Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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Taking a nostalgic look at the 1970 Topps set
Posted Jun 10, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Jun 10, 2012 at 08:04 PM
When Topps released the first of seven series of cards for its 1970 baseball card set, I was 12 years old and very much a collector. Cutting yards and babysitting gave me some cash to work with (it’s a pittance compared to today, but hey, prices were cheaper back then), and I could not wait to rip open packs.
I mean, who could afford a box? None of my friends could. Trading was still in vogue, so we’d get together and haggle.
Times had changed, though. Topps doubled the price of cards from a nickel to a dime per pack in 1970.
But what beautiful, understated cards. Gray fronts with the player or manager’s name in black script. Cartoons on the back, with blue and yellow the basic colors. Full stats of the players. What more could you want?
Well, 42 years later, the 1970 Topps set still holds up well. It was a 720-card set that included team pictures, all-star cards, the debut of playoff cards, World Series cards, rookie cards and league leader cards. It was the first set in years not to include a Mickey Mantle card (the Mick retired in 1969), and there were not many key rookie cards except for Thurman Munson.
The folks at Sports Collectors Daily (http://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com) have recaptured the nostalgia of the 1970 Topps set with an eBook, “The Ultimate Collector’s Guide to Collecting 1970 Baseball Cards.” As the cover notes, they were helped by “the Unopened Pack Guy.”
It’s not a paperback or hardback book, which is unfortunate (I like those kind of books on my shelf), but it is available for $4.97 for both the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.
If you don’t have either of those devices, you still can open it on your personal computer or laptop by downloading a Kindle reader free of charge. Here is the link:
The download for the reader is free; the book still costs $4.97 — but what a bargain.
The book includes a series-by-series breakdown, with fun facts and photographs of cards, boxes, cello packs, rack packs, posters, scratch-offs, Topps Super cards and even wrappers. The authors also look at test issues and O-Pee-Chee cards that were issued in Canada.
The authors at Sports Collectors Daily rightly point out the biggest quirk in the set — the Seattle Pilots cards. The team was transferred to Milwaukee a week before the season and became the Brewers when Bud Selig bought the team, so certainly Topps could not fix the first few series of cards that were in production. However, not changing it to Brewers for the fifth, sixth and seventh series is a bit puzzling, unless Topps was resigned to being consistent and not changing the template from Pilots to Brewers. Milwaukee fans would see their players in Brewers cards beginning in 1971.
Another fun fact: 1970 cards depicting players on the Mets or Cubs remain in high demand. That’s logical, since the Mets were the defending World Series champions and had Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan in the set. And of course the Cubs had Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo — not to mention manager Leo Durocher.
Here’s another nugget that makes this book so endearing: “Perhaps the most melancholy card in the set is card #88, the Pilots Rookie Stars card,” the authors write. “Sharing the card with Dick Baney — who won four games and saved three over three seasons with the Pilots and Reds — was a 23-year-old pitcher named Miguel Fuentes. Fuentes has the distinction of throwing the final pitch in Seattle Pilots history, but was murdered in the off-season in his native Puerto Rico by a bar patron who thought Fuentes was relieving himself on his car.”
There is some nostalgia in the book too, as Rob Bertrand (the “Voice of the Collector” who has his own blog), writes about putting together the 1970 set.
One feature I enjoyed was a “by the numbers” graphic. If you collected Topps cards during the 1960s and into the 1970s, you know that Topps assigned specific numbers to players of a certain stature. Superstars or current hot stars had cards ending in “50” or “00” (superstars typically had the “00” cards), while minor stars were on cards ending in “25” or “75.”
In 1970, eight of the 14 cards ending in “00” or “50” belonged to Hall of Famers: Harmon Killebrew (150), Willie McCovey (250), Tom Seaver (300), Roberto Clemente (350), Willie McCovey all-star (450), Hank Aaron (500), Willie Mays (600) and Frank Robinson (700).
That’s quite a group. Card No. 200, by the way, was a playoff card that featured Boog Powell. Denny McLain was No. 400, and after two monumental seasons pitching, deserved that accolade. After all, in 1968 he went 31-6 to win the A.L. Cy Young Award, and shared the award with Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar in 1969 when he went 24-9. His career, unfortunately, went downhill after that.
Another nice feature in the book examined cards that are difficult to find in PSA 9 or better condition. I had to laugh when I saw three of the cards in Series 1: Darrell Chaney (No. 3), Indians Rookies (No. 7, Gary Boyd and Russ Nagelson) and the 1st Series checklist (No. 9). I knew I should not have put rubber bands around those cards.
Another feature is written by Steve Hart and addresses unopened products from 1970 Topps —what to look for and what red flags to be concerned about. Very informative.
One final fun fact: of the inserts Topps offered in 1970, there were nine Hall of Famers included in the Scratch-offs, seven in the posters and five in the story booklets.
There are plenty of other facts and photos to sift through. For an eBook, it wasn’t too painful. It was easy to read and you can bookmark pages.
The next project for Sports Collectors Daily? It looks like the authors are going to turn their attention to the 1971 and ’72 sets.
I’ll be looking forward to that, too.