In the late 1800s, when horsecars were giving way to streetcars and horses were yielding to horseless carriages, New York City took to putting horses’ heads on trolleys in an attempt to dupe the horses into thinking these new contraptions were actually horse-related and not the robotic vacuums of another day.
The horses would have none of it, and good for the horses. But it wasn’t exactly unraveling the genome for a horse to determine that a 16-wheeled, wooden-bodied, anticlimbered thing with windows, seats, a uniformed attendant, and a big, clangy bell was not a fellow traveler.
The point for this column is that new technology doth make fools of us all, and because none of us are able to fully discern the extent to which a new technology might break us out of our habit box, we clothe the new stuff in the old stuff to make it less threatening at the same time we dress up the old stuff to make it look more like new technology despite its absence of, you know, new technology.
I had this conversation today with the head of marketing for a small quasi-tech company that plays in the same space as Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, and other howitzers, only with people instead of microchips and algorithms. “We’re doing the same thing that the phone company did 30 years ago,” he said, “and we’re trying to pass it off as groundbreaking.”
It is in that spirit of half-truthiness that we present the 1995 Super Slam this is my life™ series.
The coming of computers and the rise of the internet prompted all sorts of horse-on-the-streetcar moments in the Handful O’Landfill omniverse. Upper Deck and Topps experimented with “virtual cards” that included perhaps a scrap of video and some pseudo-collectibility. Topps created a “stock exchange” for its eTopps cards, and if you find it ludicrous that people would pay real money for a computer image of a nonexistent card that could in theory be sold in its nonexistent computer-image form to someone else at a real-money profit to you, you’re among friends.
The interesting thing about these virtual cards of Midre Cummings was that for the most part they were designed to do exactly what a real card of Midre Cummings would do, which is lay there inert. If you interacted with paper cards by reading their stats, putting them in alphabetical order by team, and checking them off the checklist, you had far more up-close-and-personal contact with them than you could possibly have with one of the online models.
Online cards have largely passed from the firmament, leaving behind only slivers of RAM, but other cards from the low-tech-dressed-up-as-high-tech side of the street were not so lucky. We’ve touched on some of these cards and their pathetic attempts to show demi-realistic action or create the impression of perspective or depth. Sportflics, Upper Deck holograms, Donruss Die-Cuts, SkyBox E-Motion, and the Pro Set Young Indiana Jones 3-D cards all failed to one degree or another. To the extent that any of these products are collectible, it’s not because they created the sensation of reality or movement out of pictures on cardboard; it’s because they were so poorly received in the marketplace that they’re nearly (but not nearly enough) nonexistent.
In that hierarchy, the Super Slam this is my life™ series might be the nearly nonexistentest of the bunch. I have not seen any of these outside of the samples you see here, not that I go looking for them. As the quite late Steve Goodman astutely observed, “Don’t go lookin’ for trouble/Trouble will find you.” And in my world, trouble takes the shape of a die-cut Jack McDowell set on top of a picture of Jack McDowell.
Members of our department had to assemble custom boxes the other day for a promotional mailing, and I was amazed at the ingenuity in design that can turn a flat piece of cardboard into a tight, solid box with a parcel shelf, a goodie well, and a cutout for a USB drive. I do not have the same sort of admiration for the Super Slam this is my life™ series.
I suppose my feeling has to do with the relentless low-tech approach followed in creating these. As mentioned before, the Super Slam this is my life™ series overlays a player photo with the same photo only die-cut, and then encases the Piazza sandwich in a heavy silver checkerboard border. The McDowell "variant" (if you can call it that, since it has just as much claim to being the original deal as the Piazza card) features two heavy black borders surrounding a heavier silver checkerboard border. Regardless of your choice of variant (and as far as variants go, I prefer Hasil Adkins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nz9jR_AuLM), these are what Action Packed cards would have looked like if they had been designed by A-Ha and not some grumpy dude from Chicago.
The card back is scarcely larger than a normal card, but is packed to the gunwales with unreadable answers to unreal semi-questions, including “Earned Money As a Kid.” In Piazza’s case, he earned money as a kid driving truck, which if it wasn’t one of those battery-powered John Deere kiddie trucks is plumb full of interesting legal implications.
Is there more? Of course there is. Once you whip out the 10x loupe you learn that among Jack McDowell’s notable ancestors is Eddie Keane, a one-armed minor-league second baseman, and that his favorite song is his own composition called “Reinvent.”
Obviously the Super Slam this is my life™ series did nothing to stop the computer/internet/eBay onslaught. In that regard, it wasn’t someone holding a flower standing in front of a tank in Tienamen Square. It was an ant clutching a grain of pollen perched on a flower held by someone standing in front of a tank in Tienamen Square. It got squished beyond recognition, but the tank? The tank rolled on.
 This relationship between hard and vapor copy is virtually identical to most print magazines and their on-pad counterparts. While the on-pad magazine offers the most potential for interaction, most actual interaction takes place between the reader of a print magazine and the printed piece itself. And call me a fuddy-duddy, but I have yet to see the virtual magazine that can be rolled up and used in a pinch to cudgel a trespassing wasp.
 This revelation, along with the facts that McDowell’s favorite color is magenta and his favorite place to eat is Chicago’s Taco & Burrito Palace, is tempered by McDowell’s statements that his favorite athlete is Roger Clemens and his favorite show is American Gladiators. A complex one, that Black Jack.