Damnit. Damnit. Damnit.
Every February I say these very words to myself because Topps really knows what they are doing. Just when baseball fans are craving the sport the most, the New York company releases its second product of the year, Topps Heritage, and sends the market into a frenzy. The set is always enticing to card collectors. Whether your fishing for a big hit, or trying to build a set, this product offers a little something for everyone.
This year’s design mimics the 1961 Topps set, a design that some collectors have said is bland. Personally, I am a fan. The design is clean and linear, and the different color boxes for the player and team names add a little something to the card, but not too much. The card backs are also great as they offer a wealth of information and a cartoon. Also, the subset cards within the set look great; love the manager, team and league leader cards.
The hobby version of the product hit many store shelves on Wednesday with the typical $4 per pack price point; retail versions will likely start hitting WalMart and Target stores in about 10 to 14 days, but I would not be surprised if a Blaster was found sometime this weekend at either big-box store.
I tried something different this year, something more in-line with my new philosophy on cards. I’ve decided NOT to buy a hobby box, rather just purchase a few packs to satisfy my appetite and curiosity. Also, I feel that not every collector out there can afford to buy a box and will be picking packs from an already-opened box. So one could argue that this is a legitimate break and review … for the basic collector.
Anyhow, the purchase was seven hobby packs and the pulls included two short prints, three chrome parallels, three Babe Ruth Chase inserts, a New Age Performer, a Flash Back and two Then and Now inserts. Not so bad.
The basic shortprints are easy to distinguish from the more common cards. Not only are they the last 60 to 75 cards in the 500-card set, but they are also printed with white backs, whereas the commons all feature brownish backs. My SPs were Carlos Lee and Raul Ibanez “Topps News”. What remains to be seen is whether or not (we all know they did) create super shorprints where they tinkered with something, perhaps a interchanged logo, wrong player picture or something.
On a possibly related note, I spotted a few “oddities” on a few of my base cards.
1) This American League Leader Wins (#48) card is missing the Topps Heritage logo.
2) Mark DeRosa and Akinori Iwamura are pictured (airbrushed) with their NEW teams, the Giants and Pirates.
3) Pablo Sandoval is picture with braces on his teeth.
4) The Checklist card No. 273 actually has the word “checklist” written as two words on the face of the card, but as one on the actual checklist.
As for inserts, it looks like Topps is going to murder Babe Ruth’s cardboard reputation with these horrible Chase ’61 cards. While I understand the premise of the set, I think Topps missed an opportunity here to really flesh out this 1961 Home Run chase.
By now you are already aware that Roger Maris slugged a record-breaking 61 homers to eclipse the 60 homers Ruth hit in 1927. During the record-setting year of 1961, Maris and Mantle went back and forth. What would have been more interesting to me is to have cards featuring Maris and Mantle, and Ruth. Maybe take the concept and do a running tally sort of set, not unlike the Home Run Record cards Topps has put out over the years.
Instead, what Topps has given us is a 15-card set featuring pictures of Ruth with a bunch of text on the back discussing Ruth’s record-setting feat and some Maris and Mantle chatter. And to make matters worse, it appears that the same cartoon and caption is used on ALL of the Ruth Chase cards. This insert set is a nightmare, and set collectors will be crying foul — if they have not begun already — because these lame inserts are taking the place of another base card, common, SP or otherwise.
The Chrome parallels are pretty uneventful, although the finish of the cards seems exceptionally slick which is a plus. In past issues, I’ve had issues with my chrome parallels being a bit “pitted,” for lack of a better term. The cards are seeded one in every five packs; I got three of them: Chipper Jones, Johan Santana and Kendry Morales. These cards are serial numbered to 1,961 copies.And other Topps Heritage insert anchors New Age Performers (Albert Pujols), Flashbacks (Candlestick Park), and Then & Now (see below) have returned and are just as they have been in past years. In fact, they look damn-near identical, with just a few tweaks. Go figure.
I do take issue with the two Then & Now inserts I pulled. BOTH cards feature Whitey Ford; one has him paired with 2009 MLB strikeout leader Justin Verlander, and the other has him with 2009 MLB ERA leader Zack Greinke. My beef? Whitey Ford didn’t lead the league in either category in 1961. He was third in strikeouts, behind Sandy Koufax — who had 269, exactly as many as Verlander — and Camilo Pascual. And Ford finished 14th in ERA behind a bunch of other guys. In fact, Ford’s ERA (3.21) was more than an entire run higher than Greinke’s (2.16).
There are a slew of other types of inserts, including autographs and relics — which fall one per box — that I didn’t pull from my packs, but the sample size was rather small. From what I’ve seen though, the cards are what they are with few exceptions.
Overall, Topps Heritage appears to be as we always expect it to be — an ginormous money pit that will give us much satisfaction in the short term, and cause heartache for many more as they try to build the set. To build the master set is a spectacular feat.
So is the product worth buying? Of course. There are some awesome on-card autographs, some easily obtainable relics and a shot at a multi-relic and autos featuring Ruth, Mantle and Maris.
But know what you’re getting into as it pertains to building the set. You will not even come close to completing the run with one box, or for that matter, a complete case. If you’re looking to build the set, know that retail packs may be a better option given the fixed, cheaper prices and similar odds for shortprints.
*Addendum: I’ve written a review of the Topps Heritage bubble gum, you can see it HERE.