Hooked on Heritage

A few weeks ago, Jeff Katz wrote a post to say that he was not enamored with the Topps Heritage line. As for me, I am firmly on #TeamHeritage.

I am a new convert — I mostly picked up a handful of packs over the years without getting carried away — but have spent the past few months attempting to complete sets for 2014 through 2016, and am working on this year as well. (I am currently shy about 50 short prints total for the four years.) Perhaps not coincidentally, the first cards I had as a child were from 1967, so last year’s Heritage (which uses the 1967 design) had a pretty strong pull.

The best Heritage cards are the ones showing a player from a team that existed at the time of the original, where the whiff of nostalgia is at its most powerful.

Roseboro  Ethier

I prefer the angle of the 1967 Roseboro to the 2016 Ethier, with more trees in the background rather than the darkened sky, but these are both good shots from the same pose family. Those of us who revere the 1967 cards appreciate that Topps uses the same color for the team names when it can.

Joe-Pepitone  MillerAndrew

The cards that work less for me are the ones where the uniform is too modern, something that does not match the classy older designs.

2016-Topps-Heritage-Base-SP-Bryce-Harper-215x300  2016-T-Her-70-Kris-Bryant

If you are going to go to the trouble of having this set, why not take the extra step and wait until a day when they are wearing the more conservative togs?

2017-Topps-Heritage-Baseball-Base-SP-427-Bryce-Harper-215x300  2017-Topps-Heritage-Baseball-Base

Same two players in 2017, and much better in both cases. In my opinion, Topps did a great job with their first 500 cards this year — the best Heritage set they have done. (There are 200 more, the high numbers, coming later this summer.) I am not asking the players to cut their hair, remove their tattoos, or tuck in their shirts. I am just asking Topps to better match the subject with the design.

2016-topps-heritage-475a-carlos-correa-sp-bx-25l-af5421c476315e3c3139914e3b7f0ccd  2016-Topps-Heritage-482A-Francisco-Lindor-SP

And, while you are at it, you don’t need to use a deliberately blurred background (above), something Topps latched onto in recent years but certainly did not use in 1967 (below).

download  LYU32_1182_lg

But you know what? No one is more romantic about baseball cards of the 1960s than I am, but those sets were filled with hatless (or hat-blackened) photos, or blurry photos, or bored looking subjects. For me, the Heritage cards are not competing with the old sets. They are competing with the Topps flagship.

Since I still like building modern sets to help me follow the baseball season, which cards am I going to want to look at?

5117tGySNlL._SY445_  41G2EjbrzFL

2017-Topps-Heritage-Baseball-Base-SP-450-Mike-Trout-216x300 (1)  2017-Topps-Heritage-Baseball-Base-SP-428-Mookie-Betts-217x300

While Topps has some nice poses this year on their main set, I prefer the bottom cards. I grew up knowing what all these guys looked like, and the Heritage cards help me do that.

To close, let me say this: I do not need the old designs. What I most want is the old design philosophy: the childish, whimsical elements; the cartoons, the quizzes, the fun.

What I propose is that Topps take a stack of cards from the 1960s to a local art school, and say: “Design a baseball card that looks like it would fit in with these. Don’t repeat these designs, but make a new one that belongs to the same school.” Choose the best one, and make a baseball set.

Hell, make it the flagship set. Too radical a change? Maybe, but wasn’t 1971 a radical change? Or 1975? We lived.

I suspect the kids of today would love it, and might fall in love with the game as I did … after first following in love with the cardboard that acted as my guide.

Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, co-chair of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

9 thoughts on “Hooked on Heritage”

      1. The Wills also set an all-time record for the quickest turnaround for Topps. The first time Wills was in Shea Stadium as a Pirate was in 1967, yet here he is on a Topps card later that same summer.

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  1. I love the heritage look and the texture is much better than glossy. For TTM collectors like me you can’t beat the heritage cards!

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  2. I’m noticing that you’ve highlighted the Heritage card designs which don’t even use the team logos. That totally fits in with the “works with conservative uniforms” aspect of them all (it annoys the hell out of me when a heritage set uses the modern version of a team’s logo instead of the correct vintage one).

    Also, about the deliberately blurred backgrounds. A lot of that is a side effect of the change in camera technology. Pretty sure that the super-blurred background photos are taken with telephoto lenses during the game. Those tend to blur the backgrounds a lot more than proper portraits taken with much shorter lenses.

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