2021 Heritage: A Reader’s Epiphany About The “In Action” Cards

You thought I was done with 2021 Heritage.

*I* thought I was done with 2021 Heritage.

However, a Friend O’ The Blog who comments as Brett Alan made an observation that was too good to leave alone.

Side note: If Brett had a blog or a social media account, I’d link to it, but he has far more sense than I do :-D

In a prior post about 2021 Topps Heritage – which I’ve already updated with the information that follows, if you’re worried about ‘spoilers’ – I was scratching my head over why cards from the In Action subset would have the team name in tiny print on the front of the card…

My best guess was that MLB requires the team name to be on the front of the card somewhere… but if that was the case, why is there nothing like it on the front of the “Boyhood Photos” subset?

I was out of ideas on why this must be, and wrote it off as with a resigned “who knows”… Or to use one of my favorite German phrases “Weiss der Teufel”… The Devil knows.

…Not that I know many German phrases, but that’s one of my favorites.

…And YES, fans of 1980s baseball, Tim Teufel’s last name is the German word for “Devil”… and pitcher Jim Gott’s last name is the German word for “God”.  I wonder how well Teufel batted against Gott.

Ummm …So where was I?

Oh, right, I still had no idea why the team name was added to the front of the In Action cards.

Here’s where Brett comes into the story; He got a light bulb over his head while sorting through some cards he got at a show.

It seems reasonable to assume that the licensing agreement states that the full team name must be on the card *somewhere*. That would explain the team name on the back of the base player cards.

The Boyhood Photos cards has the full team name in the header on the back, so that’s the deal with that subset.

But what’s on the back of the In Action cards?

Puzzle pieces…

Historical league leaders…

“So You’re A Baseball Expert”…

Many of these backs have absolutely nothing to do with the player who appears on the front.

So if you’re required to have the team name on the card somewhere and it doesn’t make sense to put “MINNESOTA TWINS” on a Ron Santo puzzle back, where *do* you put it?

Somewhere on the front.

As Brett put it in his original comment, now we can all sleep nights again!

2021 Heritage: A Bunch Of Observations… And OK, Yeah, One More Criticism

It turns out I’ve had a lot to say about this year’s Heritage… and I still do, but most of this post is visual and along the lines of “Check this out!  No, I don’t know why they did that”

Lots to cover, so let’s get rolling.

AS ALWAYS, THE HERITAGE DESIGN IS SMALLER EVEN IF THE CARDS AREN’T

I first noticed this with 2018 Heritage (1969 Topps design)… There are wider white (or grey or black) borders on Heritage cards than on the originals, and they do this by shrinking the design slightly.  I can guess as to why, but I won’t today because it’s all just guesses.

1972 on the top, 2021 on the bottom;  You can see the lettering and yellow border is smaller (and the colors are a bit darker as well, but that’s another story)

Same on the bottom of the card – this time it’s 2021 on the top and 1972 on the bottom – plus the little ‘nameplate’ is smaller.

1972 on the left, 2021 on the right

THE TINY TINY TEAM NAMES HIDDEN ON CERTAIN CARDS

Two odd little inclusions of team names show up on 2021 Heritage cards… First off, the “IN ACTION” cards all have a subtle team name on the front, something which wasn’t on the originals.  It barely even shows up in my scan that it says “MINNESOTA TWINS” under “JUAN BERRIOS”

My initial guess was that there is probably some sort of clause in the licensing agreement that the team’s name or logo show up on the front of any base cards… but if that were the case then the “Boyhood Photos” subset should also have it, and it doesn’t… so your guess is as good as mine.

Update:  Friend O’ The Blog Brett Alan has figured out the likely reason why the In Action cards have the team name on the front.  To quote his comment on this post, “Boyhood Photos has the team name on the *back*…. But the 1972 In Action cards have completely unrelated backs—puzzle pieces, ads for the next series, rules quizzes… Topps must be required to have the team name somewhere on the card, and the In Action cards can’t put them on the back, so they had to put them somewhere on the front.”

The backs of the base cards also have the team name on the bottom, which is also kind of odd, but whatever.

INSERT CARDS ARE NOT PRINTED AT THE SAME TIME AND/OR PLACE AS THE BASE CARDS

This was apparent in the past when base cards showed team updates that weren’t in the base set.  Here’s my favorite example of this, in 2014 Heritage the base card reflects the Mets signing free agent Curtis Granderson on 12/9/2013, but the black-bordered variation shows the Grandy Man still with the Yankees.

