Category Archives: Autographs

Comprehensive Baseball Ink Test: Overview

Now we’re getting serious

Like anyone with a big stack of autographed baseballs, the last thing I want to see happen to them is for the autograph to fade away to nothing over time.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much literature out there on this problem, just collections of anecdotes.  Over the past year, I’ve conducted a couple of tests to help make sense of the mechanisms involved and give me an idea of where to go next.  With the preliminary research out of the way, it’s time to go full-scale and test the key variables to finally answer the question of what a baseball should be signed with.  To get up to speed, start with these posts:

Faded Memories in Ink on Leather

Synthetic Leather Baseball Ink Test Phase 2

Baseball Ink Test Preliminary Results

Disclaimers

But first, let’s go over what I’m not accounting for.  One concern that this test will not resolve is about the effect of different pen pressures and stroke styles on the longevity of a signature.  Theoretically, an autopen setup could be used to carefully control these aspects of the test, but I don’t have one.  Also, these factors are out of the control of the receivers of an autograph, so I’m not sure what could be gained.  This is an area where this test will fall short of full technical rigor and I would be negligent if I failed to point that out.

Also beyond the scope of this experiment is the effect on temperature and humidity on the different aspects of this process.  These factors could significantly affect the flow of ink from the pen, the application of the ink to the ball, and the durability of the ink over time.  Environmental conditions will be the same for the initial application of all ink and will be the same within each test location, though these locations will not be maintained to guarantee identical conditions between locations.  Some variation is accepted as a limitation of this test.

Test Configuration

With that, we have enough of an understanding of the problem to put together a final comprehensive test to identify the best pens to use on either synthetic or natural leather baseballs.

Test Surface

The surfaces used in this testing will be Rawlings CROLB (natural leather, $3.09/1) lot #ERBA2 and OLB3 (synthetic leather, $12.99/6) lot #EOBA5 baseballs.  Results from this testing should be applicable to any other Rawlings baseball using one of these two surfaces, including official MLB baseballs (same surface material as the CROLB), though this has not been confirmed and may not hold true (spoiler: it doesn’t).  Rawlings also makes baseballs with a composite leather cover but those will not be used in this test.  All baseballs used were purchased at retail (Target) in March of 2014.

Test Environment

All baseballs exposed to light will be enclosed in an Ultra PRO UV Protected Ball Holder.  All ball holders used were purchased at retail in March of 2014 ($3 each at local hobby store).  Each ball in a holder will also have a corresponding control ball with identical markings kept in darkness directly beneath the exposed ball.  Control balls will be enclosed inside the box from from the ball holder to provide an equivalent environment with light as the only variable; a napkin will be placed over the ball to prevent direct contact between the ink and any hard surface and to block any stray light that might get in around the box lid.

Test Site 1: Direct Sunlight (feat. Sunny)

Three different lighting conditions will be used: full direct sunlight (southern facing windowsill), partial direct sunlight (eastern facing windowsill), and indirect sunlight (on the top of my stack of autographed baseballs).  To prevent indoor lighting from contaminating either of the windowsill locations, enclosures will be placed around the test area (this will also prevent accidental disturbance of the test areas).  The third test location is in a room with incandescent lights but fluorescent light is present elsewhere in the house.  This will be considered a representative display location and no effort will be taken to block artificial light.  All balls in holders will be tilted to the same angle to ensure that all inks are exposed to similar lighting (angles of incidence will unavoidably vary but should not be a factor with the extreme level of sunlight exposure involved).

Test Site 2: Direct/Indirect Sunlight

Inks Tested

Inks to be tested will fall into two categories: ballpoint and porous point.  All ballpoints will be blue medium point from different manufacturers covering a range of price points from cheap bulk pens to high-end refills.  Porous point pens will include both black and blue versions of each brand tested, when possible.  All ballpoints and the Staedtler, Bic, and Pentel porous point pens were purchased at retail in March of 2014.  The Sharpie porous point pens were purchased in 2013 and the Pilot and PaperMate porous point pens are at least a decade old (these are only being used because it was not feasible to obtain new samples at retail).  Details of the pens used are as follows.

Bulk Ballpoints

Bic Round Stic    $1.69/12
Purchased from Amazon.com in March of 2014.

PaperMate Write Bros.    $1.99/12
Purchased from Amazon.com in March of 2014

Retractable Ballpoints

Pentel RSVP    $4.00/5 (sale)
Purchased at Staples in March of 2014.

