slightly lighter. Most surprising was the green Sharpie, which showed no change over the last 5.5 months, indicating that it might have reached a stable state.

Test Ball #2

Test Ball #2 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Other than the lack of yellowing, the results are about the same here. The fading is slightly less severe, but the relative strength of each ink is the same. Black Sharpie was looking pretty good after 2 months, but I’m not as confident in it after 7.5 months. Green Sharpie was a surprise, but the uneven coverage from changes in stroke direction leaves behind dark dots after the initial fading. That leaves the blue Bic as the most durable ink in both sun-exposed cases.

Test Ball #3

Test Ball #3 Results
31 July 2013 16 January 2014

Meanwhile, the closet held some interesting results. Not much changed for the black and green Sharpies, which both seemed to reach their stable states after 2 months. The red and blue Sharpies on the other hand continued to bleed. The blue and black Bics, which didn’t show any bleeding on the other test balls, bled considerably in darkness. This concerns me.

Bleeding in the Dark

You would think that the ideal storage location for autographed items would be in total darkness. These initial results would seem to contradict that conventional wisdom. Why would bleeding be present in darkness but not in sunlight? One possibility is that the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.) in the closet played a part. To account for this in the future, the control ball would need to be relocated to the same windowsill as the other balls.

But I don’t think that will change the results any. On July 23, 2013, I got autographs from Gavin Cecchini, L.J. Mazzilli, and Ricky Knapp. Cecchini and Mazzilli received prominent display locations (with no direct sunlight) while Knapp was banished to the shadowy recesses of the next shelf over (without even direct artificial light). Six months later, the Cecchini and Mazzilli autographs still look sharp, but the Knapp has started to bleed. That would seem to indicate that some amount of UV exposure might help the ink to set. How much exposure is required isn’t something I would be able to nail down without a bucket of balls, so unless Rawlings decides to help me out, this will remain a mystery.

Go for the, um, bronze

You might have noticed that I’ve been using metallic markers to identify each test. The first test, now concluded after 7.5 months, was denoted by silver. The next test was going to be gold, but the cap on my gold marker didn’t quite seal right and it dried out. My previous gold marker was lost in a car and never recovered. After all that, Staples finally sells metallic Sharpies individually, but that didn’t help me when I was setting up Test Number 2. So next up is the bronze test.

Blue ball-points FTW

Test Number 1 answered a few questions and raised a few more, but one point we can conclude is that the blue ball-point is the best type of pen to use on a synthetic leather baseball. But which blue ball-point is best? For the second round, I have assembled a vast array of seven different pens in three categories: medium point (MP), fine point (FP), and gel fine point (Gel FP). Two samples of each with name-brand inks were applied to our now four test balls, plus a generic medium point sample from a random pen I had lying around. This should also give us an idea of whether the location of the ink on the ball is a factor, because I haven’t been accounting for that and it could completely invalidate everything if it turns out to be significant.

Second Test Day 0
Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #4 Test Ball #3

And here we have our freshly-marked test subjects. Like before, Test Ball #1 gets no protection beyond the window, Test Ball #2 gets an Ultra Pro ball cube (without claims of UV protection), and Test Ball #3 gets total darkness (provided by two nested cardboard boxes). New Test Ball #4 gets a fancier Ultra Pro ball cube that advertises UV protection and has a hologram on the bottom, though the instructions do say to keep it out of direct sunlight. Forget that, we’re roasting these suckers. All four balls have been relocated to a south side window for maximum sun exposure. I even cleaned all of the dog nose marks off the window first. It may be winter, but there’s still a few hours of sunlight each day. And now the 2014 baseball ink test begins.

Inside the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention

No Mets fan fest? No problem.

It’s the time of year when the last pitch of the World Series and the first pitch of spring training both seem like an eternity away. That’s why many teams use this time to connect with their fans. When they aren’t signing washed up players to minor league deals that is. If you’re a Mets fan though, there is no mid-winter celebration to fill this void. Or at least there wasn’t until the fans took matters into their own hands and put together the first Queens Baseball Convention on January 18.

For me, the journey started in Massachusetts. And then went up into New Hampshire because I needed to get gas. From there, I crossed Massachusetts and Connecticut before stopping in New York to prepare for the event the next day. It may not sound like an epic journey, but it sure looked like one from the train along the Hudson on Saturday morning. Ice and snow gave way to cold rain as Citi Field drew near.

The home run apple was not welcoming fans to a game on this dreary day. The gates to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda were closed and locked. What few fans approached the stadium made the long walk around to the back where McFadden’s Citi Field and the Queens Baseball Convention welcomed them in from the cold.

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Player Spotlight: Ed Kranepool

The first true Met for life

There were few constants for the Mets of the ’60s and ’70s.  Between some of the worst teams in baseball history and two World Series teams (one winner and one loser), the ups and downs could not have been any bigger.  What all of those teams had in common though was Ed Kranepool.  Kranepool was called up to the majors in 1962 at age 17 and stayed with the Mets until he retired almost two decades later.  More than half a century after his debut, Kranepool remains the only retired Mets all-star to spend his entire career with the Mets.  In fact, Kranepool’s longevity in Queens gave him many franchise records, some of which are just starting to be overtaken by David Wright.  Ed Kranepool was never a superstar player; Baseball-Reference puts his career value at a mere 4.2 Wins Above Replacement, less than David Wright’s bWAR from his injury-shortened 2013 alone.  Still, he was a big part of Mets history and deserves some cardboard commemoration.

