I started collecting baseball cards in 1974. Next year’s Topps Heritage set will pay homage to that same 1974 set, and for years I’ve been thinking “If Heritage is still a thing in 2023, I’m going to go crazy over this!”
Move up to the present day and I’m not sure how crazy I will go for the set; short prints take a lot of the fun out of it, plus over the past couple of years I’ve grown weary of inserts and especially parallels.
Even so, I started thinking the other day… what kind of tributes to the original set are Topps likely to do in 2023 Heritage, and what would I like to see?
…Well, beyond having no SPs, inserts or parallels and selling actual wax packs with gum… But that ain’t happening.
Now one thing that made 1974 Topps Baseball unique back in the day was that, unlike the flagship Topps sets that came before it, it was not issued in series. With that first pack you bought at the beginning of the season, you had just as much of a chance to pull card #1 as you would card #660. This caused Topps to change the way they approached the set, and that’s reflected in a couple of different aspects of the set.
And so, let’s start into some questions…
What kind of homage will there be to the Washington “Nat’l. Lea.” cards?
During the 1973 season, it seemed like a done deal that the San Diego Padres would be sold to new owners who would move the team to Washington DC for 1974. This deal would, of course, not actually happen… but not before Topps would change many of the Padres cards to say “WASHINGTON NAT’L. LEA.” and then had to change them back. This Willie McCovey card was pulled out of a pack by me back in the day.
I was new to baseball in 1974 and knew nothing about the Padres near-move, so I didn’t know why this card said “WNL”, I just knew that none of my friends had one and that made it even cooler than it already was.
So you may notice that I didn’t ask whether Topps would do something like this in 2023 Heritage, because they can’t not pay tribute to this. My guess is that a bunch of Washington Nationals cards will have “NAT’L. LEA.” variations… but rather than brown and black pennants, they will still be in whatever colors they use for the Nats in 2023 (more on this in a bit)
Will they do any sort of riff on the “Hank Aaron Special” cards?
Going into the 1974 season, Hank Aaron had 713 home runs and was just one shot away from tying Babe Ruth’s career record. Everybody knew the record would be broken in 1974 – barring some sort of tragic occurrence – and Topps included several cards in 1974 Topps to commemorate Aaron’s achievement. Among these were a subset of “Hank Aaron Special” cards that highlighted his Topps cards from 1954 to 1973.
There isn’t anybody who’s going to break a major career record sometime next season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a tribute to somebody. If it were me, I’d replace the 5 card tribute to Hank Aaron with a similar multi-card tribute to future HOFers like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Albert Pujols with each card featuring four Topps cards of that player’s past.
Will Topps continue to call the late-season Heritage update “High Numbers” when 1974 Topps didn’t really have high numbers?
Topps has generally short-printed the last however-many cards in the Heritage set, and that was meant as a way to kinda sorta simulate the scarcer late series of Topps sets… But guess what? 1974 Topps didn’t have high numbers in the way that older sets have, which makes it kind of meaningless to call the set “High Numbers”. I don’t expect them to change the name, though.
Will Topps do anything involving the 1974 Topps Traded cards?
Because 1974 Topps wasn’t issued in series, Topps tried something different in order to include transactions from the December 1973 Winter Meetings. In later wax packs they inserted “Traded” cards in an effort to get players updated as much as possible.
I would guess that if anything is done along these lines, they’ll include them as a subset or insert in 2023 Heritage High Numbers. Since a lot of player movement these days is through means other than trades, they may just feature those players who changed teams as parts of trades and just have updated base cards of the rest.
Topps did something kinda similar with the 2021 Heritage Minor League set; there were a couple of minor leaguers like Terrin Vavra (obtained by the Orioles from the Rockies late in the 2021 season) who got the 1972 “Traded” treatment. In this case, the cards were a subset. FYI, Topps photoshopped a Bowie Baysox (Double-A) logo on Vavra’s cap.
Will Topps remember to leave the Rookie All-Star trophies off of the cards?
Although there was a 1973 Topps All-Star Rookie Team, the winners didn’t get any kind of acknowledgement on the front of their 1974 cards. Gary Matthews, for example, was the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year and a Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder, but there was no Rookie Cup on the front of his card.
Why this was the case? I don’t know. The main thing to remember is that Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt Jr. shouldn’t have the Rookie Cup on their 2023 Heritage cards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets ‘forgotten’.
Will they do an homage to the Jerry Morales and Glenn Beckert cards?
Jerry Morales and Glenn Beckert were traded for each other on November 7, 1973. Topps handled this last-minute transaction by swapping out the borders but leaving the photos untouched… a very un-Topps-like thing to do at the time, but again this might be related to the set coming out all at once.
