The Ten Best Topps Baseball Cards of the 1970s

Drumroll please…here are my top ten baseball cards of the 1970s. Each card is rating from 1-5 according to my “3P” criteria, and the ratings are summed to create a total score —

  • Player – Think of a 5 as a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer, a 3 as a guy who maybe made the All-Star team a couple times, and a 1 as a guy who mostly rode the bench.
  • Picture – Totally subjective but a 5+ would be the 1953 Bowman Pee Wee Reese, and a 1 would be 1970 Hoyt Wilhelm. Score points for a great action shot, a nice card design, or just a picture that seems to capture the essence of the player.
  • Pinnacle – Score points here for capturing a player in his prime, during a World Championship year, or at some notable career milestone. Rookie cards carry a small boost, but I don’t get too crazy over them.

I’ll be honest and acknowledge that there are several cards not listed below that even by my own scoring system would outscore some of the ones I have below. That said, I feel pretty solid about my top two. Any biggies you think I missed?

10. 1977 Mark FidrychBird

  • Player – 3
  • Picture – 3
  • Pinnacle – 5 (depicts the Bird’s historic 1976 season)
  • Total – 11
  • Notes: The Bird took the baseball world by storm with his rapid rise to the top, including an all-star appearance, a Rookie of the Year award, an E.R.A. title, and a runner-up finish in the Cy Young voting. Beyond the numbers, Fidrych was also one of baseball’s most colorful personalities and a player that perhaps epitomized 1970s America more than any other.

9. 1971136778 Thurman Munson

  • Player – 4
  • Picture – 5
  • Pinnacle – 2
  • Total – 11
  • Notes: This All-Star Rookie card of Munson has to be one of Topps’ all-time best action poses. In the picture, Munson awaits the throw as…any guesses?…Chuck Dobson of the Oakland A’s slides into home plate headfirst. While Munson had a rookie card in the 1970 set, this All-Star Rookie card is THE must-have card of the future Yankee captain who died tragically at the age of 32.

8. 1961H1stLh4eL._SX342_75 Cleveland Indians team card

  • Player – 5 (focusing on Frank Robinson)
  • Picture – 2
  • Pinnacle – 5 (major historical achievement)
  • Total – 12
  • Notes: As it the case most years, Cleveland wasn’t a particularly great team around this time. However, the team card is notable in its portrayal of Frank Robinson in the lower left corner. Robinson, like his namesake in 1947, had just made history, having become baseball’s first African American manager. Note that Robinson also has a standard player card in this same set, but its front simply identifies his position as DH rather than DH-Mgr.

7. 1976 Fred Lynn515J8JXIFpL._SY355_

  • Player – 4
  • Picture – 4
  • Pinnacle – 5 (depicts Lynn’s historic 1975 season)
  • Total – 13
  • Notes: Baseball’s MVP and Rookie of the Year, Fred Lynn, led Boston to the 1975 World Series and would go on to become one of the best all around players of the next decade. It’s a nice action shot of a hitter who might have compelled Boston fans to ask themselves, “Could this be the next Carl Yastrzemski? Or even the next Ted Williams?”

6. 1974 Nolan Ryan144510

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 4
  • Pinnacle – 4 (depicts Ryan’s historic 1973 season)
  • Total – 13
  • Notes: One of my favorite cards as a kid. I loved the batter’s eye view of Ryan about to throw his 100 mph fastball en route to a record 383 strikeouts and the first two of his record seven no-hitters.

5. 1972 150425Roberto Clemente

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 4
  • Pinnacle – 4 (depicts 1971 World Championship season)
  • Total – 13
  • Notes: Easy to miss at first glance, just above the “R” in Pirates, there is a baseball suspended precariously in midair as Roberto Clemente, plays a game of catch with himself. I’m no poet but there seems to be a metaphor here. What goes up must come down. Ashes to ashes. RIP Roberto Clemente.

4. 1974 Reggie JacksonReggieJackson_1974_130_Black

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 4
  • Pinnacle – 5 (during the 1972-1974 Three-peat and depicts Reggie’s 1973 MVP season)
  • Total – 14
  • Notes: The 1974 card design was one of my least favorites of the decade. Perhaps this alone prevents this card from earning a perfect score.

1508593. 1974 Hank Aaron

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 4
  • Pinnacle – 5 (no explanation needed for this one!)
  • Total – 14
  • Notes: When Topps released this card, Hank Aaron was not yet the Home Run King; his 713 lifetime homers put him one behind Babe Ruth. Still, Topps took a small gamble here and decided they just had to get out in front of one of the most important moments in baseball history. Probably one of the five most iconic Topps cards ever.

1405762. 1976 Johnny Bench

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 5
  • Pinnacle – 5 (the apex of the Big Red Machine, 1975-76)
  • Total – 15
  • Notes: There may not be anyone else on the planet that loves this Bench card as much as I do. The cloud of dust at Bench’s feet and the stare-down seem to capture the essence of Johnny Bench as THE guy you didn’t want on the other team.

