In which I get insulted by Topps Heritage

With cards only just making their way into retail stores I haven’t been able to procure even a blaster and so I’ve been unable to keep up with my annual dive into the printing weeds. Given the simplicity of the 1973 design I wasn’t expecting to find enough for a post anyway. No obvious things to improve upon or change like 1969/2018’s photography or 1970/2019’s grey borders. No interesting reveals like 1971/2020’s black borders. And no impending trainwrecks like 1972/2021’s typesetting.

I was mainly hoping for clever homages of the best things that 1973 did such as the Jack Brohamer and Mark Belanger pair of cards. I’m hoping the Twitter hive mind will turn up something like that here.

The only cards I got were my Giants team set courtesy of  case break. At first I was extremely satisfied since at an individual card level things looked mostly nice. Some of the usual Heritage photo smoothing and fake trapping shenanigans* but that’s standard with the territory.

*I haven’t really posted about these since I don’t know how to describe them but in short whatever photo processing Topps is doing to make things look older has bothered me for years.

Then I looked closer and realized that of fifteen cards in the base team set, twelve not only use the same background they in fact use the exact same background. This isn’t wholly unexpected since many teams have been posting photo day shots on Twitter than show players posed in front of a green screen. But I also expected a bit more effort from Topps instead of just pasting each player in front of a single stock background image.

I’ve gone ahead and turned my twelve Giants cards into an animated gif that shows how the backgrounds are identical, right down to the exact same cloud formations. I get it. Lead times are short. Creating a complete set is a lot of work. But still this level of templating is the kind of green screen photos that every family attraction used to ambush us with immediately after we entered the front gates.

It offends me professionally as a designer and it disappoints me personally as someone who loves baseball cards. It also shows that Topps is dialing up the worst qualities of their glory days. As much as I like those cards it’s a sad truth that many of them have the same handful of poses in front of the same kind of stadium background.

The difference though is that even with the sameness of location those cards have life to them. There are random dudes in the background. Players are bundled up against the elements. The photographer moves around the stadium so we end up with multiple views of the same place. Heritage instead is completely sterile and once you see how sterile it is you find yourself wishing for the awkwardness of the 1973 George Scott no matter how bad the compositing is.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

22 thoughts on “In which I get insulted by Topps Heritage”

  1. Nick, thanks for posting. Shame on the lazy Topps folks. FYI, the animated flashing of the cards made me queasy because it’s a split second interval of change. Too fast.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Every year I think “This is the year I get out of the Heritage rat race,” but I never do. I will see if this year changes the pattern. Between the “meh” design of 1973 and 1974 and the laziness of Topps (yet again), maybe it will be this year. Those binders take up a whole of of space, and aren’t cheap, either.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. If I do, I will definitely be back for 1975, which I love, plus 1976-78, the first three sets I really collected.

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  3. Good catch on the backgrounds.

    “But I also expected a bit more effort from Topps instead of just pasting each player in front of a single stock background image.”

    I see this type of comment a lot when people are reviewing a design or release. At this point, I am shocked people are still… shocked with the quality and effort. With a release every few weeks, I cannot imagine they are given any real time to work on these, let alone enough time to get the creative juices flowing.

    Sterile is the perfect word.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was the year I finally cut the cord on Heritage. From 2001, when the first ’52s rolled off the press, I collected every card in the base set, every basic inert set. But I’ve vowed to stop this spring. Part of it was because last year’s 1972 design represented the end point of my childhood phase of collecting. But mostly, it was because I, too, felt insulted by Topps’ approach to this particular cash cow.

    What Nick details here, I began to notice as long ago as 2015. It was easy for me, as a Chicago White Sox fan, to see . . . at some point, I started to recognize “the spot” in almost every White Sox card, the spot being the place with a very distinctive Southwest coloring in the background, probably out round back from the clubhouse, that showed up in the majority of White Sox cards every year. Clearly, Topps was just lining them up and shooting them from the same place with the same two poses . . . every year.

    But beyond that, I’ve noticed a sameness in the poses for all teams, the batter pose, the pitcher pose . . . shuffle through a set of 2021 Heritage, and you’ll see it, a lack of any deviation from the standard.

    Topps has essentially given up on making this set in any way special. You don’t like all action photos? Well, here’s your old-timey poses. Except, they’ve become an homage to a style, and not to the sets of the designs they’re using.

    Topps originally DID make an effort . . . the original 2001 set did mimic the ’52s in a number of ways, including the size of the set, the back-of-the-card color variations for the first part of the set, and matching the numbering of the Heritage short prints to the ’52 high-numbered cards. Sometimes they’d do tributes to particularly memorable cards (compare the ’58 Whammy Douglas to the ’07 Heritage Boone Logan). But at some point, the sets all became 500 cards, the inevitable short prints became the last 100 cards of the set . . . and the poses all became the same.

    And that is indeed insulting. There is no way anyone at Topps can argue that they’re still making an effort to do something worth buying, because clearly they’re doing it by rote every year. I’m going to keep the 21 years worth of Heritage in my own collection. I still get a kick out of seeing modern stars in the card designs I collected in my youth, as well as the older designs that loom large in the hobby’s own culture. But with a string of years coming up of card designs I didn’t even like in the original form and no indication that Topps is going to put any thought into them, I’m done throwing my money down that particular rat hole.

    Thanks for putting your own thoughts out there, Nick . . . you can be sure they’re shared by a lot of us.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. To be fair to Topps, I guess they DID make some effort at an homage in this year’s set. Just took a look at Jonathan India’s Heritage card for this year, and the image on his second baseman Trophy Cup card DOES parallel the image on the second baseman Trophy Cup card of Jack Brohamer from the ’73 set. So bad on me for saying that NO effort is being made . . .

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yours is an excellent comment that really hits on a lot of the problems with the Heritage set, especially compared to what it was in 2001. If you want to see true laziness, check out the 2021 High Numbers set. From memory, I’d guess at least 30% (maybe more!) of the photos are shots from the hips up of the player holding his hands together across his crotch, like they were setting up for a soccer free kick wall. When you put the cards in sheets like I do, the sheet with cards 703-711 has 7 such photos. Blah.

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  5. As long as Topps does a GREAT job on the 1978 series I am happy. Something to note, however, is that you left out the 1973 tribute set’s most glaring flaw: no base card of Clayton Kershaw!

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    1. As Night Owl pointed out, Topps saved all the free agents for High Numbers. Which is 100% the correct decision and I’ll gladly give Topps credit there. The big surprise to me is that they chose to still give Posey a card.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As someone who collected in the 1970s, “insulting” is the perfect word. “Upsetting,” too. And I know Topps has been phoning it in on Heritage for years but this offends me particularly.

    Re: Kershaw’s absence. Heritage has been saving players whose status during the offseason changed or was uncertain for the High Numbers series. Kershaw falls into this category, although, yes, it looks wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, not every free agent is left out of the main set, just some of them — in order to beef up High Numbers so that it’s still an appealing set for collectors.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s horrible. What made 1973 Topps great was the photography. The design was mediocre at best. With boring pictures, a set with that design has no redeeming qualities.

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  8. Hear hear – that gif is outstanding! Tells the tale. Love the detective work and all of the color commentary too. Who knew?

    Like

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