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Heritage: Topps Just Stopped Trying

When I was a kid there was this commercial for a car rental agency.  (I think it was for Avis, but that’s immaterial.)  The scene is the airport rental car counter in some god-forsaken place in Middle America where our protagonist, a traveling salesman-type, just got off the 2:30 from O’Hare and is stuck in Wichita for the next three days.  (No offense to anyone in Wichita.)  He looks disheveled as he just spent two hours sandwiched in the middle seat of an aluminum death tube – with a crying baby in the row behind him.  All he wants to do is get his rental car, check into the hotel, grab a bite to eat, and prepare for tomorrow’s meeting with the client.

The camera pans to the one, and only, clerk manning the rental car counter where she’s going back-and-forth with a belligerent customer.  Our hero joins the back of the queue, which is now grown ten-deep.  The camera gets a close-up of the salesman whose face the look of frustration and resignation.  At this point the announcer chimes in: 

“Did you ever get the feeling they just stopped trying?”

The recent release of 2024 Topps Heritage reminded me of this old rental car ad.  Did you ever get the feeling Topps just stopped trying with Heritage?

As many of you know, I’m one of the guys behind, and when generating the page for 2024 Heritage, I did what I’ve usually done with Heritage for the last decade: I just copied and pasted last year’s Heritage article.  After all, Heritage – structurally speaking -- has largely been unchanged for years.  For the last decade and a half, the base set has been the same: 500 cards, with the last 100 short-printed – although this year, it’s the first hundred cards that are SPed, as opposed to the last 100.  We’ve had pretty much the same inserts (New Age Performers, Then & Now, et al), same parallels, same dumb gimmicks (what do “Throwback Uniform” and “Color Swap” variations have to do with mid-70s Topps?  And while I’m on the subject, why didn’t last year’s Heritage have any “Washington Padres” errors?  Of all the years where a gimmick makes sense!) and the same lame one-per-box Clubhouse Collection relics that sell for a couple of bucks on eBay.  Copy, paste, and change the year, and ninety percent of the baseballcardpedia article is done.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  In 2009 Beckett, for good reason, awarded its “Set of the Decade” to 2001 Topps Heritage, and if there were a “Set of the First Quarter of the 21st Century,” I’m sure 2001 Heritage would place in the money.  It wasn’t just that Topps used the classic 1952 design.  I mean, Fleer pretty much ripped off ’54 Topps for 2000 Fleer Tradition.  And it wasn’t just the use of the old-fashioned clay cardstock.  It was in the details.  

1952 Topps Baseball had 407 cards.  2001 Topps Heritage Baseball also had 407 cards.  All 80 cards in first series of ‘52 Topps were available in “Red Back” and “Black Back” variations.  The first 80 cards in ’01 Heritage were also available in Red and Black Backs.  The last 97 cards in the 50s set were in the legendary Series Six (a.k.a. the “High Numbers”).  The last 97 cards in Heritage were, to simulate a High Number Series in a single-series release, short-printed.

(In retrospect, considering that Heritage was one of the few 2001 products without either an Ichiro Suzuki or Albert Pujols rookie card, maybe Topps should have released Heritage as a 310-card set, and followed it up with a 97-card High Number Series later in the year.  Can you imagine what an Ichiro or Pujols Heritage RC would go for now?)

Even on the micro level, in some of the individual cards, Topps got it all right.  Dave Parrish was the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in 2000.  Although he never made it past Class Triple-A, tell me his Heritage card (#154) wasn’t a dead ringer for Mickey Mantle’s ’52 Topps?  (It would have been even better if Parrish and not Doug Glanville as card #311.)

Does anything in this year’s Heritage even try to evoke 1975 Topps, the way ’01 Heritage did with the ’52 set?  

Would it kill Topps to at least make an effort to issue a 660-card single series set?  You know, like 1975 Topps Baseball?  The set this year’s Heritage is (supposedly) based on?   I get having Chrome and Chrome Refractor parallels, but do we really need seven different levels of Chromes – not to mention five different 500-card full-set parallels? (See my rant in last month’s HND on the over-parallelization of The Hobby)

And where the heck are the Minis!  Of all years to have Mini parallels, THIS WAS THE YEAR!

(NOTE: As a write this, Topps just released Heritage Minis.  Just like the ’75 Minis, which was a test issue, the Heritage Minis are a stand-alone product.  So, I guess one Brownie Point for Topps.)

What I’m trying to say is, the people who developed 2001 Heritage seemed to give a damn.  2001 was Topps’ 50th Anniversary, and to celebrate Topps went out and produced one of the greatest sets ever made.  Today’s Heritage development team just doesn’t seem to care.  It’s lather, rinse, and repeat, year after year.  Of course, with an exclusive license and a small army of group breakers whose business model is based on ripping anything and everything Topps produces, there is no incentive for Topps to care.  (This is also true of most Topps products.)  But it would be great to get the feeling that Topps is at least trying with Heritage again.

Have you heard?  Fanatics is throwing a shindig in New York City later this summer.  That’s right folks, the first ever Fanatics Fest is coming to the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan the weekend of August 16th-18th.  

As for what Fanatics Fest actually is?  Well, according to their website: “Fanatics Fest NYC is a once-in-a-lifetime fan event that will bring together fans across all sports to celebrate their passions under one roof at New York City’s Javits Center from August 16 – 18.”  That doesn’t exactly say much, but hey, Tom Brady and Deter Jeter are going to be there!  Doing what?  I don’t know.  But they will be there.  Doing something.  As will Hulk Hogan, the Manning brothers, and Gary Vee.  (Yippee!!!)  Oh, and there will be some kind of trading card element involved.  Exactly what, we still don’t know.  And did I mention tickets are $50 a day.

I do find it curious as to the date and location, for at the same time about an hour’s drive north at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, is the annual running of the East Coast National -- one of the largest, and longest running annual card shows.  Knowing Fanatics and how they do business, this cannot possibly be a coincidence.   

When I lived in New Jersey, the White Plains show was a must-go – along with the NSCC and The Philly Shows.  Now that I live in Delaware, I’ve replaced White Plains with the Chantilly Show.  But if I still lived in New Jersey, and if I had nothing scheduled for the weekend of August 16th, you know where you’d find me.  Nowhere near Midtown Manhattan.

Got a question?  How about a comment?  Want to share your grandmom’s pecan cobbler recipe?  Send me an e-mail!  Or better yet, follow me on whatever Elon is calling what used to be called Twitter.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.


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