Everyone you know probably considers themselves an expert at something, but Fantasy Baseball players are at the top of the food chain. Even though we play the game for money and bragging rights, the real truth is that we actually think we’re smarter than MLB GM’s & Managers. After all, would Jared Weaver be in your rotation? Or would Fernando Rodney be your Closer? Or would you take on $10.5 Million in salary to have Matt Wieters replace Derek Norris? Or would you pay Billy Butler $11 Million to spend the season at home watching Golden Corral commercials? Or would you give a two-year contract to a Catcher who might not be able to crouch until the All-Star break? Or did you really think that Franklin Gutierrez could get through April before going on the DL? The Old Duck participates in a 15-team Fantasy Baseball “experts” league where it is abundantly clear that each owner considers himself to be smarter than the other 14, but none of them would make those moves. It isn’t arrogance, only knowledge gained from experience.
Avid baseball card collectors are no different in their approach to the hobby. After watching card manufacturers flail away at each other in the 80’s and overproduce products in the 90’s to the detriment of the industry, it’s easy to criticize almost any product offering. Card enthusiasts are quick to complain about too few autograph cards, but also aren’t happy when the autographs are on stickers applied to the cards because they want the authenticity of “on-card” signatures. They also don’t like redemption cards (when players have not yet had the opportunity to sign), but also whine when the better players aren’t included in a product. It is the nature of the consumer to always want more for less and consider themselves smarter than the folks in charge.
In an attempt to remove myself from this category (even temporarily), I’m willing to admit that the people at The Topps Company are brilliant!
In 2001, Topps was celebrating the 50th anniversary of their entry into the baseball card business. They utilized the framework of their historical 1952 set to develop a new product. Topps Heritage came into the marketplace with current players pictured on cards that had the format of the iconic 1952 set. The detail of the set and the photography took collectors back to the time when packs were a nickel and included a stick of gum. The set was designed for card enthusiasts to build it completely by opening packs and sorting through the cards. It even had some of the quirks of the original like short-printed cards, checklist cards and even bubble gum…even though the gum was enclosed in a plastic wrapper. To all of this, Topps also added some autograph & relic cards to make the set even more attractive. The real draw, however, was the 1952 look and the opportunity for kids of the 50’s to build a new set of cards for the 2000’s.
Topps Heritage has been a consistent top-selling product at a mid-range price (around $3+ per pack) ever since. Each year, the cards mirror the old design of the appropriate Topps set with new players and this year’s release (which just hit stores last month), uses the 1968 card as its platform. If you collected cards in the 50’s & 60’s, this is the product for you.
In the last few years, Topps has added a few more twists with short printed cards that have variations of throwback uniforms or an action image. They even tugged at old-timers’ heartstrings by randomly adding a section of white on some of the card backs emulating how they would have looked had a dusty piece of gum been sitting against the card…very cool!
The Old Duck purchases a few boxes each year and builds the set from scratch. Of course, you never really know what might appear inside the packs and the first couple of boxes yielded two Clayton Kershaw variations, game-used memorabilia cards of Evan Longoria & Bryce Harper, as well as an actual 1968 Topps card of Angels Catcher Hawk Taylor (#52). Hawk played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues with a lifetime BA of .218…sounds like a perfect fit for my Fantasy Baseball roster.
In honor of this year’s release, let’s look back at that beautiful 1968 set of 598 cards, which includes over 25 Hall of Famers. The card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.
> #45 Tom Seaver, $55 – This was the second year card of “Tom Terrific”…his rookie card from ’67 is worth $900.
> #50 Willie Mays, $80 – The “Say Hey Kid” was still a productive player in his mid-30’s…he won the Gold Glove in both ’67 & ’68.
> #80 Rod Carew, $55 – Was AL Rookie of the Year in ’67 on his way to over 3,000 hits.
> #110 Hank Aaron, $70 – Still in his prime at age 33, he led the NL with 39 HR’s in ’67.
> #150 Roberto Clemente, $80 – The previous season, he led the NL in BA (.357) & Hits (209) while winning the Gold Glove.
> #177 Nolan Ryan, $1,200 – No, that’s not a typo. This is the “Rookie Card” of the still popular power pitcher. He even had to share the card with teammate Jerry Koosman, but collectors don’t seem to care.
> #230 Pete Rose, $70 – ’68 would turn out to be a great year for “Charlie Hustle”…led the NL in BA (.335) & OBP (.391) while finishing 2nd in the MVP balloting.
> #247 Johnny Bench, $185 – The other key rookie card in the set, the player sharing the card was Ron Tompkins.
> #280 Mickey Mantle, $230 – ’68 was the last season for “The Mick” as age and injuries had taken their toll. His .237 BA for the season dropped his lifetime average below .300 and he admitted in later years that he was always bothered by that stat. Here’s the quote…”But god-damn, to think you’re a .300 hitter and end up at .237 in your last season, then find yourself looking at a lifetime .298 average – it made me want to cry”.
> #490 Super Stars, $130 – Topps scattered multiple player cards throughout the set and this one featured Mantle, Mays & Harmon Killebrew.
The “Heritage” will continue next year with memories of the ’69 set…