Pilot EasyTouch    $1.99/2
Purchased at Stop and Shop in March of 2014.

Refill Ballpoints

Zebra F301 Refill    $1.99/2
Purchased from Amazon.com in March of 2014

Cross Refill    $5.79/2
Purchased from Amazon.com in March of 2014

Parker QuinkFlow Refill    $6.29/1
Purchased at Staples in March of 2014.

Leeds 9092-12RF Refill    $0.76/1
Purchased from leedsworldrefill.com in March of 2014

Porous Point Pens

Sharpie Pen (blue and black)    $5.09/3 (assorted colors)
Purchased at Target in 2013.

Bic Intensity .5mm (blue and black)    $5.99/5 (assorted colors)
Purchased at Staples in March of 2014.

Staedtler Fineliner .3mm (blue and black) $11.49/10 (assorted colors)
Purchased at Staples in March of 2014.

Pentel Finito (blue and black)    $6.49/6 (assorted colors)
Purchased at Staples in March of 2014.

Pilot Razor Point (blue and black)
Unknown purchase date/location.

PaperMate (black)
Unknown purchase date/location.

PaperMate Liquid Expresso (blue)
Unknown purchase date/location.

Decision Analysis Process

Before we get to the test itself, we need to understand what we’re looking for and how to evaluate it.  We’ll start with what is expected of the ink and then define some metrics to evaluate the performance of each pen against our requirements.  The final result will be a set of scores to measure relative performance of each pen and identify strengths and weaknesses.

Requirements

The goal of this experiment is to find the ideal pen to use when getting signatures on baseballs.  This pen will need to be able to put a quality signature down on the surface of the ball, maintain the integrity of that signature until it can be put on display, and retain a quality signature while on display indefinitely.

Signature Application

When it comes to the original signature, the pen needs to lay down an even layer of ink through every stroke.  This means no gaps or light spots and no pooling or dripping.  Pressure could be a factor here but is not something that we will be able to test this time around.  Our first performance metric will therefore be Ink Coverage.

Ink Stability

The next challenge after getting the signature onto the surface of the ball is keeping it intact until it can get to a storage or display location.  Some amount of handling, including direct contact with the signature, must be assumed.  In order for the signature to remain undamaged, the ink must dry sufficiently in a short period of time, probably less than a minute, under the full range of normal environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.).  Again, these factors provide a range of possibilities that exceed this particular test configuration.  Relative resistance to smudging under the same conditions will be as much as this test can evaluate with the performance metric of Smudge Resistance.

Display Performance

Once the signed ball has reached its permanent location, it needs to be possible to put it on display in a typical display environment without suffering damage that renders the signature unreadable.  The use of a plastic ball cube is assumed to be a component of the typical display environment.  The primary mechanism of degradation in this environment is fading due to light exposure.  The performance metric of Fade Resistance will take into consideration the effects of direct and indirect sunlight exposure and the effects of a mixed natural/artificial light environment.  No specific evaluations of different types of artificial lighting will be performed at this time.

Storage Performance

Another possible destination for an autographed baseball is storage in a dark location.  Previous testing has indicated that the primary mechanism of degradation in this environment is bleeding, giving us the final performance metric of Bleed Resistance.

Evaluation Method

Each of the four performance metrics will be assessed separately on a High/Medium/Low scale for each ink/surface combination.  A High rating will be worth 20 points, a Medium rating will be worth 10 points, and a Low rating will be worth 0 points, for a maximum possible score of 80.  The option(s) with the highest total score will be the preferred options, with advantages and disadvantages explained to allow for evaluation of suitability for specific uses.  In the event of a tie, preference will be given to the option with the highest minimum rating (10/20/10/20 will outperform 20/20/20/0).

Next Up: Initial Photos and Ink Coverage

2014 Mets Draft Class Autographs

Six out of eleven ain’t bad

Full list of 2014 Mets draft picks

After drafting just five players with any baseball cards in 2013, the Mets came up big in 2014 with 11 of 39 picks having certified autograph cards.  Most of these were from 2013 Leaf Perfect Game, which has asserted itself as the premier pre-pro product and should merit a look when it returns later this year.  While the Mets did sign all of their picks in the first 20 rounds, most late-round high school picks declined to sign, taking away five players with 2013 Leaf Perfect Game autographs: Luke Bonfield, Tommy Pincin, Keaton McKinney, Jordan Hand, and Jonathan Teaney.  McKinney and Hand also have various memorabilia cards, leaving top pick Michael Conforto as the only signed Mets pick from 2014 with memorabilia.  The loss of nearly half of the potential autographs in this draft class is unfortunate, but the remainder still rates as the best-ever draft day autograph crop.

