2021 Heritage: Blame It On The Minis

This is the second in a small series of posts where I deconstruct, slice and dice the 2021 Heritage design that is meant to be “in the style” of 1972 Topps.  If you missed the previous post, you can see it here.

This time around I’m focusing mainly on the team names at the top of the cards… which are, after all the most significant part of the design.

Many of you know this already, but pretty much everything that’s “wrong” with 2021 Heritage originated with the 1972 Mini inserts that came in packs of 2013 Topps flagship.

Substituting red for pink on the Cubs and Indians cards? Blame it on the minis.

“ROCKIES” looks more like it says “ROOKIES”? Blame it on the minis.

“MARLINS” sags off to one side? Blame it on the minis.

Just to make this all absolutely clear, we’re mainly talking about those teams which either didn’t exist or had a different name in 1972, forcing Topps to try to digitally re-create something which had been created in a different medium.  These teams are are (in chronological order) the Athletics, Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rays and Nationals.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you cry, “Athletics? They were around in 1972!”

Yes, they were around in 1972, but at the time “A’s” was not just a contraction, the official name of the team was the “Oakland A’s” for much of the 1970s.

I believe that the licensing agreement with MLB requires Topps to use the official name of the team, so just like we don’t see abbreviations like ‘Yanks’ or ‘Cards’ like we sometime got in vintage sets, we also don’t get anything like A’s, D-Backs, Jays or Nats for this (or any) set.

One thing that is interesting about comparing the Athletics cards for the 2013 Minis and 2021 Heritage is that they changed the color between 1972 and 2013, and then back again from 2013 to 2021.  As you can see above, the 1972 A’s cards had a predominantly red border with orange and yellow accents.

For the 2013 Minis, the changed the main border color to blue with light blue and yellow accents (a color combination they overdid with the Minis and Heritage, but I’ll get into the colors more in the next post)

For 2021 they changed it back to red while leaving the “ATHLETICS” in place.


Before I go any further, it’s important to point out that I have absolutely no formal training in the graphic arts… I’m self-educated, so if I get terminology wrong or I’m just full of it, let me know in the comments and I will make corrections.


If you don’t know exactly what is wrong with the new attempts at the 1972 team names, I’m hoping that some of this will give you a better understanding of what is wrong with what they did.

First off, the team names were designed to give them a sort of 3-D effect by having lines from the letters stretch back behind the photo and towards a vanishing point.

So what’s a “vanishing point”?

If you’re trying to illustrate something like a cube suspended in space, the lines from the sides of the cube should appear as if they are parallel lines which seem to converge in the distance… like looking straight down railroad tracks which appear to converge on the horizon.

In the following example, I created an image of a cube by creating a square,  then drawing three lines from the corners to a vanishing point that I’d picked, and finally filling in the one side and bottom to simulate a cube.  If I’d wanted to make just a cube, I’d be deleting the remainder of the lines heading off towards the vanishing point.

The same is true for the lettering in 1972 Topps and 2021 Heritage. If you extended the lines, they should meet at a vanishing point (which, in this case, would be behind the photo of the player.  Here’s an example where I took a 1972 A’s card and used green lines to extend the lettering to the vanishing point:

I also did the same with an Athletics card from 2021 Heritage, and as you can see, it does not work the same way. The extended green lines mostly meet in a general area, but not at the same point (looking much like a platoon of Star Wars stormtroopers firing their blasters).  On top of that, that C over on the right is completely doing its own thing…

At first I wasn’t sure what the heck they were thinking with that C, but then I realized that they “borrowed” a C from the Cardinals cards… only the Cardinals C is on the left hand side of the card and they put it on the right and rotated it, so that’s why stuff is pointing off in a completely wrong direction.  On the left is the beginning of 1972 “CARDINALS”, on the right is the end of 2021 “ATHLETICS”

I have another example of Topps cobbling letters together in a not-great way, but first I want to get into another thing that Topps consistently got wrong.


Even though the team names are arched over the border around the photo, it’s important to notice that the letters are still oriented vertically.  The straight up-and-down letters like I, T, E and L are arranged so that they are still up-and-down despite being arched.  I tried to illustrate this with the PHILLIES:

As you can see, the P, H, I, L and E are clearly standing “straight up” and parallel to each other.

By comparison, let’s look at the BLUE JAYS from 2021 Heritage.

See the difference?  The B, Y and E aren’t too bad, but the L and U are tilted towards the left and the J is tilted way over to the right.  It’s one of those things that might have registered with you as “I don’t know what’s wrong with this, but it’s wrong”.


