QR codes bring sports memorabilia to life in a spectacular way

By Jeffrey S. Copeland

NOTE: The following piece is intended to be informational only and is not meant to be a recommendation by either the author or SCD. Issues of copyright and “Fair Use” are at play, and it is up to each individual to check out these areas for his/her individual case before moving forward with any of what is to follow.

All of us have special moments we recall from time to time involving sporting events we attended, listened to on the radio, or saw on television, either live or through historical footage.

One in particular that stands out for me was “Seat Cushion Night” on April 18, 1987 at Busch Stadium II in St. Louis. Tommy Herr knocked a walk-off grand slam off Jesse Orosco in the bottom of the 10th inning to win a see-saw game between my Cardinals and the New York Mets. As soon as the ball left the yard, thousands upon thousands of fans—me included—threw our give-away seat cushions down to the field below. For several minutes the fans cheered the victory and threw the white cushions; it looked like it was snowing.

I’ll never forget that game, and now, through the technology we have, I can relive and watch the excitement of that night every time I enter my sports memorabilia room and pick up my ticket from that game. How, you ask? Through the magic of QR code.

I was introduced to QR technology by a gentleman who has an expansive and impressive collection of baseball memorabilia, one of the finest I’ve ever seen. For obvious security reasons, we’ll just call him “Ed from the Midwest.” One evening at his home as we discussed the newest acquisitions to our collections, Ed said, “I have something to show you that I think is pretty fun.” He walked to a shelf and handed me a PSA-encapsulated ticket stub. The date on the ticket didn’t ring any bells for me. Seeing the curious look on my face, he said, “It’s from the game when Mickey Mantle hit his last home run. Watch this.”

Using his smartphone, he scanned a small QR code sticker at the bottom left of the case, and instantly footage from an Old-Timers Game at Yankee Stadium started playing on his phone. Whitey Ford was pitching, and he served up a fast one that The Mick rocketed out of the park as everyone stood, cheered, and laughed; after all, it was an Old-Timers game. The video, in a word, was magnificent.

“How’d you do that?” I asked, my mouth dropping open.

A collector from the Midwest has added QR codes to the cases of some of his graded tickets. One of the QR codes on this ticket for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when scanned, will lead to video of the ground ball getting by Bill Buckner, through his legs.

Over the next several minutes Ed explained to me the magic of QR code and how it can be used to bring our special pieces of sports memorabilia to life in ways I didn’t have a clue existed. At the same time, Ed went down the row of his impressive collection of PSA encapsulated tickets, each one of special importance to him or representing an iconic event in baseball history, some of which included the following: a ticket to the game on April 8, 1974 during which Hank Aaron clubbed the home run to pass Babe Ruth’s record; the night the ball rolled through poor Bill Buckner’s legs; Bucky Dent’s devastating home run in the Yankees/Red Sox playoff game in 1978; a slew of tickets for games during which players hit their 500th home run; tickets from perfect games; those from 3,000 hit milestone games; just about all the modern games during which major records were broken; and other special moments in baseball history. Each encapsulated ticket had a QR code attached, so footage from the event could be seen by a simple swipe of his phone.

One ticket in particular that really grabbed my emotions was from the day Roger Maris hit his 61st home run to pass Ruth’s single season record. Maris was one of my childhood heroes, and as I stood there while Ed scanned the QR code so we could watch that thrilling moment, chills ran up my spine again. The video might have been a tad on the grainy side, but it also invoked in me a moment in time that is frozen forever in the memories of my youth.

At the conclusion of just the first couple rows of tickets, I was in such awe I literally didn’t know what to say. To look at a ticket for a special game in baseball history, to hold that ticket in one’s hand, is very special in its own right and provides a wonderful connection to the history and lore of the game. However, seeing footage of the events of that game while holding the ticket was, for me, like being drawn back in time, like “being there” as a bystander in those glorious moments—or inglorious, as in Mr. Buckner’s case.

When I could finally find my tongue again, I rattled off question after question, hoping Ed would share his knowledge with me. He didn’t disappoint, which is one of the wonderful aspects of our hobby. When someone gathers new knowledge that will benefit other collectors, most of the time that person is more than happy to pass along what he or she can so that others can achieve the same enjoyment. In this case, these were my questions and Ed’s responses.

A graded ticket from the game Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. The QR codes allow the collector to “witness” the event.

I first asked how/why he came up with the idea of using the QR technology with his sports collectibles. As it is with so many collectors, Ed was looking for a special way to display items new to his collection that would help illustrate their significance and, at the same time, make them come to life as much as possible.

He first toyed with the idea of making a type of video montage in CD format and having that available to play when he looked at the items himself or when he brought visitors through his collection.

While discussing this with a co-worker, the idea of using QR technology came up, and it wasn’t long before Ed made his first attempt, using the ticket from the game during which Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record. Ed was so pleased with the result he started doing the same for his other special tickets, which also include, just to name a few, those from the following games: Willie Mays’ “The Catch” game in the 1954 World Series; Pete Rose’s 3,000th hit game; Nolan Ryan’s 7th no-hitter; Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game; and the last game at Ebbets Field.

Ed then explained that once he became proficient with the technology, his passion for collecting special tickets increased and a new, second phase of “acquisition” became more of a challenge for him, one he greatly enjoys. In short, as he acquired new tickets, he needed to search for videos to link to them through the QR technology, and this wasn’t always easy.

At that point, I asked him if there were special challenges involved in linking the tickets and videos, and he responded by telling me the stories of his two favorite tickets to illustrate those challenges.

The QR codes attached to this ticket from Thurman Munson’s final game reveals a news account about the airplane crash Munson was in, as well as a short documentary about Munson’s life.