Kranepool’s cards from his playing years all predate the demise of the Topps monopoly.  Through the expansion of the hobby in the ’80s and the product diversification of the ’90s, his only cards were in various team issues or specialty sets.  That all changed in 1999 when he appeared in the first great retired player autograph set in Fleer’s Sports Illustrated Greats of the Game.  He looks hungry.

Kranepool’s game-used memorabilia history includes cards in several of the great memorabilia insert sets of the 2001-2005 era.  Between bat cards in Upper Deck’s 2001 Vintage and 2001 Legends of New York and jersey cards in 2002 Topps Super Teams and 2005 Topps Pristine, he had a decent variety of material for a lesser player who hadn’t appeared in a game since the ’70s.

In addition to the game-used, Kranepool also had several base cards and autographs in products from 2001 to 2005.  One of the more interesting was 2004 UD Timeless Teams, a product that shares a name with the memorabilia insert set in 2001 UD Vintage that also featured Kranepool.  The 2001 version included bat cards (and a quad bat card) from Kranepool and teammates Nolan Ryan, Ron Swoboda, and Tommie Agee.  The 2004 version included autographs from Kranepool and teammates Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Jerry Koosman.

Sadly, changes in the hobby after 2005 kept Ed Kranepool from appearing in cardboard until 2011, when Topps Heritage issued this coin card to commemorate Kranepool’s rookie year.

2012 had much more Kranepool in store.  With autographs in Topps Archives, Topps Tier One, and Topps Update, it was a big year for Ed Kranepool.  2013 was a bit of a down year with only autographs in Panini Golden Age.  Despite the years, Ed Kranepool’s signature hasn’t changed since I first got his autograph in person more than 20 years ago.  I didn’t know who he was back then, but I’ll be better prepared when I see him on Saturday at the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention and get a chance to re-live a part of my childhood.

Mascot Spotlight: Mr. Met

Silently cheering on the Mets for 50 years

50 years ago, the Mets unveiled the corporeal form of their mascot, Mr. Met. As the first modern sports mascot, Mr. Met became an iconic part of the fledgling franchise and has remained a fixture in Queens through several incarnations. The first, shown above on the left, is currently on display in the team museum. The current version, above right, got a new hat and a new wife, Mrs. Met, in 2013.

Mr. Met first appeared in cardboard in a 3-card mascot set from Upper Deck in 2006. Since then, he has appeared in Topps Opening Day mascot insert sets several times. In 2013, he received a fitting card number: M-1. For the best professional sports mascot, nothing else will do.

Mr. Met also had his first-ever certified autograph card in 2013 Topps Opening Day. Will we see Mrs. Met on cards in 2014? Only time will tell.

Player Spotlight: Ron Darling

From the mound at Shea to the booth at Citi

Ron Darling should be familiar to Mets fans either from his days as a pitcher or his days as part of the best broadcast team in baseball.  Either way, Darling is a key part of the Mets family.  Interestingly though, he hasn’t had a very large presence in cardboard since his playing days; the bulk of his cards are base cards from 1984 to 1995.

Game-Used Memorabilia

When game-used memorabilia cards became commonplace in 2001, Ron Darling was one of the featured subjects.  In one of the last (and best) products of the year: 2001 Upper Deck Legends of New York.  Darling had pieces of a pinstripe Mets jersey included in the Legendary Mets Jerseys set.  For some reason, this set also had a parallel set that was identical to the base set except for the addition of a serial number.  Hey, it was 2001, they were still figuring these things out.

The rest of Darling’s memorabilia cards were released by Topps from 2002 to 2004 and included swatches of gray fabric.  There’s not really much else to say about these.


Darling’s first certified autograph card was released in 2003’s product formerly known as Topps Archives.  Archives Fan Favorites?  All-Time Fan Favorites?  The cards couldn’t even agree on what product they were from, so I sure can’t figure it out.  As for what’s going on with that signature, you’ll have to ask him about that (which you will have the chance to do at the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention, 1pm on January 18 at McFadden’s Citi Field, tickets still available).

Topps gave Darling’s pitching arm a workout again in 2004, this time signing four of his old Topps cards to be encased and inserted into 2004 Topps Originals, one of the great buyback autograph products in the biggest year of buybacks.  The four chosen cards include Darling’s 1985 Topps, 1986 Topps, 1987 Topps, and 1993 Topps cards.  1993 Topps?  That’s a bit of an odd choice, must have been what Topps was able to get a hold of in quantities of at least a dozen.  This is Darling’s only certified autograph card that shows him with a team other than the Mets.

2005 was the end of an era in baseball cards and Darling was back with autographs in Topps Retired (encased chrome and refractor autos) and Topps Pristine (his first sticker autos).  Interestingly, despite having cards in Topps Archives (or whatever they were calling it that year), Darling was not part of the record 18 Mets in that year’s Fan Favorites Autograph set.