80-200Fr1. 1978 Reggie Jackson

  • Player – 5
  • Picture – 5
  • Pinnacle – 5 (depicts 1977 World Championship; also year of 1978 World Championship)
  • Total – 15
  • Notes: To me, this card just screams Reggie! It’s a terrific action shot that even Upper Deck would have been proud of, featuring Reggie in full follow-through, back knee practically on the ground. The colors are rich, augmented by the Topps all-star logo. And here is Mr. October in his prime, fresh off his record five home runs in the 1977 World Series and about to go win another–his fifth overall.
Advertisements

Remembering 1978 Topps

PRE-RAMBLE

My baseball card collecting began at a bake sale for Brentwood’s Bonner School back in the Fall of 1977. I paid 50 cents, which was a lot back then, for a stack of 43 cards from the 1974 Topps set. Every card was a common, other than the New York Mets manager card featuring Yogi Berra, but this small stack of cards propelled me from having no baseball cards at all to suddenly having a collection. Before the season came to an end, I managed to add a couple packs of 1977 Topps to my collection, including Rod Carew, and then began the first long wait of my then young life–the six months or so it would take for 1978 Topps to hit the shelves.

OPENING DAY

shoppingStarting around March 1–maybe even earlier–I would ride my bike each day–sometimes more than once–to the 7/11 on Venice and Sepulveda, only to find that cards had not yet hit the shelves. Then one day, I think it was in April, there were boxes on the shelves. By that time I’d saved up enough to buy 4-5 packs, which I had to open right on the spot rather than wait the five minutes it would take to bike home.

These days you might imagine a kid quickly thumbing through to see if he drew a “rare” insert or his favorite player. Back then, I am guessing I spent about a half hour outside the 7/11. I did look for my favorite players, though I somehow got none of them! However, I also spent a good deal of time looking at every single card–front and back–reading the stats, looking for good hits on the “Play Ball – Played by Two” game, and setting aside all Dodgers, all-stars, record breakers, team cards, and otherwise notable cards.

I wish I had set aside this first buy or could even remember the details of who was in it. On the whole, I vaguely remember a Sparky Lyle record breaker, a Doug Rau (my first Dodger!), and a Tony Armas–most notable for his Play Ball outcome of “STRIKE UT.” Over the course of the season–and it really did take that long with my limited budget–I worked my way toward a complete set, minus perhaps only a dozen or so cards.

WHAT WAS FUN

80-298BkOne thing my collection did for me was get me “in” with a new bunch of friends at school, the baseball card collectors. There was nothing more fun than spending part of lunch or recess (or sometimes during class) trading with each other. Back then, the Holy Grail was a Steve Garvey card. One albeit very large notch down were Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, George Foster, Jim Rice, and Johnny Bench. And just below those elementary school immortals were Seaver, Morgan, Yaz, Carew, Brett, Luzinski, Kingman, and others.

We typically cared very little about the condition of the cards, and it was often the case that the most precious cards were the ones we took the worst care of, keeping them in pockets or under pillows as opposed to shoe boxes or binders. I made a lot of new friends in 1978, and trading baseball cards was just about the only thing we ever did together. Still, it filled the days and months quite nicely.

Still, Cards with Friends was only half the story. For every hour I spent trading with friends, I spent two by myself in my room. There, favorite activities included sorting my growing set by number, then by team, then by number, then by team, and so on. Or holding a draft where I pretended to be four different owners. Or playing “Play Ball” against myself. Or replaying the 1977 Dodgers vs Yankees World Series. Or–not so much as its own activity but as a by-product of these others–memorizing player stats. Or making a card tower. Or learning handwriting from the cursive team names. Or practicing long division with the at-bats and hits. And those are just the things I remember almost 40 years later.

TRAGEDY

One thing I NEVER did was clean up after any of this. My carpet was so covered in cards that there was barely even a path from the door to my bed, particularly as my collection grew. It was as if I were some alien creature whose habitat was to dwell among card piles. And truly, this was how I was happiest, surrounded by my cardboard idols. My mom, on the other hand, was not thrilled with how I decorated and for the first of many times chose to solve the problem by picking everything up and throwing it away. To her, these were just disposable pieces of cardboard, and I doubt there was much feeling involved. For me, these were the faces of my heroes, real and living. It was as if my mom had just committed genocide across the baseball world. Save the occasional Dick Ruthven I might find sandwiched between my bed and the wall, I was back to having nothing.

REBIRTH

With little time left in the baseball season, there was no way I would be able to build the 726-card set fair and square. Fortunately, I knew where my mom hid her money, and just like that a good kid turned bad. It took maybe three weeks to rebuild what had taken me 4-5 months the first time, at least in terms of my 1978 set, though I suppose it took years if not decades to rebuild a strong relationship with my mom. At the time, of course, my 1978 Topps cards were much more the priority for me, not that I’d have them for long. Somewhere around Christmas, they were back in the trash, and I was back to playing cardboard pauper and counting down the days till April when the 1979 series would hit the shelves.

FAVORITES

As I look back now on what was the very first set to take over my life, nearly every card still looks familiar and brings me back so many years. It’s tough to choose my very favorites, but here is a shot at my top fifteen. The Reggie All-Star even makes my list of Ten Best Topps Cards of the 1970s, but that’s a subject for another post. Enjoy the memories!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.