1 Michael Conforto 3 Milton Ramos 4 Eudor Garcia-Pacheco 5 Josh Prevost
6 Tyler Moore 7 Brad Wieck 8 Dash Winningham 9 Michael Katz
10 Kelly Secrest 13 Erik Manoah 18 Raphael Ramirez 40 Dale Burdick

Previous Editions:

2013 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2012 Mets Draft Class Autographs
2011 Mets Draft Class Autographs

2014 Mets Debut Autographs

The Mets dump the youth movement

A few weeks ago, the fans were clamoring for Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores to get regular playing time and for the Mets to call up some of their top pitching prospects. Sure enough, Lagares and Flores got into more games and Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom made back-to-back debut starts against the Yankees. A month later, Lagares is on the DL, Ruben Tejada has seen a resurgence, Montero was sent down to AAA where he hit the DL, and deGrom is still chasing his first big league win despite some outstanding starts. On top of that, a slumping Travis d’Arnaud was sent to AAA, where he is actually doing quite well. So much for the youth movement… While the kids are away, Bobby Abreu has been seeing regular playing time, Daisuke Martsuzaka is back in the starting rotation, journeymen relievers Buddy Carlyle and Dana Eveland were called up from Las Vegas to aid an exhausted bullpen, and Taylor Teagarden took over for d’Arnaud and started his Mets career off with a grand slam, the kiss of death for Mets newcomers. Through all of this, the team, well, has not been good. With no impact prospects looming on the horizon and no money available to bolster the Mets’ meager payroll, there’s not much to be optimistic about. How about them Cyclones?

Curtis Granderson Jose Valverde John Lannan Bartolo Colon
31 March 2014 31 March 2014 31 March 2014 2 April 2014
Chris B. Young Kyle Farnsworth Bobby Abreu Eric Campbell*
2 April 2014 2 April 2014 22 April 2014 10 May 2014
Rafael Montero* Jacob deGrom* Buddy Carlyle Dana Eveland
14 May 2014 15 May 2014 31 May 2014 2 June 2014
Taylor Teagarden
10 June 2014

*MLB Debut

Previous Editions

Age before prospects

The Mets spent freely (relatively speaking) in the offseason and it looked like it paid off with 15 wins in April. Despite Curtis Granderson not hitting, Bartolo Colon occasionally getting shelled, and Chris Young missing more than half of the month due to injury. A week into May, the Mets were 16-17 coming off being swept by the Marlins, so maybe things weren’t working out quite so well after all. Cast-off veterans Jose Valverde, John Lannan, and Kyle Farnsworth were called on to shore up a bullpen left in shambles when Bobby Parnell joined the TJ club, but Lannan has already been sent away and Valverde and Farnsworth won’t be far behind. This team needs some fresh faces, so of course they called up Bobby Abreu, shown here when his face was fresh in 1997. That makes two of this year’s new additions with autograph cards from 1997. Time to give some of the kids in Vegas a shot at the big leagues.

2008 Mets Draft Class Autographs

A promising draft class goes down in flames

Full list of 2008 Mets draft picks

The 2006 Mets were just one big swing away from a trip to the World Series and possibly the third championship in the team’s history. Along the way to that painful defeat in Game 7 of the NLCS, the team’s flaws were clearly exposed. The game logs of 2006 are littered with the remains of Mets players who couldn’t go the distance and prospects who just couldn’t cut it. When your big hope is that Orlando Hernandez can be in shape to start in the next round of the playoffs, you know you’re in trouble. That round never came, but there’s always next year…

As we saw in 2004, drafting poorly can put you in quite a jam a few years later. The draft itself isn’t a quick fix, but it can save you from making desperate quick fixes down the road that cripple the team under a mountain of long-term contracts. With the consequences of failing to obtain and develop prospects never more apparent than they were after just falling short in 2006 and then utterly collapsing down the stretch in 2007, it was critical that the Mets got things right in 2008. Their first pick didn’t come until number 18, but that was followed by two more picks in the first/comp rounds and five total in the first 100 picks. They had to be able to get something out of all this, right?

