Friday, March 8, 2013

You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' think by now it's safe to say that 2013 Heritage is an unmitigated disaster.

Hideous design?  Check.  Awkwardly cropped photos because they were too cheap to get dead on head shots?  Check.  An assortment of irritating short prints?  We're on a roll.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the product will sell well.  I'm sure Heritage collectors will talk themselves into some half-hearted reasoning to justify building a set the way you justified your seventh grade girlfriend in hopes that you would get to second base.  And much the same, you'll probably find Heritage cheating on you behind the bleachers after school with Topps Fusion.

But let's not dwell on the Heritage set that broke your heart - after all, Topps Heritage and I had some good times together.  Sure, it's ending messy.  But that doesn't mean we can't remember what we once had.

You see, I first met Topps Heritage in 2001.  Ironically, I was indeed in seventh grade at the time.  2001 is still by far my favorite collecting year - I had just started seriously following the Pirates, my favorite company, Donruss, returned to the hobby landscape, a crop of red hot rookies had card companies cranking up the presses, and a series of retro-inspired products seemed like the coolest thing ever to pre-teen me.  Topps was in their 50th anniversary season, celebrating with a series of reprint and retro themed cards in the base set, Topps Archives and Archives Reserve, Topps Gallery.  UD and Fleer even got in on the action

But none could compare to 2001 Topps Heritage.  Modern players pictured using the famous 1952 design?  Plus a stick of gum?  The concept seemed brilliant.  It would seem quite a few collectors agreed. 

The set had a lot to offer, despite the irritating base set SP's.  I mean, how could you go wrong with a classic set like 1952 Topps?  The following years continued to offer fun, fresh followups to the initial release. 

At the time, the idea of owning an actual '52 or '54 Topps card seemed unfathomable.  Instead, these cards of my favorite players in those classic styles were the closest approximation to "vintage" at a point when a 1978 Topps Dave Parker/Rod Carew League Leaders was the crowning jewel of my vintage collecion (followed in a close second by 1987 Topps Sammy Khalifa).

The Heritage sets still felt fresh and novel; something old meeting something new.  The twists and turns to the set felt more quirky, matching the actual quirks to the original sets, than formulaic and predictable.  Chasing the SP's and few inserts felt like an exercise in recapturing baseball's past than a bothersome chore for the cranky completest.

I never attempted building the full set, but I imagine the feeling must be pretty similar to inspect and appreciate each card individually.  The products offered a perfect bled of old and new, offering just enough to the nostalgic collector, set builder, hit chaser.  Aesthetically, the 50's-style Heritage cards just look sharp.  Maybe the success of the line is less a credit to 21st Century Topps, and more a credit to the timelessness of their designer's during the Cold War. 

So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that my enjoyment of Heritage started waning a few years ago.  The late 50's designs are among my favorites, but the sets felt weak.  We just didn't have that connection like we once did.  Heritage had lost that lovin' feelin', as the Righteous Brothers would so brilliantly (para)phrase it.

A series of decisions seemed to take much of the glitter off of Heritage.  The autographs became more common, as the autograph subjects became less than inspiring.  Topps removed the Chrome and Refractor parallels from the set, instead inserting them in a variety of weak Topps products.  The photography seemed to be phoning it in, using dull, uninspired photos that were often recropped versions of shots used elsewhere.  Still, I wasn't read to give up on what had once been a good thing.

And Topps gave me hope with the 2009 set.  The 1960 design is one of my all-time favorite designs  (in case you haven't noticed, I really enjoy horizontal cards), and the set include all of the features that made it fun.  The set felt fresh again.

But the releases since then have again felt uninspired.  With the exception of a few outstanding cards, the sets just haven't offered much that interests me.  Couple that with strong irritation from last year's Heritage High Number set, and Heritage just isn't a release I look forward to at this point.  And it certainly doesn't help that the next few years are, in my opinion, some of the absolute worst designs in Topps history (though I do like the '65 set), and it's not a good sign.  Of course none of this is particularly newsworthy - Topps has been going through the motions each year with many of their retro themed sets.  And as I said - set collectors and casual collectors will continue to buy them.  Until a serious decrease in sales is seen, we can probably expect the same run of the mill quality and effort behind Heritage as we see in most Topps products.

But at least we've got Bill Medley to make things better...

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