Interestingly, the Morales card had the little banners switched, but the “frame” around the photo didn’t get updated, so it’s still yellow like a Padres card rather than blue as Cubs cards were in 1974.
I think this has a decent chance of showing up in 2023 Heritage.
Will they misspell some poor unfortunate rookie pitcher’s name?
Mets pitcher Bob Apodaca had his name misspelled “Apodaco” and then corrected on “1974 Rookie Pitchers” card #608
Do you think Topps would miss out on an opportunity to have a variation? Does Bazooka Joe poop in the woods? I’m going to bet several packs of 1988 Donruss that there will be a SP variation of Heritage card #608 where Reds pitcher Nick Lodolo gets his name spelled “Lodola”
Will they have a “No Position” variation? More to the point, will they stop at one?
1974 Topps had a corrected error where a small number of Jesus Alou’s card did not show his position as “OUTFIELD”
Again, Topps loves their variations, so I expect there to be a number of these.
Will they replicate the Team Checklist cards?
I was going to seriously discuss this until I remembered that 1973 Topps had a very similar team checklist insert set and that was not duplicated this year… at least not yet. I’ll put this down as “Probably not”.
Will they do an O-Pee-Chee back variation?
Probably so… As much as I love 1974 Topps, I find the yellow OPC backs much more appealing and if I were doing one of those Upper Deck “Vintage” sets that pays tribute to Topps sets while not being complete copies, I’d be doing the backs in yellow
What colors will they use for Washington Nationals borders?
When it comes to Heritage and Archives, Topps – perhaps at the directive of Major League Baseball – has usually gone out of their way to treat the Nats and Rangers their own team rather than the relocated Expos and “New” Senators. Up until 2021 Heritage (based on the 1972 design where the Rangers first appeared), the Rangers have never had the same assigned colors as the Senators had… but the Washington Nationals have often been assigned the colors originally used for the Washington Senators.
Well, until this year’s Heritage when the Nationals colors used for the player and team name match – more or less – what was used for the Expos in 1973.
So will the colors used for the 2023 Nationals match what was used for the 1974 Expos?
I’m going to say “no”, but I’m less sure about this than I was before 2022 Heritage.
Will 2023 Heritage include puzzle-back All-Star cards?
You betcha… and they’d better be working on that puzzle of this year’s All-Star MVP, Giancarlo Stanton so it looks at least a bit like this:
Will there be player stamp inserts?
The original 1974 Topps Baseball Stamps came in their own packs, they weren’t an insert for 1974 Topps flagship, but I’d like to see something like this as an insert… even if it’s a small panel of stickers rather than actual stamps.
Will there be team cards?
I don’t think there’s been a Heritage team card since 2017 (1968 design), but I’ll mention them anyway. Besides, I love how on this 1974 Oakland A’s card the coaching staff is in white uniforms while the players are in alternating green and gold jerseys. [Chef’s kiss]
Some uncorrected errors should find their way into 2023 Heritage as well…
Card #161 should – no, not should – HAD BETTER have the card number rotated 90 degrees compared to the rest of the set
I know there won’t be a manager card of Brandon Hyde, but there ought to be one Orioles card where “BALTIMORE” is yellow instead of orange.
Getting back to that Jerry Morales card from before…
Even if they don’t do the Morales/Beckert homage that I mentioned before, it would be a nice subtle homage to the original set to have one Cubs card with a yellow frame.
I left this part for last, because some people will think I’m just being nit-picky and if you think this then feel free to skip the rest of this post.
Topps needs to get the fonts right on this set because the “1974” cards in 2020 Archives didn’t look good
OK, so most of the names in 1974 Topps look something like this; different fonts (or typefaces if that’s the proper term regarding 1974) to use with different size names, so that the name will fill the available space in a visually appealing way.
There was also a third, condensed font used for players with particularly long names… the Messersmiths, Grabarkiewiczs, Stottlemyers and Monteagudos of the baseball world.
Unfortunately when Topps used the 1974 design for 2020 Archives, someone made the decision that they would make the condensed font a one-size-fits-all solution, regardless of whether the player’s name was short like Blake Snell or long like Isaiah Kiner-Falefa. The result was less than satisfying.
Now this is more than just “They didn’t use the right font and I’m stamping my feet in protest”. Using a narrower font for names that don’t need it leaves a lot of white space on either side of the name, and *that* is what works against the look of the set.
I created a visual comparison which features some players who were in both 1974 Topps and 2020 Archives, and although it’s not a great display I feel it at least give an idea of how 2020 Archives suffered in comparison:
Again, this is not just about a different font being used, this is about making a choice that screws up the visual appeal of the overall card.
Audience participation time!
I’m certain there are certain iconic cards in 1974 Topps Baseball that I overlooked. If you were in charge of 2023 Heritage, what type of 1974 Topps tribute would you include in Heritage?