I dont think anyone in 2021 Heritage was photoshopped, which is a bit unusual for Heritage… but check this out (and credit where credit is due, my wife Mrs. Shlabotnik is the one who noticed this).  The cropping of the photo on Jacob deGrom’s base card (left) is tighter than it is on his “Missing Stars” variation (right)…  The easiest way to tell is to look at how close his head is to the border .

I did some poking around on TCDB and it looks like all of the variations match the cropping of the Missing Stars variation, which makes me think that it was done by a different team or at a different time.

Grumpy Old Man Moment:  “Missing Stars” is a dumbass variation… but I’ll admit that I don’t generally care about parallels or variations anyway, so feel free to dismiss my grump.

THE MYSTERIOUS PURPLE NUMBERS

I’ll just say that I find this kind of odd… On the Postseason and World Series cards, they changed the year from black to purple.  I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t know why they did it.

The 2021 heritage cards don’t appear that washed out in real life like they do in my scans…  I would guess that it has something to do with the way the intense light of the scanner reflects off of the card stock or the inks.

These next cards are not because of my scanner, though… The blue on the Heritage AL Leader cards is much darker than the blue on the 1972 AL Leader cards.  I would compare the NL cards but I haven’t pulled any of those from a 2021 Heritage pack.

TWO ROOKIES INSTEAD OF THREE

In 1972 Topps, many (but not all) of the multi-player rookie cards were team-specific and contained three players not worthy of having their own solo cards.  In 2021 Heritage, the rookie cards are all two-player and only a few are specific to one team.

Another thing I find interesting – and I don’t have any examples of this to scan – involves players showing up on both “Rookie Stars” cards and on “In Action” cards.  This type of thing never happened in 1972 because the players on “Rookie Stars” cards were there because they weren’t important enough to get their own cards, but in today’s rookie-driven sets, things are different.  For example, card #11 is a “Rookie Stars” card of the Phillies’ Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard.  Card #12 is an “In Action” card of Bohm and #106 is Spencer Howard.  This largely futzes around the original set’s convention of “Base card followed immediately on the checklist by the same player’s In Action card”.

Oh, I should also mention that Bohm has some base card variations, but the only Heritage cards that Howard gets is the “Rookie Stars”, the “In Action” and a “Boyhood Photos”.

THIS IS APPARENTLY NOT A VARIATION

I noticed when entering cards into my database that I pulled two Jose Altuve In Action cards that the card stock appeared to be different;  one was lighter than the other.

From all indications, however, this isn’t an intentional Variation with a capital V, it appears to be an unintentional variation with a small v.  Kind of odd, but the cards might have come from different subcontractors or something like that.

TOPPS DOESN’T WANT TO TASTE THE RAINBOW

My apologies to Skittles for appropriating their tag line, but one thing that bothers me about 2021 Heritage is that they took one of the most colorful sets in a colorful decade and they made it less colorful.

In the 1972 set there were 12 color combinations used for the 24 teams, with each color combination unique within each league… or in other words, each of the 12 color combinations is shared by one NL and one AL team.  (Please pardon the graininess of the photo, I don’t have the best setup for taking photos of many cards at once)

As you can see, you’ve got two magenta, four red, four orange, four yellow, four green and six blue.

There are, of course, 30 Major League teams now.  Assuming they don’t create a new color combination – hey, violet is missing from our little spectrum! – then they’d need to give existing combinations to the six additional teams.

As mentioned in a previous post, Topps ditched Magenta from the set and converted the Cubs and Indians to have red as their primary color…

…and because they didn’t change the colors on the “3-D effect”, that gives us six teams with red as the primary color, and four teams with the same color combo (Cubs, Indians, Braves & Royals).

For whatever reason Topps has never used Expos colors for Heritage Nationals cards, and you’d have to think at this point that it’s intentional… either the league or the team doesn’t want them to do it.

The Expos had green borders in 1972…

…And for 2021 the green borders were given to the Diamondbacks and the Nats need a new color combo.  No problems there.

The Rockies were made to be yellow, probably because they based the team name on “YANKEES”, the only other MLB team with “K” in it.  Now we’ve got five yellow teams and five left to assign.

Here’s where I start to take issue with their choices.

The Jays and Rays were given Red borders which mirrored those of the Braves and Royals…

So not only do we now have eight teams with red as the primary color – on top of “In Action” and “Boyhood Stars” which also use red – but we have six teams with the same color combinations.  Bah!

