The Heritage of Topps

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 you have traded your best player from a 26-34 team like the Rockies? Or would you have given Anthony Rizzo a $14 Million per year offer when Paul Goldschmidt got $26 Million at the same age for the identical stats?  Or would you give any player a 10-year deal? 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 ($3- $4 per pack) ever since. Each year, the cards mirror the old design of the appropriate Topps set with current players and this year’s release (which just hit stores), uses the 1972 card as its platform. If you collected cards in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s, this is the product for you. The look of the ’72 set is especially iconic because the design is so unique.

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 also get one “hit” per box that is either an autograph or relic card.

In honor of this year’s release, let’s look back at that beautiful 1972 set of 787 cards, which includes over 25 Hall of Famers. The card values are based on “Near Mint” condition (PSA 7).

> #49 Willie Mays, $30 – The “Say Hey” kid in the twilight of his career, this is his last card as a Giant.

> #79 Carlton Fisk, $50 – The Rookie Card of the HOF Catcher, he played 24 seasons in the majors.

> #299 Hank Aaron, $45 – “Hammerin’ Hank” was still two years away from breaking the Babe’s record.

> #309 Roberto Clemente, $45 – The last season for the Puerto Rican legend, as he tragically died in December.

> #433 Johnny Bench, $30 – Won the NL MVP and a Gold Glove.

> #559 Pete Rose, $45 – Jump started the Reds offense with a .307 BA and 198 Hits.

> #595 Nolan Ryan, $65 – His first year with the Angels, he led the AL with 329 K’s.

> #695 Rod Carew, $35 – Won his 2nd (of 7) batting titles

The “Heritage” will continue next year with memories of the 1973 set…

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