Last night I reached a pinnacle in my collecting: I completed the 2003 Topps Heritage baseball master set. It only took me eight years, which means, when I start thinking about it, that my passion for this set outlasted many of its subjects' desire or ability to compete at the major-league level.
(In fact, just a quick scan of the set yields roughly 130 players who aren't in the big leagues anymore, including two (Roberto Alomar and Rickey Henderson) who are in the Hall of Fame.)
My love of this set began back when it came out. I was living in Coolidge Corner, Brookline (just outside of Boston) and remember buying the equivalent of three full boxes from the New England Comics shop on Harvard Ave. Right there we're talking about easily $200, which is saying something, since I was making roughly $10 an hour at a bookstore job. I had pulled a Topps Teams Don Larsen autograph and traded it for about 100 cards I was still missing, including a few short prints and the Alex Rodriguez #250 (for those of you unfamiliar with the set, Topps included Rodriguez on two cards, #1 and #250, as an homage to the original 1954 set on which the Heritage design was based). Yes, I probably got the short end of the trade, but at the time, commons were going for 40 cents. I stockpiled the chrome and refractors inserts and sold them on eBay to pay for other short prints. I was on my way to finishing the set.
Then the 2004 Heritage set came out and my window of opportunity shrank considerably. It became harder and harder to find these cards. And for whatever reason (me being out of touch with other online resources, no physical card shop to visit, etc.), I put the set on the back-burner and turned my focus to other things, like starting this baseball card blog.
That's why completing this set is extra sweet. It was the reason that I got back into collecting, and the fact that my hunt for short-printed commons like Corey Koskie (retired 2006) and Fernando Tatis (retired 2010) took a quarter of my life (I'm 32) means that it took me just as long — eight years — to complete the set as I had stayed away from collecting back when I thought some distance between me and my nerdier side might make me appear cool (sadly, I was wrong).
So what does all this mean? That I have the collecting mind of a 24-year-old? That I should take the set out of pages and turn my focus to starting another set? In the last year, I've also completed the 1976 Topps master set (basic plus traded), and the 1978 and 1979 Topps sets. I'm also halfway done on the 1977 set, 50 cards from completing the 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats set, and five cards away from finishing 1956 Topps. I really want to start collecting a different set, and am leaning towards either 1965 or 1967 Topps baseball. But the problem is that I can't build any of these sets by opening packs. Collecting them means assembling them through eBay wins and Sportlots purchases (which is a heckuva lot cheaper than Beckett Marketplace, by the way). And right now that doesn't appeal to me.
But then again, neither does spending a fortune on a new box of cards of a set that doesn't have staying power. The fun thing about sets like 1965, 1967, or even 1986 Topps is that they have staying power.
By staying power I mean an iconic longevity that will guarantee it followers and a certain ubiquitousness throughout the hobby. It's a quality usually absent from many of today's gimmicky retro sets that try to replicate a classic; they may be popular one year, but they're relegated to the bargain bin the next—despite their perceived scarcity. And laugh all you want: 1986 Topps has been a bargain-bin resident since around 1993, but you can still find those cards everywhere (probably because Topps printed a billion of them), rendering it a cheap set chock full of Hall of Famers.
Admittedly, 2003 Topps Heritage doesn't have staying power. The fact that it took me this long to put together a small 488-card set speaks volumes about its decided lack of popularity, despite its hobby cornerstone original, 1954 Topps.