Splitting Hairs

Last week I Tweeted this:

  • 2001 Upper Deck Decade 1970s. Always liked these. Bought the 75 I needed to complete the set via @Sportlots. Even with postage it was about .25 per card. @SABRbbcards

To which, Rob Neyer replied, “Aren’t you the guy who doesn’t like Heritage?” (I paraphrase.)

Yes, that is me, the guy who doesn’t like Heritage, for reasons stated here. Why do I like Upper Deck’s version of a classic Topps design? It got me thinking.

I’m not anti-nostalgia, which I think people assume goes hand in hand with my disdain for Heritage. Collecting cards is, by definition, a nostalgic enterprise and even buying new packs and sets is an attempt to recreate an old, warm feeling.

What I like about the Upper Deck set is that it isn’t marketing itself as some kind of replica product, updated, which has always been a false claim of any Heritage set. The differences between Heritage and the originals are deep, as I posted about, and mar the effort for me. They don’t feel the same; they come across as less than accurate knockoffs. They’re replicants and their flaws come out.

Upper Deck doesn’t try to mimic the past. Rather the Decade set is an homage, stealing a design as close to 1975 Topps as likely legal. The pictures are nearly all great (some black and white photos negatively affect the overall look) and the set evokes the era nicely.


The subsets are swell, a mini-history of the ten years. All in all, there’s a lot crammed into a 180 card base set.


As Tweeted, I had more than half the set and, at .18 per card (pre-postage), it was more than worth my while to finish the whole thing. I got a big stack of cards and a complete set.

I try very hard not be generation based, and avoid at all costs the “everything was better when I was a kid” mentality (it wasn’t). One of the things I enjoy about this Committee, and the Twitter baseball card world, is that collectors younger than I have the same feeling about 1989 Topps as I have about 1971 Topps and that’s as it should be. Cards are like music – what you love as a kid stays your truest love. There’s a reason that John Lennon always preferred Chuck Berry. Lennon was a kid when he first heard him.

And maybe that’s at the root of my Heritage problem. I don’t need to see today’s players framed as if they were players then. Baseball is the only sport whose fans insist that the players of today are lesser than the players of their youth. “Clayton Kershaw isn’t half the pitcher Jim Bunning was. You know Bunning used to throw 300 innings a year?” We’ve all heard variations of this insipid argument. Spare me.

So let today’s players have their own design and let the ‘70’s players have theirs, or something close.


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.

9 thoughts on “Splitting Hairs”

  1. So I just read this post over on Fangraphs and it captures A LOT of my problems with Heritage and seems like it accurately describes your issues too. Salient pull-quote:

    By successfully merging the old and the new, they destroy the old’s ability to actually mark itself in time. That odd dichotomy between the 1992 teal font tinted to 1986 and worn in 2019, however, need not merely be an aesthetic choice gone awry. It is instead the cultural logic of baseball’s late turn, the victory of corporate synergy abolishing the real past to the dustbin of inefficient, expensive history in favor of flexible flows of cheap labor and rosters designed by algorithms.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. tangential, I know, but perhaps Lennon liked Chuck Berry ’cause Chuck Berry was a musical genius, and Lennon knew that even as a kid

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Let’s not give Upper Deck too much credit here . . . you see a design that kinds of plays at being a ’75 Topps but stops short because it would be, I dunno, aesthetically dishonest? I see a company that, like Fleer, did its best to follow in the footsteps of Topps after Heritage became a bid deal. Only trouble was that Upper Deck and Fleer didn’t have a “heritage” of their own that was old enough to recreate. So you ended up with things like 2001-03 Upper Deck Vintage (complete rip-offs of ’63, ’71 and ’65 Topps designs, respectively) or 2000-01 Fleer Tradition (complete rip-offs of ’54 and ’56 Topps designs, respectively).

    The point being, UD and Fleer had no problem doing what Topps was doing . . . they were just reduced to borrowing what Topps did in the past.

    I’ve got a set of the ’01 UD Decades 1970s collection in a box somewhere . . . I can’t say it’s one of my favorites, because it’s a fairly unattractive set. with mediocre photography and garish design elements into which not a lot of thought seems to have been put. I kind of wanted to like it better, but have never been able to embrace it.

    As for Heritage, you’re more than entitled to not like the concept. I would never suggest otherwise. But the more you hammer the point, the more it sounds like you’re trying to rationalize your feelings. Sort of like that Fangraph excerpt from the piece on the Mariners . . . if one has to go to that length to explain why one doesn’t like something, one ends up sounding like one is trying to convince oneself, not others.

    I own a set of every Heritage release, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with it. But those problems are kind of the opposite of yours. I have this sense that, unless Keith Olbermann stopped by for a visit, there is very little if any institutional memory in the room at Topps, and that they’re producing sets the appeal of which they don’t actually understand. So my problem isn’t the concept, it’s the execution. A few years into the program, it started to feel like Topps was going through motions and couldn’t be bothered to figure out the elements that made those sets so special. And even when they get it right (e.g., the photography and presentation of the last three Heritage sets have looked great), they get it wrong (e.g., the same pose for every hitter, the same pose for every pitcher).

    And yet I thoroughly enjoy the Heritage sets. Putting new players on old designs doesn’t cheapen the experience of appreciating the originals at all. But that’s just me. And, since the brand is now 19 years old, obviously many others, too. When people lose interest, Topps will stop making it.

    You’re right, of course, when you say “Cards are like music – what you love as a kid stays your truest love.” My iPod is jam-packed with ’60s pop and classic rock, and my 1967 Topps set will always be the center of my collection. But to suggest that Heritage circumvents the right of today’s players to have their own design is ridiculous, because of course they DO have their own design. Several of them, in fact, over a variety of brands. I just wish Topps had done a BETTER job of executing the 2016 Heritage set with the 1967 design . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to all this; it really just comes down to personal preference. I respect and kind of understand your misgivings about Heritage. I just don’t agree with them. The difference probably gets to the ways we each regard the iconic card designs and the place they hold in our respective experience. But the marketplace will make the final call on how long it goes on. When no one wants to buy the product any more, Topps will stop making it. As much as I’ve enjoyed Heritage, there are a lot of designs from the ’80s and ’90s in which I have little interest in seeing resurrected . . .

      Liked by 1 person

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