SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Jeff Heckman and Topps Project 2020

May 8, 2020

One of Mariano Rivera's Topps Project 2020 cards
Credit Topp 2020

Topps began humbly as a family gum business in Brooklyn in 1938, but evolved into a classic American sports company with not only its baseball cards, but football, hockey, entertainment and pop culture cards.

The Global Director of E-commerce at Topps, Jeck Heckman, is the latest guest on SportsJam with Doug Doyle.

Heckman was excited to talk about the latest project at Topps that has captivated all kinds of fans, many of them who have never collected cards.

The 400 combinations in the new Topps Project 2020 gives 20 diverse artistst creative license over 20 inconic Topps basebal cards, creating limited-edition styles released daily on the Topps website.

"We kicked it off in March, right at the coronavirus pandemic really kicked in, so the timing was certainly far from ideal but it was something we were working for several months prior to that.  What we wanted to do was to take advantage of the new decade and celebrate the 20 most iconic cards Topps cards of all-time and work with really well-known artists in a number of different fields and allow them to really reimagine what these cards can look like in their own styles.  We partnered with graffiti artists, jewelers, painters, people in the cubic art, really a variety in different styles.  It's not to dissimilar to what you find in the fashion or sneaker world where somebody partners on a shoe design and they kind of come up with their own interpretation or their own style of that shoe.  We've done that for these 20 cards.  So we're working with 20 artists, 20 different cards.  Everyday on you can see which two cards are available.  They're only available for a short period of time, 48 hours and then we print the number of cards ordered."

One of Willie Mays' Topps Project 2020 card
Credit Topps 2020

Several of the artists are based in the New York-New Jersey region.  Heckman has been impressed with the artists' work.

"Just the detail and the amount of engagement that's gone into the cards from all the artists.  A lot of them may or may not have been baseball fans, some are much more casual fans than others.  Others are bigger baseball fans.  They've really done their research."

Heckman, who joined SportsJam from his home in Brooklyn, says there's evidence that card collecting has actually benefited from the pandemic.

"Because it really is the perfect type of activity that you can do in a quarantine or lockdown situation.  You can find your own cards because people certainly have a lot of time and not a lot of activities they can take part in.  So you can go through your old collection and look through them, whether it brings up nice memories for yourself or you can share it with your family.  You can utilize social media to post whether it's old cards or new cards.  Even without live sports, people are wanting to have some connection to sports and this is one avenue to do that."

Mike Trout is the newest card in the Topps Project 2020 effort.
Credit Topps 2020

The oldest cards in the collection are the 1952 Jackie Robinsona dn WIllie Mays versions.  The newist is a 2011 Mike Trout card.  New Jersey's own Trout is a star with the Angels.  Heckman stresses it's clear that Trout is well on his way to having an iconic career like the others in the Topps Project 2020 set.

"We thought Mike would be a perfect player to feature in this."

Some of the other greats in the collection are Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden,  Mark McGwire , Ken Griffey Junior and Ichiro.                            

Heckman's favorite player is also in the collection.  Former White Sox and A's power hitter Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas.

White Sox slugger Frank Thomas was Jeff Heckman's favorite player when he was growing up in Chicago.
Credit Topps 2020

"I grew up in Chicago so Frank Thomas, he was my favorite player growing up.  My father was a big White Sox fan, so we're a big White Sox family.  A lot of my friends were Cubs fans, certainly Chicago has a lot of more Cubs fans than White Sox fans nationally, so it's a little sense of pride being for the team with the smaller fan base.  Growing up he was such a great hitter.  At the plate, not only was he a power hitter, he had a great eye and could hit for average." 

Topps NOW is one example of how the trading-card company has adapted its business model for the digital age.  There are many on-demand products and options now.

Former Yankees captain and shortstop Derek Jeter recently signed a long-term deal with Topps.  That has led to the company's Topps Now's Derek jeter Career Retrospective set of cards.  Those cards depict many of the great moments of Jeter's Hall of Fame career in pinstripes.

"Given this is his Hall of Fame year, it's a really big partnership on a grand scale.  We worked with Derek to pick the top ten moments of his career.  It's really themed by the month, so this month is May when he got his jersey retired at Yankee Stadium a few years ago on Mother's Day."

Derek Jeter Topps Project 2020 card
Credit Topps 2020

Jeter's Topps Project 2020 has been a popular fan item as well.  On April 16, Topps did a run of a Derek Jeter release that required a printing of 9,800 cards.

As for the artists, they have their own styles for sure.  Blake Jamieson has his own painting style.  Ben Baller is known for designing jewelry and bring that element to his cards.  Tyson Beck has a back ground in working with the NBA.  Tatto artist JK5 works in black and white.  Mister Cartoon, a tatoo artist, uses vectorized art.  

Other artists in teh pgoram including Sophia Chang, Grotesk, Don C, Efdot, Jacob Rochester, Andrew Thiele, Joshua Vides, King Saladeen, Matt Taylor, Naturel, Oldmanaian and Keith Shore. 

Heckman says the set has also resulted in card collectors becoming fans of the various artists and are starting to follow their respective careers and work.

Jeff Heckman has been at Topps for nearly 9 years.
Credit Jeff Heckman

Heckman says Topps Project 2020 is another example of how his company has evolved over the years.

"We like to think there's a trading card product for everybody."

Heckman and his wife have two children, a 7-year old son and a two-year old daughter.  How have they dealt with being stuck in their apartment during the coronavirus crisis?

"My son is doing the home-school thing and it's primarily been my wife that's taken on the burden of helping him out as I'm doing work.  And my daughter is two-year old and qute active.  It's definitely challening trying to keep them engaged and busy.  You know when you don't have many activities that you can do outside of the school hours and weekends, it's certainly difficult.  Everyone kind of realizes you're in this together."

Jeff Heckman played soccer, baseball and basketball during his high school days in Illinois.  He would eventually play club soccer at the University of Virginia, where he got his BA in Economics and History.  The Chicago native got his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.  

One of the creative Nolan Ryan cards in the Topps Project 2020 collection
Credit Topps 2020

Half of cards in the Topps Project 2020 collection has connections to the New York or New Jersey region, which has also been a plus for the company.  Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson bring back the memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers, while Willie Mays represents the old New York Giants and his final days as a New York Met.  Mets legendary hurlers Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden have some of the most interesting cards in the set. 

Click above to hear more about Jeff Heckman's thoughts on Topps and his career in the sports world.