THEN they took the three remaining teams – the Marlins, Nats and Mariners – and assigned them the same combination that the Orioles and Cardinals originally used.

The end result being that we have 9 blue teams, 8 red teams, 5 yellow teams, 4 orange teams, 4 green teams and no magenta teams.  BORRRRRRING!!!!!

Since we started out with six primary colors and we’re adding six new teams, what I might have done is…

  • Leave the Rockies (yellow), Nats (blue) and Blue Jays (red) as Topps set them up
  • Have the Cubs and Indians as magenta teams and add a third, maybe the Rays
  • Add a fifth orange team… let’s say the Marlins
  • On top of subbing the D-Backs for the Expos, I’d add an additional green team.  The Mariners?

Under my plan we’d have 3 magenta, 5 red teams, 5 orange teams, 5 yellow teams, 5 green teams and 7 blue teams.  To me this is much more true to the original set which got its fame from being colorful.  I grew up in the 1970s, dammit, I expect a 1970s homage to use the whole freakin’ spectrum.


And this concludes my overanalysis of this year’s 2021 Heritage. I hope you found it interesting, even if you don’t agree with my ramblings.

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.

BLAME IT ON THE RAIN, BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE, BLAME IT ON THE BOSSA NOVA, BLAME IT ON 2013 TOPPS MINIS
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.

AN ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN THE “VANISHING POINT” AND HOW IT’S USED IN 1972 TOPPS

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.

OK…

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.

PLEASE PLACE YOUR LETTERS IN THEIR FULL UPRIGHT POSITION

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”.

THINGS ARE GOING DOWNHILL…

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:

IT’S THE WRONG “O”, GROMIT!  AND IT’S GONE *WRONG*!!!!

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’…”

IT’S HARD FOR ME TO CRITICIZE TOPPS TOO MUCH WHEN I’VE BEEN IN THE SAME SITUATION BEFORE

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.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

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”.

2021 Heritage: Standardized Stars And Anti-Pinkites

I’ve got a backlog of ideas I don’t seem to find time for.

I’ve finally picked up a few packs of 2021 Heritage cards.

I’ve got hopes that I can get more activity on this blog if I don’t try to write a doctoral thesis each time out.

So in thumbing through my modest stack of Heritage cards, I’ve noticed a number of things about the set, and I thought that someone will find my nerdy ramblings to be of interest… So here’s the first of what may be a small series of posts.

DO THEY THINK WE’RE TOO MANLY FOR MAGENTA?

One thing I hadn’t noticed from other people’s cards is that the two teams which had primarily magenta (pink) borders in 1972 Topps now have red borders while the other teams which were in 1972 Topps maintained the same colors… at least that I’ve noticed.  Now I’m afraid someone will point out something I missed.

The Cubs were magenta, now they’re red.

Same for the Indians.

I’m genuinely curious about why this change was made.  In this day and age when Mother’s Day games involve pink bats, wristbands and catcher’s gear, do they think that someone will find pink off-putting?  Did magenta not test well with focus groups?  Does some product manager at Topps get traumatized by The Pink Panther at an early age?

Moving on to the next observation…

FITTING THE TEAM BETWEEN THE GROOVY LITTLE STARS INSTEAD OF FITTING THE GROOVY LITTLE STARS NEXT TO THE TEAM

OK, so one thing about the 1972 Topps design is that there are groovy little stars on either side of the team name.

They’re one size when the team name is short…

…And smaller when the team name is long…

Line up a bunch of them and you can see a range of sizes for the groovy little stars.

One can guess that the artists making this design had taken the amount of space needed to comfortably fit the team name in place, and then adjust the star size accordingly.

Oh, but 2021 Heritage was having none of that complete anarchy. Topps apparently said “We are designing a reusable template, so the size of our Groovy Little Stars must be standardized!”

This isn’t a problem for teams with shorter team names, like “CUBS” (1972 on the left, 2021 on the right).  There are differences, but nothing major.

But for longer names, it appears that the team name graphic had to be shrunk a little bit to allow it to fit between the stars.

You can see that this looks a bit off, even if you’re not quite sure why when you look at just the Heritage card. Look at the extra space between the top of the colored border and the team name.  This is what originally caught my eye, the gap at the top of the border.

OK, so none of this is Earth-shattering, but I felt like it needed to be shared.

More non-Earth-shattering observations about 2021 Heritage in a future post.