The first ticket was from Thurman Munson’s last game.

“Nobody knew that was going to be his last game—that he was going to die soon after in that plane crash, so there isn’t any special video out there of that game,” Ed said. “So, I had to decide what I wanted to link to the ticket. I finally decided on a news account of the crash and a short documentary about Munson’s life. He was my favorite player as a young boy, and his passing really crushed me. For this reason, I wanted this ticket badly—and wanted to honor his memory by the video clips I chose.”

In other words, Ed told me it isn’t always possible to find the actual footage involved from a special event, so a person needs to be creative in finding links that will help illustrate the moment.

Just a few moments after we discussed the need for creativity in linking tickets to the video, Ed handed me his favorite ticket of all time, Game 1 of the 1919 World Series. Again, there isn’t any footage of the actual game readily available to collectors, so Ed found some “general” footage of that World Series he could link through QR code.

However, what makes the experience of holding this ticket so special is he also used the QR code to link to the “trailer” for the movie Eight Men Out, which tells a fairly complete and accurate account of that series, which happens to be Ed’s favorite area of study in baseball history. Again, just having the ticket was special enough in its own right; however, watching the footage while holding the ticket made the experience priceless.

At this point, many not familiar with the QR technology may be wondering, “Well, what do we do so that we can experience the same thing with our tickets and other memorabilia?” Ed listed the following steps, which are not as daunting as they first appear:

1) Download to your computer a “QR Code Generator” from the internet. There is no charge for the QR Code Generator.

2) After the QR Code Generator is downloaded, it is time for Step Two. You must search YouTube or other sites hosting video clips to find those clips that you want to match up with the ticket (or other item, which will be discussed later on in this piece).

3) Step Three is using the QR Code Generator to “paste in” the URL address of the video clip you want to use with the ticket.

4) When the URL is pasted in the appropriate box on the QR Code Generator, a QR code is then generated (see photos for examples of the small square symbol).

5) Save the newly created QR code for the video to your computer’s desktop. NOTE: There are other ways to do this, but saving the code to the desktop is one of the easiest, so it is recommended for first-time users of this technology.

6) Print out the QR code (the small square image) in a size appropriate to attach to the item. NOTE: It is NOT recommended that the codes be attached directly to the items because of the damage that will no doubt result. This is why Ed recommends attaching the codes to encapsulated items so that the codes never touch the actual pieces of memorabilia. Ed also offered one other special tip for first-time users: purchase sticky-backed copy paper for the printer so that it will be easy to attach the code to the case housing the item.

7) Download the QR App to your smartphone. Your smartphone will then be ready to read the QR codes.

8) Finally, if you get lost anywhere along this process of learning to use the technology, there are always two lifelines available. First, YouTube has about a half dozen videos that show in great detail how to download the QR Code Generator and then how to use the technology. These videos are very easy to follow even for those of us who aren’t all that tech savvy. Second, if all else fails, ask a teenager for help. Just about everyone under the age of 20 is already proficient in the use of this technology.

Will there be issues with the technology the first time you try to use the QR code?

Scanning the QR code on this graded ticket reveals Willie Mays’ “The Catch” game from the 1954 World Series.

Probably—because many of us in the hobby didn’t grow up with computers. Still, even a dinosaur like myself was able to understand this technology and how it is used after just a few sessions of trial-and-error. The effort was worth it because I’ve now added a new dimension to my collecting, one I wish I had years ago.

QR technology has opened a whole new world in my collection in that my displays are no longer static; they are now active, alive, full of the “excitement of the moment” added through the special video links. When I use my phone to scan the QR code that links my ticket to “Seat Cushion Night,” I’m instantly at that game again and am just as giddy as I first was when Herr hit that grand slam. For me, this is what collecting is all about.

I had two final questions for Ed. The first was “Which tickets do you now consider your ‘Holy Grail’ tickets—those you have been searching for a long time?” He didn’t hesitate in his response.

“The ticket from Bobby Thompson’s ‘Shot Heard Around the World’ game in 1951 and Babe Ruth’s ‘Called Shot’ game in 1932. They won’t be easy to find, but I’ve already chosen the videos I’d like to link to them.”

My second question was more of a QR code question. I asked if he had thought of using the same technology for collectibles other than tickets. So far, he is sticking with the tickets, but we did discuss the possibilities for attaching QR code to link baseball cards—and why not football cards and other types as well?—with special videos.

The QR code for this ticket takes a collector to video of Bucky Dent’s famous playoff game home run against the Boston Red Sox in 1978.

An example that immediately came to my mind was taking an encapsulated card of Roger Maris and linking it to the video of him hitting the homer that broke Ruth’s single season record. Or, how about linking Vin Scully’s call of the last inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game to his Topps card of that year? How about linking the video of Stan Musial’s “Farewell Speech” to his 1963 Topps card? All of these videos are readily available. The bottom line is it is entirely up to each person when it comes to what videos and other links should be used.

In terms of using the QR code with other items—bats, baseballs, gloves, posters, and so forth—usage would have to be in such a way that the items themselves would not be damaged by placement of the QR code stickers. Therefore, proceed with caution if you’re using items other than encapsulated ones.

As a final note, I’d like to suggest that grading services like PSA, SGC, Beckett, and others look into acquiring rights to some of the historic videos that are out there and are readily available for viewing. If groups like these can gain legal access and rights to their use for commercial purposes—and then can offer these codes, at an extra fee of course, on items they grade/authenticate and encapsulate—imagine how this could alter the course of the hobby.

Again, a level of excitement could be added to our collections that would bring them to life in ways so special to us all. I hope some of these groups are listening.u

Jeffrey S. Copeland is a freelance writer for Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at jscottcope@gmail.com.

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