1 Ike Davis 1 Reese Havens 1c Bradley Holt 2 Javier Rodriguez
3 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 4 Sean Ratliff 5 Dock Doyle 6 Josh Satin
7 Michael Hebert 8 Eric Campbell 9 Eric Beaulac 10 Brian Valenzuela
11 Jeff Kaplan 12 Mark Cohoon 18 Collin McHugh 22 Chris Schwinden

So far, what we’ve gotten is 10 autograph cards. The only player from this draft class who has been of any significant value to the Mets has been Ike Davis, whose 5.9bWAR with the team is better than all but three players picked later in the 2008 draft. For now. Davis was traded to the Pirates after two disappointing seasons, leaving questions about whether he can be anything more than replacement level going forward. At least we don’t have to play “Why didn’t the Mets draft [player] instead?” with this one, the only standout players drafted after Ike are Craig Kimbrel, who went 96th overall, and Jason Kipnis, 135th overall. At the time though, Davis looked like a good pick and was the only Mets pick with an autograph in 2008 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects.

Havens and Holt would have to wait a while for their autographs, an ominous sign given how the players around them fared. Javier Rodriguez was next up with autographs in 2008 Bowman Sterling (and later 2009 Bowman Chrome), followed by Davis, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Sean Ratliff, Eric Beaulac, and Mark Cohoon in 2008 Donruss Elite Extra Edition. Nieuwenhuis would get his own Bowman Chrome autograph in 2010, but the remainder of the 2008 top 5, Reese Havens and Brad Holt, wouldn’t get theirs until 2011. Chris Schwinden made an appearance in 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition and Collin McHugh rounds out the bunch with his first autographs in 2013 Panini Pinnacle after he had been traded for Eric Young Jr.

That last bit makes Collin McHugh indirectly the most valuable player from this draft for the current Mets team. In less than a year since the trade, Young has been worth 1.6 bWAR. Of the players the Mets drafted in 2008, only Josh Satin (0.9bWAR) is currently on the team and only Kirk Nieuwenhuis (0.3 bWAR) and Eric Campbell are still with the organization, both at AAA Las Vegas. Davis and McHugh are the only notable trades, with the rest retiring or being released by the club.

And so, this entire draft comes down to six players and not the six you might have expected in 2008. Instead of overall picks #22 and #33 having an impact at the major league level, we got picks #554 and #674, though they be best known for a player they were traded for and a waiver claim merry-go-round, respectively. The top pick did produce as expected for a short while but didn’t turn into the much-needed franchise player to man the corner opposite David Wright. Three back-ups and part-timers complete the set, leaving the 2011-2013 Mets short on premium talent to call on from the minors. Eric Young Jr. was the prize of the 2008 draft for the Mets and he was drafted in 2003 by the Rockies.

Baseball Ink Test Preliminary Results

A starting point for the big test

I started this line of testing almost a year ago with the goal of developing a better understanding of the factors that go into the degradation of signatures on baseballs.  This is a subject with lots of anecdotes but little in the way of scientific research.  I started with a simple question: what causes such drastic differences in how signatures age as can be seen in these baseballs signed more than 20 years ago?

Ed Kranepool Willie Randolph Mike Torrez Lee Mazzilli

The Kranepool looks like it was signed just a few months ago, but the Randolph has faded away to almost nothing.  The Torrez shows quite a bit of bleeding, but the Mazzilli is a complete disaster.  All four are on the same kind of baseball, so the only variables are the ink, exposure to light, and the pressure and movement used to make the signature.  I can’t do much with that last one, but the others are easy enough to test.  The first rounds of testing provided the following results that shaped the test that is just now starting.

1. Leaving a ball open to air appears to result in damage to the ball’s surface when placed in direct sunlight

Test Ball #1

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

The exact reason for this is not known and it isn’t clear from the preliminary tests whether the material of the enclosure or just the presence of an enclosure is what prevents it, but this type of damage only appeared in the unprotected ball. Surface damage is not the focus of our testing, so all future tests will include the use of a ball cube (or the box from the ball cube in the case of control balls not exposed to light). Preliminary testing has shown that a ball cube provides sufficient protection to prevent surface damage even in full direct sunlight, allowing for maximum sunlight exposure while limiting the damage to just the ink.