As I mentioned earlier in the post, the Marlins team looks like it sags off to one side – “LINS” is much lower than “MAR” – but it’s not unique to the Marlins cards.

Here’s another visual…  The two orange blotches I added to the image below are the same size, and you can see that the left blotch touches the bottom of the “M”, but the right blotch almost reaches the middle of the letter S:


For the five people who get the reference… you’re welcome.

OK, so the “O” in the name NATIONALS has particularly bothered me all along because stands out as not fitting with the other letters.

With the vertically arched letters of the prior section in mind, I figured that this was a case of taking an overly wide “O” from one team and shoehorning it into place without worrying overly much about whether it fits.  I’m pretty sure that “O” came from ASTROS.

You can tell the “O” is not upright by the “cleft” (for lack of a better term) on the left-hand side of the letter… They rotated the whole thing a bit so that the lines are pointing (more or less) at the vanishing point.

Thing is, though, ASTROS is a shorter word than NATIONALS and the letters were made a bit wider on the shorter names.  The O doesn’t really match up with the other letters.

Here’s where things become a tremendous shame.

If they had instead taken the “O” from the middle of “ORIOLES” it’s a far better fit.

I tried a little exercise where I took a scan of the Nationals card, overlay-ed it with the O from ORIOLES, reduced the size of the O a bit and also moved it so that there is a little space between the O and the N just to the right of it.

Check this out… Topps on top, mine on the bottom.

To my eye that’s a significant improvement from 5-10 minutes of work.  To make another semi-obscure reference, I’ll paraphrase the B-52’s song “Dance This Mess Around” and ask…

“Say, doesn’t that make it look a lot better, huh?”

“What you say?”

“Well, I’m just askiiiiiiiin’…”


There’s a joke-not-a-joke question that has come up in numerous places I’ve worked at before:  “Do you want it done fast, or do you want it done right?”

I work as a programmer/analyst, so it never fails that when the answer is “I want it done fast”, then a couple of years down the road someone will want to save time by basing new work on the original rushed project, forcing me to either bite my tongue or admit “Well, that’s NOT my best work…”

I kind of suspect that Topps in 2013 said “Don’t sweat the details, it’s just a mini insert” while Topps in 2021 said “Hey, the heavy lifting is already done!  Let’s tweak what’s already there and knock off early for lunch”.  Leading up to 2021 I had suspected that this would be coming, but I kinda hoped someone at Topps would realize that the 2013 Minis was not their best work.


I’ve got one more post in this series, but for the most part it will be more along the lines of “Well, isn’t that an interesting difference” more than it is about “This is why it looks wrong to people who’ve spent a lot of time with 1972 Topps”.

15 thoughts on “2021 Heritage: Blame It On The Minis

  1. Great stuff here. I love ’72 Topps but it’s like a group of rushed semi-professionals took on the 2013 minis and 2021 Heritage. It’s a good thing Topps doesn’t manufacture airplanes.

  2. That Nationals “O” is an abomination. Not knowing a ton about graphic design, most of this stuff just goes way over my head. My only real complaint about 2021 Heritage is that the cards feel more flimsy and thin than they should – right? Anyway, thank you for putting in the work.

    • I don’t know how something like that Nationals O got approved… assuming there’s some sort of approval process. it’s like nails on chalkboard :-)

      As long as the card stock is not as thin as Archives I won’t complain too much about it.

  3. Fantastic eye there, Shlabotnik! I think you’re probably correct about the Topps designers just not being given enough project time to focus on the nuances of the original design. It’s too bad, though.

  4. Good stuff. … While I’m not sure I would have noticed any of this — except for not using pink for the Cubs and Indians cards — I’m convinced that my general disinterest in this year’s Heritage (and those 2013 minis) is because my brain is picking up on this sloppiness subconsciously.

  5. It seems that Topps was using the same font size for 1st part of team name, then the letters got smaller & tighter towards the end. In the Nationals name the 1st 5 letters were bigger, then the last 4 letters got smaller & tighter. Teams like the Diamondbacks or the Athletics(A’s) or any other team with at least 10 letters must of gave Topps fits. The 1972 font Topps used is unique, just like 1978 another set that might be filled with mistakes. Interesting article.

  6. I think this explains a lot of why this year’s Heritage (and a lot of other past attempts at ’72 facsimiles) never looked *quite* right to me. A whole lot of excellent research here.

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