Uninspired and Uninspiring

Give My Regards to Broad Street. Ring a bell? It was big box office flop, brought to us by Paul McCartney in 1984. As much as a fan I was (and still am), I didn’t have the nerve to see it then. Never have.

I do have the soundtrack though. There are some decent originals, and many new versions of Beatles songs. Maybe not so new. They’re fine, but they’re not the same, merely pointless imitations of finer originals. (When asked about them, George Harrison said “I didn’t notice that they were new versions.”)

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My thoughts on Topps Heritage are well known and previously written about. Bringing back old designs, almost the same, but not quite, does nothing for me. The old designs are wrapped in the romance of their time, and how old we were when we got them.

Like these two:

No one‘s going to tell me these cards aren’t awesome, near mirror images of two, by time of issue, ex-Mets, Shea Stadium a glorious backdrop.

I love those two cards. In fact, the Bobby Pfeil is my single favorite card in that set, the one I think of when I think of 1970 baseball cards. It’s only special because I was 7 years old and it’s wrapped in gauzy nostalgia.

I was in Target a few days ago and checked out the card shelves. There was one lonely pack of Heritage tucked away. I held it, put it down, picked it up, walked away, thought that maybe I’d hit something worthwhile, walked back, grabbed it, put it back down, thought about how, though I’d never know, maybe if I didn’t buy it I would’ve left a Pilots autograph behind, went back, grabbed it and bought it.

Here are the nine cards. Completely uninspired and uninspiring, not a single thing to make me buy any more.

Now here’s a random sample of nine 1970 cards.

Why does the original matter more? It’s not because of the look – muted gray, standard era photos. The magic is in what they were and who I was when I was buying these packs. That cannot be claimed for Heritage, not this year or any year.

And yet, there’s nothing intrinsically more worthy of Frank Quilici than of Victor Arano (though time may prove me wrong on Arano). Both are pretty non-descript. Yet, the Quilici card has a quality the Arano doesn’t. It doesn’t seem quite as antiseptic, not so perfectly rendered. Maybe it’s the naked guy in a towel at the left of the 1970 card. There’s a sloppiness there that wouldn’t pass today, unless it was intentionally created as a short print for collectors to buy more hobby boxes than retail boxes.

Anyway, many of you enjoy Heritage, and my curmudgeonly ways mean little. However, my disdain for the product leaves more packs available for all of you and for that, you’re welcome.

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.

20 thoughts on “Uninspired and Uninspiring”

  1. Great post! It goes straight to the matter of emotional connection. Generally, there’s no reason why any of us “old guys” would be enamored of any brand of Steven Strasbourg card, or a LL card with Verlandler +2, etc., really. They are not our guys.

    Still, for me, there are redeeming features for ’19 Heritage. Javier Baez looks cool busting through a newspaper page. Betts look great smiling on the front of a New Age Performer card with the 1960’s concert handbill script in the top corners. Fun.

    I built a 2019 Topps Series I, 1-350 set out of packs. I bought the 2019T/1984 Finest silver pack set. Plus a few one-off inserts. I didn’t take the plunge on Heritage. One current set per year, for me, is plenty to keep my collector brain in the modern game a bit.

    But riddle me this – Shea Stadium: “Glorious”? Or just a concrete slab festooned with perplexing metallic confetti?

    Thank you for the Towel Guy. That’s Amazin’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny, because I think of Shea in the same way I think of the cards. It was a great place to be at a certain time of my life, but if I went to an almost exact replica of Shea today, it would suck.

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  2. Man, I think my favorite song for an entire year was “No More Lonely Nights!”

    I didn’t start collecting till 1978 so when I saw a Heritage 1970 Acuna with the big all-star rookie trophy, my first reaction was “AWESOME LOOKING CARD!” Still, I fully expect to HATE the 1978 offering when that day comes for exactly the reasons you cite with 1970.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had a few discussions on Twitter about the absence of character in the photography this year. Where I liked a lot of last year’s Heritage because it showed off how strong the 69 design was with good photography throughout, this year’s copies the design (even improves on it in some ways due to printing the border in a solid grey ink rather than a black screen) but has, with some exceptions (Neshek, Frazier, Santana, Span, Altuve for instance), drained everything that I find interesting about 1970’s design.

    I have no nostalgic connection to any of these designs but I love the 1970 set because of how casual the photography is. Jeff calls it sloppy but for me it’s more of a formal vs informal thing. 1970 is one of the most informally photographed sets I’ve seen and that aspect distinguishes it above everything else.

    Heritage has entered a period of Topps’s design history where the photography is distinct from anything else. I know Olbermann’s consulting on some of this but it’s clear that Topps is treating those as easter eggs rather than part of the design itself. I’m unable and unwilling to treat those as distinct items. This isn’t a call for a slavish reproduction but rather hoping that Topps’s designers are able to grok how the nostalgia/heritage aspect they’re relying on to sell these sets is the entire package.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been thinking about when Topps has nailed the photographic identity of a Heritage set and only 2013 Heritage’s take on 1964 Topps with all those extremely tight head shots really came to mind. Most of the time Topps ends up trying to copy the superficial artifacts of aging and 50-year-old printing rather than understanding the actual content of the set.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The nostalgia is precisely the reason I buy the heritage, they take me right back to a time when MLB and baseball cards were magical. So last weekend I bet to a local show, spent 10$ on 100 commons, whichever cards spoke to me: Reds, good poses/photos, fav players, Sporting News, league leaders, playoff/WS cards. Other than a Reds Topps team set, Heritage is usually all I buy. I find them beautiful (although I can see why some may find them antiseptic). Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My son is the collector of Heritage. I usually contribute a hobby box. He told the other day that he enjoys Heritage because it helps us connect. My issue with modern cards is their stagged nature and the repetitive action shots. Give me naked guys in background and open flies.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. While 1970T is one of my least favorite Topps sets, I do look forward to picking up a couple of packs. I do like the All-star subset and definitely need to get a Neshek/Lowell Palmer card.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I enjoy your essays very much and those of your SABR peers. I’m quite fond of the Heritage sets and I think it was (and remains) a great idea. The ‘70 set was the first I completed in the year it came out. We liked it because the four expansion teams were all in their proper togs, as opposed to most of the ‘69s, save 7th series. Actually, I think that the ‘19 set features better photography than previously. Fewer BHNH (big head no hat) and warmup jersey shots. What amazes me are the men who buy 17 cases (!?) of the things. Seems nutso to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There is nothing quite like a 1977 Leo Foster waiting to take BP at Shea, or Mike Vail with the backdrop and fake backswing. That feeling is exactly why I understand you here, Jeff. Those were the first packs I bought and opened from TG&Y and Rexall.

    Like

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