2. Most ink types will bleed on synthetic leather when not exposed to light even when no bleeding is seen in the light-exposed counterparts

Test Ball #3

31 July 2013 16 January 2014 17 January 2014 8 April 2014

Test Ball #3 was kept in the dark for the duration of this test and exhibited signaficant bleeding of even the blue ballpoint at the 7+ month mark.  The second test hasn’t been going for long enough to reach that level, but the no-name ink is already showing some bleeding.  This would seem to make the ideal storage solution a bit more complicated.  We could just say “use a blue ballpoint and keep the signature away from all light” and be done with it, but then bleeding would come into play. Based on preliminary testing, it takes several months for bleeding to become apparent. As confirmation of this phenomena, here are three baseballs of the same material signed in the same ink on the same day (July 23, 2013):

Gavin Cecchini L.J. Mazzilli Ricky Knapp

The difference was that the Cecchini and Mazzilli were on display in an area exposed to indirect natural light and artificial light while the Knapp was in a dark corner a few feet away. After about 4 to 6 months, bleeding was apparent. We’ll need to keep an eye on this (especially for the natural vs. synthetic leather comparison), but a separate test (not currently planned) will be required to identify the exact mechanisms at work.

3. Blue Sharpie, Black Bic, and Red Sharpie are not suitable for use on synthetic leather baseballs

7+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

The amount of degradation seen with black Bic and red Sharpie was so severe that there does not seem to be any reason to include them in additional testing at this time. Blue Sharpie also seems to be a bad choice, but there will be a blue Sharpie Pen in this test (the previous tests used a Sharpie CD/DVD marker which may have used a different ink with different durability properties). The addition of natural leather balls will also be a factor here.

4. Ink brand matters

2+ Months Later

No Protection Ball Cube Darkness

It seems obvious, but the last preliminary test clearly demonstrated a difference in fading pattern between ink from different manufacturers. Most notable is Leeds ink, which faded into a darker blue and remained darker than any of the other ballpoint inks. The Parker also seemed to change very little, starting out lighter than the others and fading somewhat less. This validates the need for a wider test of ink brands.

5. Fine point does not seem to offer an advantage

If anything, the fine point pens appear to be less suitable than medium point because they do not put as much ink on the surface. Fine vs. medium vs. bold may still be a factor in the legibility of signatures, but that is beyond the scope of this test (and isn’t much of a factor with largely illegible signatures these days).

6. Gel ink is not suitable for autographs

The good news is that the gel inks tested resisted fading better than any of the ballpoints. The bad news is that this appears to be due to putting more ink onto the ball, which means longer drying times and pooling of the ink. The increased risk of smudging makes this type of pen unsuitable for our purposes. This may also apply to rollerballs but has not been tested.

7. The “UV Protected” Ultra PRO ball cube does not appear to offer any more protection than other Ultra PRO ball cubes

Lab testing in a controlled environment would be needed to confirm this, but the two models appear to be equivalent except for the hologram on the bottom of the UV protected model. I would show the side-by-side of the balls in each enclosure, but…

8. Dog slobber is the universal solvent

Test Ball #4

Before Dog After Dog

Just as I was wrapping this test up (and shortly after I had compared the two balls in ball cubes to check for any differences), the ball from the UV protected cube showed up in the condition shown on the right. Almost all of the markings are gone, including the gel ink and metallic Sharpie. The lesson: keep your autographs away from dogs. Incidentally, I found this ball while I was constructing enclosures to keep stray indoor light and prying noses out of the test area. It was too late to save Test Ball #4 though. It will be missed.

Inside the Lines at the White Plains Card Show

Back in the game a decade later

Last month, I shared my story of my trip to the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention.  After 7 hours at the event and another 4 hours spent in transit, that should have been enough for any weekend, especially when you consider that it included appearances (with autographs) from Ron Darling and Ed Kranepool plus a surprise appearance by Art Shamsky.  At least, that was the plan.

Backing up to Friday, January 17, a tweet from Matt den Dekker announced that he would be at the White Plains Card Show on January 18, the same day as the Queens Baseball Convention.

The timing was unfortunate, to say the least.  Former Mets Rusty Staub and Jason Isringhausen were among that day’s other guests, with autograph prices starting at $20 for den Dekker and going up from there (the full list of signers is unfortunately lost to history because the event promoter took all show information offline immediately following the event and nobody seems to have copied it down anywhere).  The show, however would go on.  For one more day at least.  It had been a decade since I had been to a card show, I was within driving distance, and there were two Mets on the autograph list for the final day.  Might as well stop by.

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