Mets fans would have to wait until 2009 for another Darling autograph.  The Ring of Honor insert set in the base Topps products brought together autographs from several players from the 1986 team.  Looks like his pen control was hurt by the time off (though who knows when those stickers were really signed…).

The dark years came to an end with the arrival of 2012.  Topps Archives was reborn under its proper name, though without Darling in its first year.  Leaf (under new management) brought back buybacks in 2012 and Darling was one of the many Mets to be featured.  Darling made his triumphant return to Archives in 2013 and also lent his pen to 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes.  In all three cases, his signature had reached perfection, a far cry from the abstract scribble from a decade earlier.  Ron Darling’s iconic signature had finally taken shape.

Product Spotlight: 2013 Bowman Sterling

Getting it right the second time around

To appreciate 2013 Bowman Sterling, you need to look back at 2012 Bowman Sterling.  Which I didn’t write a review for.  That means you’ll have to get through a quick 2012 review before we get to the good stuff.  Sorry.

2012 Bowman Sterling – Underachieving to the Max

If you can’t see the autographs, try tilting your screen

It was hard to get too excited about 2012 Bowman Sterling.  Now without any memorabilia cards, this was an autograph-only release with a token base set.  You would expect some high-quality autographs from a set like this.  And there they are in that image above.  Really.  Look closely.  Trust me, just look in those big dark spots.  See those slightly darker areas?  Those are autographs.  Yeah, these are some awful cards.  Terrible design, terrible colors, and players nobody really cared about by December of 2012.  Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis was the default Mets Rookie Card autograph in 2012, so he only had a few dozen more interesting autographs on the market at the time.  Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki had their first autographs the month before in 2012 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects, but those were really the only ones anyone needed.  Unless there are some sweet refractor autos in here.

Taste the rainbow. Or maybe just something yellow.

Nope, just these.  The most common refractor varieties are shown above: base refractors numbered to 199, gold refractors numbered to 50, and black refractors numbered to 25.  So much color and variety.  Bonus points if you can tell the difference between base and black refractors without looking at the serial numbers.  With autographs like this, the Matt Harvey base Rookie Card may be the most interesting card in 2012 Bowman Sterling; Harvey’s only other Topps Rookie Cards are in 2012 Topps Update.

2013 Bowman Sterling – Second Attempt

And that brings us to 2013.  On the surface, nothing had changed from 2012.  Sterling was once again a premium autograph-only release with a token base set, essentially a chromium version of Bowman Inception with a bigger autograph checklist (plus the aforementioned base set).  One look at the cards though will tell you that this is nothing like 2012 Bowman Sterling.


This time around, the autograph cards in Sterling are a more visually pleasing portrait orientation with large design elements and a signature background that makes the ink more visible.  It’s not going to compete with Bowman Chrome for the most desirable autograph card style, but it stands well enough on its own.  On top of that, the player selection is greatly improved from 2012.  The two Mets with autographs in Bowman Draft, Dominic Smith and Andrew Church, are here as expected, plus late-season replacement Rookie Card signer Zack Wheeler (on stickers unfortunately).  That alone is a modest upgrade over 2012, but then we add the first autographs from L.J. Mazzilli (son of Mets favorite Lee Mazzilli) and the first Mets autographs from Noah Syndergaard (the other big chip in the R.A. Dickey trade along with Travis d’Arnaud, who had his first Mets autographs in 2013 Bowman Inception).  Sterling has something unique to offer instead of being filled with leftovers.

And that’s not even considering the refractor autographs.  Black refractors are out, replaced with blue refractors at the 25 level.  Gold stayed the same, only at the fifth level down instead of the second.  Base refractor numbering went down from 199 to 150 and three new levels were added: green at 125, ruby at 99, and orange at 75.  The ruby coloring wasn’t quite as distinctive as it could have been, but this was a huge improvement over 2012.

Base Cards

And we haven’t even gotten to the base cards yet.  Inserted at a rate of just one per pack (compared to three per pack for autographs), these aren’t easy to get.  The three top names from the autograph list show up here: Wheeler, Syndergaard, and Smith.

As for the refractors, the base cards don’t get the three new refractor levels and go straight from base refractors (numbered to 199) to gold refractors (numbered to 50).  The lack of common variations and poor scanning results make these the weakest cards in Sterling.


We’re not done yet.  Next up are a pair of The Duel inserts featuring Dominic Smith and Matt Harvey.  Topping it off is a sapphire reprint of David Wright’s Bowman rookie card.  Wright joins Jose Reyes as only the second Mets player in this set, which ran throughout all of the Bowman products in 2013.  All that’s left are the autograph inserts, most of which are on stickers and all of which are numbered to 50 or less.

The Verdict

As one of the final products of the year, Bowman Sterling is an easy one to overlook.  2012 Bowman Sterling faded into the background, but 2013 Bowman Sterling proved that Topps still had something new to offer after more than two dozen products.  Let’s hope that attitude carries over into 2014.