Instead, the base set checklist is overrun with short (or single) prints, and recently, super-short prints. Sure, finding an SP or SSP in a pack is fun, I'm not going to deny that. But when companies don't want to expand the base set checklist (thus SPs, variations, and SSPs hiding behind regular base card checklist numbers), the idea of adding a subset or two (or three or four) would mean removing a handful of rookie-card slots or end-of-the-bench players who might turn out to be diamonds in the rough.
Here's a solution. First off, don't touch the SSP idea; it's a draw for too many collectors. But instead of hidden base-checklist SPs, add subset cards as base-checklist variations. And don't short-print them, either—seed them 1:1 or 1:2, in a different pack position than inserts or SPs are traditionally placed. Packs will become livelier thanks to these accessible SPs. Although SPs in name only, the subsets would still be hidden off the regular base-set checklist. This way, the checklist holds steady at 600 or 700 cards, with a "master" base set checklist of 650 to 800 cards completely accessible to collectors not interested in spending lots of cash for expensive short prints.
Of course, this idea may not work for all sets. A set I'm looking forward to is Heritage '65, due Spring 2014. Unless an asteroid hits Topps HQ in Lower Manhattan in the next few months, my educated guess is that the checklist will have at least 75 on-checklist SPs, with chrome and refractor parallel sets, plus the tired Heritage stable of inserts News Highlights, Highlights, Then & Now, and New Age Performers. It's incredible to me that these insert sets keep chugging along, despite wearing out their welcome years ago, but that's a topic for another day. Let's just focus on the base checklist.
What if Topps shook things up? Like by removing most if not all of the base-checklist SPs. For clarification, I'm not talking about hidden variations. If anything, by unlocking these 75 or so numbers from short-print status, it opens the possibility of adding meaningful shadow SPs.
Take the original checklist from 1965 Topps, for example. It's chock full of retiring legends, Hall of Fame rookie cards, and exciting stars. To revitalize the Heritage checklist, take a page from the All-Time Fan Favorites sets and create shadow SPs of players like Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and others on their original checklist numbers but using different photos than their original cards.
This will allow collectors to be able to complete the regular set without breaking the bank, but also add a twist for master set collectors. And this is just the thing a set like Heritage needs—heck, like any set these days needs: a revitalization of the base-set checklist from the inside out.