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Five for the Record: 2022 Topps Heritage.

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One of the more popular things I’ve written in recent years, at least by the modest standards of Neck Pickup, was a Five for the Record entry that first criticized Topps’ famously sloppy 1973 baseball cards, then identified five good ones from the set.

I mentioned a while ago that I’d bought a nine-pack box of Topps’ 2022 Heritage set, which reuses the 1973 design on cards of current players. This set has its own issues with photography, but by and large I like the cards I got. So I decided to do a follow-up Five for the Record with five 2022 Heritage cards that make me happy.

1. Hans Crouse. Ever since I moved out of the Lehigh Valley I’ve been a lot less familiar with Phillies prospects than I used to be. I’m sure Hans Crouse, a young starting pitcher from California, would not have been a complete stranger to me if I’d pulled him from a pack in Pennsylvania.

His card makes my love-list because you just don’t see too many players named Hans in baseball these days (there are several Latino guys named Hansel, but not many Hanses.) I would like to think his teammates call him Honus, or even Dutch, though probably nah.

There’s also something jaunty about his arm-swinging, foot-flipping follow-through that reminds me of Killer Joe Piro, cheerfully lindying his way through partner after partner at some long-ago New York City ballroom.

Finally, I covet cards of people who only made brief appearances in the bigs, and Crouse’s major-league career thus far consists of seven innings across two games.

Crouse is only 23, so he quite likely has more starts ahead of him, and I wouldn’t want to jinx his future career. At the same time, if those two starts are the only ones he ever gets, I won’t like his card any less because of it.

(As a side note: The position silhouettes used on the bottom right corners of 2022 Heritage fronts are the same, or mostly the same, as those used in 1973. I think the pitcher avatar’s throwing arm looks unnaturally long, then and now. Look for yourself.)

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2. Ronald Acuna Jr. A significant number of 2022 Heritage cards seem to consist of posed shots taken in front of green screens and later laid atop generic baseball backgrounds — a shortcoming I’ve grumbled about before.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see that a significant portion of 2022 Heritage does consist of action shots. I couldn’t give you a percentage breakdown, but the set is not the complete green-screen festival I feared it might be.

As a good representative of the more successful action shots, here’s the Atlanta Braves’ gifted outfielder (and 2018 NL Rookie of the Year) Ronald Acuna Jr., rumbling around the basepaths, no doubt on his way to powering yet another freaking win for the freaking Braves (who I’ve been tired of since about 1998.) He appears to be a young man in a hurry.

This one also provides a nice contrast to 1973 cards because it allows you to see just how much the trim and fittings of a major-league uniform have changed — from Acuna’s earflap helmet, to his hand and forearm wear, to his starry socks, all the way down to his orange shoes.

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3. Soler’s Home Run Leaves the Building (World Series Game 6.) Topps sets from the 1960s and 1970s often included single cards dedicated to each game of the previous year’s World Series. They made for interesting variety: While player cards are devoted to a full season’s work, a World Series game card is dedicated to one solitary moment, or at least one solitary two-hour slice of time.

Alas, they phased that out not long before I started collecting. So, as I started to learn more about baseball cards, these World Series game cards seemed like a cool vestige of times past, like the cards they used to issue of the league presidents back in the Fifties.

(The 1972 World Series was one of the greats — a full seven games, and six of them decided by only one run — and the ’73 Topps set dedicates a card to each game and a wrap-up World Champions card. Some of them are cool, like this one, and this one. Of course there’s an error, too.)

Anyway, while I’m sick of the Braves’ success year after year, and while home runs are just about the most boring play in the sport in the year 2022, and while I paid no attention whatsoever to this game at the time it was being played, I was still pretty happy to pull a World Series game recap card out of a pack.

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4. Brian Goodwin. Topps has been known to mess with the fabric of space and time in the past through the use of file photos. For instance, there are documented instances of Topps cards as late as 1969 using photos taken at New York’s old Polo Grounds … five years after the old ballpark was torn down.

(This all-time classic marks another posthumous cardboard appearance by the Polo Grounds. The subject commands such warmth and attention that you don’t notice the backdrop unless you’re looking for it.)

Anyway, 21st-century retro/turn-back-the-clock promotions present still another way to throw different times and places together.

What we have here is Chicago outfielder Brian Goodwin wearing a throwback 1983-style White Sox uniform — the Sox uniforms of my childhood — in a photo taken in 2021, printed on a card designed to mimic 1973. What year is it again?

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5. 2021 Rookie Pitchers. Multi-player rookie cards are always great — and especially so when they represent a team at the bottom of the standings, because the natural tendency is to look at them and think, “who are the scrubs they’re rolling out this year?”

Zac Lowther, Spenser Watkins and Mike Baumann combined to make 30 appearances for an Orioles team that went 52-110 — yet another in a stream of sad tanked seasons for what used to be major league baseball’s pre-eminent franchise. Together they compiled a 4-11 record and a 7.82 earned-run average.

Perhaps one or all of them will develop into successful major-league pitchers. (The first cardboard appearances of Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, and Mike Schmidt were on this type of multi-player rookie card, after all. Once upon a time, people pulled those cards and said, “who’s that?”)

Or, maybe none of them will ever pan out, and this card will remain a curio of … well, of the scrubs the Orioles rolled out in 2021.

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