Given the advances in computer technology these days — smartphones, iPads, tablets have opened the Internet in ways that were not dreamed of 20 years ago — the 1997 Donruss VXP 1.0 CD-ROM set looks quaint.
But it was one of the earliest attempts to bring baseball cards into the computer age. In fact, Donruss marketed the product as the “First-Ever Collectable CD ROM Trading Card.” That “first-ever” claim is mentioned twice on the box front. The “VXP” was shorthand for “visual experience.”
So, the collectible was collectable (choose your spelling), retailing for about $10. The 4-inch by 2 ¾-inch “card” was a 60 megabyte CD with a posed player shot and an action shot on the front. There were six players with CDs: Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux.
Donruss was targeting players that appeared to be likely candidates for the Hall of Fame. Ripken, Maddux and Thomas already have plaques in Cooperstown, and Griffey Jr. appears to be a slam-dunk in his first season of eligibility. Piazza has a decent chance of being inducted as well. A-Rod is still active, and whether he makes it to the Hall, given his history of performance enhancing drugs, is debatable.
Nevertheless, Donruss picked a good cross-section of players to introduce its product. In addition, each box contained a pack of 10 Donruss VXP 1.0 trading cards. This was a 50-card set that included all six players who were on the CD-ROM, plus other stars like Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Tony Gwynn.
Donruss told its customers that a free screen saver was available when all six CDs were purchased.
Here are some of the specs that were needed to run this revolutionary product: it was compatible for Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Macintosh. A collector needed 8 MB of RAM and 2.5 MB of free space on his or her hard drive. A double speed (2X) CD-ROM was necessary; the package noted that “this collectible CD will work in CD-ROM drives that have a built-in tray for the CD (most personal computers ship with this kind of drive). It will not work in a CD-ROM drive that has a removable caddy.”
For its time, there were some nice interactive features. A player profile promised to give “the inside scoop” on his career. Art of the Game broke down actual game footage to disclose the player’s fundamentals and abilities that qualified him to be an All-Star.
Cardography was basically a checklist of cards Donruss had issued for that particular player, and Statistics broke down the numbers that made each player so effective. “We have taken the back of the card to new heights!” Donruss trumpeted on the back of the box.
Finally, a trivia game called Swings & Misses included questions in varying degrees of difficulty, and a collector was certain to get a different trivia question each time he or she logged in.
It seemed so revolutionary back then. And baseball card companies have embraced the Internet platform with digital cards (Topps has run several through the year), games (Topps BUNT comes to mind) and polls (Upper Deck invited fans recently to choose an image for top NHL prospect Connor McDavid).
But in 1997, Donruss dipped its toe into the computer age — and that paved the way for more advances in trading card technology.