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.
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