When 2018 Heritage came out a few weeks back, I was right in the middle of the collecting mob contrasting and comparing. That's what baseball card lovers with a taste for vintage do, each and every year.
I spotted the difference in position designations right away and pointed those out. But I knew this wasn't a first-time occurrence and mentioned that I didn't know why Topps keeps doing this. Is there some sort of unspoken, top-secret reason for these changes?
This is what I mean. Position designations in the 1969 Topps set provided the player's position: outfield.
But 2018 Heritage, for whatever reason, chooses to use the position designation to provide the player's job title: outfielder.
It gets very awkward with infielders. The '69 set sensibly abbreviated infield positions by using numbers, because Topps knew there was only so much territory in that colored circle.
2018 Heritage, though, doesn't care about limited territory because it can dial up the kerning on its computer program to whatever fits. Squeeze that baby to to minus 30! Does it fit? Can you sort of read it? OK, then! Print it!
Of course, very little kerning would be needed if the position wasn't spelled out, even if Topps still wanted to go with "job title" over "position name." Just call it "2nd Baseman."
Whatever the reasoning for changing things up, it is definitely a "thing" this year.
The 1983-themed inserts in Topps flagship are not only different in the fact that they're printed on slick, glossy "paper" and now feature a stamp, but the position designation also lists the player's job description instead of merely the position.
And it spells out the infield names, too. At least there's more space to work with this time.
2018 appears to be an exception, because with past Heritage sets, there was no position tinkering.
You can see that with last year's Heritage, "3rd Base" stayed "3rd Base." (Get me the head of Kendall Graveman).
Three years ago, "2nd base" was still "2nd base" in 2015 Heritage.
Same deal in 2014 Heritage. No "outfielder," just "outfield".
Yet, I knew I had witnessed the awkward spelling out of the positions in other retro sets. And I found it.
The 2011 Topps Lineage mini inserts, which pay tribute to the 1975 Topps minis, scraps the economy-sized "3rd Base" to cram in "Third Baseman" into that tiny baseball.
Before I looked through these cards I thought there had to be a reason.
Now I'm not so sure.
Take a look at a random Archives set, this one from 2014.
Archives changes "Outfield" to "Outfielder".
But it also matches "3rd Base" with "3rd Base," yet unnecessarily capitalizes the "R" and "D" in "3rd"!
The most faithful matching when it comes to position designation seems to be the old All-Time Fan Favorites sets.
I didn't put a lot of time into examining various retro sets and how they handled the position designations. But this brief review makes me think that there's really no intent behind any of the changes.
I think with the sudden across-the-board difference in 2018 Topps, all it might illustrate is basic confusion among those putting the cards together over whether the designation is supposed to list the position or the player's job description. Maybe with turnover in the company, this gets re-addressed every few years.
If that's the case, a nice side-by-side comparison with cards from the set that you're using as your template, might be a good idea.
Kind of like what I did here.