The 2017 Heritage baseball set continues Topps’ tribute to its vintage set, and the 1968 design is the focus. The 1968 set is a nostalgic one for me, as I was 10 years old going on 11 and neck-deep into the card collecting experience. Packs of Topps cards were still five cents apiece, and while nickels were hard to come by, every spare bit of change was used to buy cards.
The design was simple, with players posing in stilted batting and pitching poses or in glorified mug shots. The vertical design was perfect, and the only horizontal cards one saw were the “special” cards — All-Stars (the backs created a picture when stacked side by side), rookies, World Series highlights (I still love the effect that makes it look like you are watching the action on television) and league leader cards.
The player’s name appears at the bottom, with his first name in small black letters and his last name beneath in larger red letters.
The card backs also were vertical, with a cartoon giving a trivia question at the bottom, stats in the middle and the player’s name at the top in large black block letters set against a white, oval backdrop. What Topps could write about the player actually depended on the player’s longevity; those who had long careers and many lines of statistics had a shorter narrative, while younger players with shorter stat lists were given longer paragraphs to fill out the back.
What made the Topps cards of the 1960s so distinctive was that the card backs listing the player’s statistics also included their minor-league years. That is not the case with the 2017 Heritage set, and that’s a little disappointing. It might have been fun to see what route today’s players took to reach the major leagues.
It's also gratifying that Topps stayed true to the original color coding of the teams on the card front circle. In 2017, just as in 1968, teams like the Cardinals and Tigers are in yellow, the Giants are in green, and the Yankees are in red. The Reds, for some reason, remain a puzzling blue. The 1968 season was the final season before the addition of the Padres, Expos, Royals and Seattle Pilots (now Brewers), so Topps picked some random colors. Same goes for the Mariners, Blue Jays, Rays, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Rockies.
An error card of Ichiro lists him as a pitcher, while Corey Seager’s birth date is incorrectly listed as April 4, 1989 (he was born April 27). The American League pitching leaders card has Rick Porcello’s name properly spelled on the front, but “bungles it” by spelling it as “Porsello” on the back. “Traded” card variations, include when a player was acquired, and from what team. The rookie variation card takes one of the two players listed on the base card and turns him into a solo card; Aaron Judge, Yoan Moncada and Alex Reyes are examples. Some of the players also are shown in action poses, rather than the staid 1960s-style poses. The color swap cards show the team/position circle in black.
If you feel like you might go blind looking for the differences, don’t despair. The code numbers at the bottom of the card backs will give you a clue. It’s usually the last few digits, and base cards end in 1867. The others are the high-numbered base short prints (69), error cards (70), rookie cards that are solo shots, and action cards instead of the posed shots (71), throwbacks (72), traded (73) and color swap (74).
The inserts in the 2017 are familiar ones for collectors. New Age Performers is a 25-card set that falls two per hobby box; I pulled Carlos Correa and Orlando Arcia. Baseball Flashbacks is a 15-card set that highlights the various achievements and progress of certain players; the card I pulled was of Joe Morgan, who was starring for the Houston Astros in 1968.
News Flashbacks is another 15-card set that features some of the key events of 1968, which was one of our country’s most turbulent years. I pulled two of these cards — the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which dramatically altered the course of that war; and the Beatles, who released the double-record “White Album” in ’68. Other cards recall the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Mexico City Olympics, Apollo 8’s orbit of the moon, and the debuts of “60 Minutes” and the Special Olympics.
The hit I received in the hobby box I opened was a Clubhouse Collection, game-used uniform swatch of Tigers’ star Miguel Cabrera.
The 2017 Topps Heritage set continues the nostalgia of the 1960s, and the product is marching slowly toward the 1970s. But 1968 was a special year. I also pulled off quite a trade. A friend of mine needed one card to complete his set — Andy Kosco, of all people. It was card No. 524 in the 596-card set, and I had at least two of them, possibly three. And he worked on me for weeks for the card and I held out until he put together a package that included Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Horace Clarke (hey, I needed him …), Brooks Robinson and Ernie Banks.
I’ll never forget that trade. I did pretty well, I think.