Not Hooked on Heritage

“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”
― Chuck Palahniuk on Topps Heritage cards


What is it about Topps Heritage that leaves me cold? It’s the kind of idea I’m predisposed to love, but I don’t.

God knows I’ve tried to dig them. In fact, I collected/bought, a full 2007 Heritage master set, with a smattering of inserts. I don’t even like the original cards that much but there I was, scrambling for 1958 manqués (I love that word!), short prints and all. It’s perhaps in the misery of going after that set that my disdain for Heritage began.

I do love the 1959 design and was all prepared to go at it again in 2008, but there’s something missing in the faux-retro cards. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the new cards don’t seem to put in the effort, pictorially, of the old ones. Compare the two:


There’s something in Heritage that is fuzzy, fake, quasi-painterly, but not well-painted and not interesting. The hook is all in the design but, as this blog pointed out recently in its poll on favorite 1970’s cards, the attraction of a card goes beyond its mere design and Heritage, for me, points out that design alone doesn’t cut it. The photos need to be dynamic and appealing. It’s why cards like the 1953 Bowman set are so wonderful. There isn’t even a design to speak of; it’s simply a series of incredible pictures.


I dutifully bought two jumbo packs of the new Heritage. Eh. First of all, the 1968’s do nothing for me. Second, the photos left me flat. I ended up giving all the cards to my 21-year old who first wanted the Cubs, then took them all for the bus ride back to college.


The thing is he totally loved the cards! They were new to him, old in a non-defined way because he’s not bringing any old man baggage to a 49-year old design, but fresh. They may be enough to restart his interest in the hobby.

I think freshness is the key. An old design with mediocre photography doesn’t feel fresh to me, it feels tired. Maybe I’d feel different if the gimmick didn’t extend over a full set. I kind of like Topps Archive – several different old designs, with old players in new looks and new players in old looks. That works for me; Heritage most emphatically does not.


Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

16 thoughts on “Not Hooked on Heritage”

  1. You want to hear something funny about the human eye/brain? I think the Bautista photo is better, and less painted than the Berra. Bautista would be better with a non-spring training uniform, but otherwise I think the card (which is fairly meh card for the set) is better than Yogi’s. (I plan a counter-post to this, so I will leave off for now.) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post. There’s a weird dissonance in the heritage cards where the photos, uniforms, and logos don’t match the design at all. This is distinct from saying which photo is better than the other (I agree that the Bautista photo itself is better than Berra’s). But in the Bautista card we’ve got 1959 graphic design with a 1997 logo, shiny modern fabric, and a photo taken with a telephoto lens (on probably a digital SLR) using flash photography which is closer to Topps’s 1985/86 look.

    The Hosmer card works a lot better for me. Partly because they kept the diagonal shadow across his face as per Topps SOP. Partly because there’s no logo on the card front. And partly because the KC uniform is a much more classic look.

    I’d rather see the heritage cards using turn-back-the-clock day photos from medium format cameras (doesn’t have to be film), normal lenses, period-appropriate logos, and matching the card design to the uniform period.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. It’s less replicating the technology as it’s recognizing that different photography technologies lead to very different looks and that we’ve become adept at recognizing what the standard period-appropriate look is.

        I’d also find a series of cads featuring player-selfies to be fascinating but putting those photos into the 1959 template would just be silly.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My idea is a bit different. I love the designs of this period (1968 more than 1959, by the way), and much prefer the photo mix (portraits mainly) to the modern jazzed up action. If I were to use a set of baseball cards to use to remember the 2016 season, I would much prefer the Heritage set to the Topps regular set. I have the 2017 Heritage Kolten Wong card sitting next to me, and it was without question the best photograph of the man (a good looking man, by the way) I have ever seen. If you look at his regular card, you would have no idea what he looked like. (When I was 12, I could have picked out most major league players if I saw them in a shopping mall.)

    HOWEVER. What I would prefer is if you find a few interns at the Rhode Island School of Design, you hand them some baseball cards from the 1958-71 era, and say “design us a card set that fits in with this but does not replicate any of them.” Get five proposals, and the winning proposal gets the card set. I don’t need the design replicated, but I want the spirit replicated.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. The portrait vs action thing is a great discussion which deserves to be its own thing distinct from the “heritage or not” discussion. I remember loving the action shots when I was a kid (yay Score!) but I also agree that it was fantastic to know what these guys looked like. When I was collecting autographs often the card photo was the only thing I had to go on for identification purposes.

        The idea of replicating the heritage spirit is a great one. I’m reminded again of the Topps Big cards in the early 90s which managed to capture a lot of the spirit of those mid-1950s cards in their “cut out headshot overlaid on action shot” horizontal layout but were also very much of their era as well. The other thing which bugs me about the heritage cards is that the parts which are of today feel like design mistakes rather than being intentional.

        And yes, I’m not collecting again (yet) but every time I walk past the card aisle at Target the heritage cards cause me to purse my lips.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I buy one pack of Heritage every year and almost always feel very disappointed. I just bought this year’s 2017 pack and I actually liked it better than usual. However, will I buy more packs? Not sure yet.

    You alluded to the weird painty quality of the players faces. I know…..right! Every year that bugs the crap out of me. And you’re right about Topps Archives. Those are the bomb! I buy at least one box of those every year because they use the real photography without messing it up….using the old card designs. Brilliant!


  5. I like seeing the designs of old Topps cards being used for Topps Heritage cards. As I collect last cards of players, I especially like to get the Topps Heritage cards of players who have a Topps Heritage card that is their latest or last Topps card. Many players at the end of their careers don’t have the regular issued Topps Card or Topps Update card. If Topps does not have a 2017 regular issue card for David Ortiz or Alex Rodriquez but has a Topps Heritage card for them, I will be ordering these cards. I get a regular issue Topps set every year and purchase single Update or Heritage cards for players that are not in the main Topps set

    Liked by 3 people

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