Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Chris Davis, 2014 Topps Heritage Then and Now #TAN-RD
I've spent the last three-plus years steadfastly avoiding new Topps products, chiefly as my own stubborn small-scale protest against their monopoly on MLB-licensed baseball cards. But Topps has also made it easier on me by rolling out some uninspired merchandise in recent years. Even when I read other collectors' reviews of the new stuff, or bought the occasional pack out of curiosity, there was nothing under the Topps banner that really got its hooks in me. So leave it to 2014 Heritage to break my resolve.
This year's Heritage set gets its design from the 1965 Topps set, a vintage that holds a special place in my heart thanks to the five and a half years that I spent collecting and blogging about it. To date, it's my only completed set pre-1982. So my curiosity was piqued from the word 'go'. When fellow '65-enthusiast Max (who had just as much to do with the completion of my set as I did) wrote up his Heritage box break and gave it a glowing review, I knew that I was doomed. My errands just happened to take me to Target after work yesterday, and three packs of 2014 Heritage jumped into my hand. So it began.
If I wasn't already on board with this set, this Mat Latos card would have been the clincher. The beefy righthander's cheesy grin was the first thing that greeted me upon opening my very first pack. As an added bonus, Topps didn't half-ass the design. Same color scheme and fonts as the 1965 sets, and as Max pointed out, they incorporated post-1965 teams into the pre-existing border/pennant/text color combos. (Curiously, the Nationals share the Orioles' gray/orange/black scheme. I'm sure that won't ruffle any feathers in D.C.!)
Here's a World Series subset card, mimicking the live-action shots in the original set. It's a fortuitous coincidence that the Cardinals were in both the '64 and '13 World Series. I'm glad the bizarre conclusion of Game 3 gets its own highlight card.
You've got to have the Giant Rookie Trophy, which is far superior to the latter-day Rookie Cup. Of course, not even the trophy can distract attention from Jedd Gyorko's unsettling intensity.
The card backs are a well-crafted tribute to the real thing as well. That pleasing light blue color, the playful player name font, and of course, cartoons and factoids where space permits. I've yet to see any doodles that stand up to the best and silliest artwork from 1965, but it also doesn't look like they just recycled a handful of generic caricatures.
Though my attitude towards inserts leans in the direction of "empty nuisance that impedes set-building", the few inserts I pulled from my three packs at least were designed to fit comfortably into the 1965 Topps aesthetic. The Frank Robinson-Chris Davis combo at the top of this post recognizes the top run producers of both the 1965 and 2013 seasons, with '65 runner-up Robby joining '13 RBI champ Crush because of their Baltimore ties...and probably because Frank is a flashier name than Deron Johnson.
Of course, Topps is gonna Topps, and the last 75 cards of the 500-card set are still annoyingly short-printed (a 15% chunk), but at least I know what I'm facing. I'm still 104 cards away from finishing off my 2008 Heritage set, the only other TH project that I've attempted in earnest. But even a hobby box's worth of 2014 Heritage would go a long way in scratching that itch. I'll also do my level best to ignore the multiple base card variations, or at least to discount them as necessary for true set completion.
While part of me feels like I'm capitulating, I really don't believe that's the case. This set is the perfect storm of elements that attract me to a particular brand or set. The flagship Topps set has been crushingly stagnant since about 2009, and also tends to suffer from insert bloat. So my previous Topps embargo won't be a complete thing of the past. Meanwhile, the second half of the 1960s delivered a number of my least favorite card designs, so even the nostalgia-heavy Heritage line won't keep my interest once the 1965 tribute has passed. I'll sink the majority of my collecting efforts into growing my vintage collection, and periodically shake my fist ineffectually at the industry giant.