Today is Ron Cey's 68th birthday. I must acknowledge my favorite player of all-time's birthday each year and this year I'm doing it with a card I've shown before -- it's one of a dozen signed cards that I own of The Penguin. But it is special because it's Cey's signed 1976 SSPC card.
It is special because I now own the 1976 SSPC set (which some call the 1975 SSPC set, but we all know you couldn't buy it until 1976).
I recently completed a mammoth trade with Scott Crawford On Cards. More than 1,000 cards exchanged hands in the deal. And most of the cards I received were the 630 cards that make up the '76 SSPC set.
I have long wanted this set for a number of reasons. It's a great-looking set that I have admired since I was a teenager, viewing it in the TCMA or Larry Fritsch mail-order catalogs. It features the players from my introduction to baseball, all of the greats from the mid-1970s. And, most important of all, it is a companion set to both the 1975 Topps set -- the first set I ever collected -- and the 1976 Topps set. Both '75 and '76 are titans of my childhood and the most significant factors in producing my love for the game of baseball.
I've viewed various SSPC cards here and there, mostly online. But with the exception of the Dodgers, and a handful of others in the set, I have never owned more than a scattering. Now, however, I get to view all of them.
From first, Buzz Capra ...
... to last ...
... Jimmie Reese.
Reese's card casually mentions on the reverse that the backs are edited by Keith Olbermann.
But I've known these cards -- called "The Pure Set" from the time they were released -- were special long before I knew who Keith Olbermann was.
It's filled with glorious, quirky items and interesting photos. Plus there are many aspects in this set that you just couldn't find in Topps sets during the time it was monopolizing the baseball card biz.
SSPC featured manager cards, a profession that was relegated to a tiny mug shot paired up with a team photo in Topps sets of the mid-1970s.
It also featured players cast aside by Topps because they were at the end of their careers. Gene Michael is a Tiger in the SSPC set. And early '70s players like Hector Torres, Charlie Manuel and Bill Gogolewski have their own cards.
It also featured players who never got their own card in a Topps set. Above, clockwise from top left, are Greg Terlecky, Tom Bianco, Lafayette Currence, Ron Dunn, Jerry Cram and Jim Hutto. Don't tell me you know who they are. Topps made sure they were forgotten.
SSPC also could keep Fran Healy and Steve Busby straight, something that Topps could not in the 1975 set, when it did this:
That's Fran Healy on Steve Busby's card.
SSPC even rubbed it in a little by featuring Healy and Busby numbered back-to-back in the set.
SSPC did what Topps would never do. Here are two Montreal Expos managers in the same set. Sure, it mentions on the back of Gene Mauch's card that he's moved on to the Twins. But the photos still show Mauch and Karl Kuehl as Expos managers.
One of my greatest disappointments in doing the 1975 Topps blog is failing to find more players with tobacco chaw in their mouth. I knew there had to be players with chaw because I remember seeing it all the time watching games on TV in the '70s. Fortunately, SSPC didn't let me down. There are dozens of players either displaying a bulge in their cheek or wearing a sour expression because they're attempting to keep the tobacco juice in their mouth until the camera flash goes off.
SSPC also wasn't afraid to show sweat -- or maybe that's tobacco juice. Check out the strange vendor action figure just over Sonny Seibert's right shoulder.
These are the kinds of fantastic details in the SSPC set that will keep me busy for hours. But in order to keep myself somewhat restrained, I thought I'd count down 30 of my favorite SSPC cards, much like this blog is doing.
I know -- "30 cards in one post!" you're saying. "I don't have time for that!" Trust me, I could find 60 more cards to put in the top 30. Besides, nobody says you have to read this all in one shot. It will be here next week.
Let's take a look at 30 Super Spectacular Perfect Cards.
30. Gary Carter - #334
A night card of a very young Gary Carter. This is basically Carter's first solo card from a mass-produced set. The nightness makes up for the lack of a rookie cup, which is on Carter's '76 Topps card.
It's tough to compete with Millan's '76 Topps card, which shows Millan severely choking up on the bat. But giving a television interview in the mid-1970s is something you never saw -- except on television.
28. Dennis Eckersley - #506
For my money, a better rookie card than Eck's 1976 Topps card. Also, this very well could be the first selfie card. Eck was that ahead of his time.
27. Robin Yount - #238
Robin Yount's 1975 Topps card is iconic. But it's also a little too boy wonder. Yount was a professional baseball player after all. This card is much more baseball.
26. Cecil Upshaw - #138
Little known '70s fact: Cecil Upshaw gave Rollie Fingers mustache twirling lessons.
25. Jim Lyttle - #337
How much do I love this card? Let me count the ways: 1. Night card; 2. Glasses card. 3. Expos card. 4. Chaw card. ... I think I just overdosed on cardboard.
24. Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca, Pee Wee Reese - #594
The back of the set features random pairings of players and past players, and also includes the only writing on the card fronts. I'm a sucker for old-time Brooklyn Dodgers. I know I'm not alone on that.
23. Doug Rader - #59
Until the checklist cards in the final 40 or so cards of the set, this is the only horizontal card. You can see why SSPC made an exception for Mr. Rader.
22. Lou Brock - #510
I've seen this card so many times elsewhere that I can't believe it's mine. To me, this is a terrific card. following Brock setting the single-season stolen base record. The '76 Topps card is pretty sweet, too, although it's an old photo.
21. Dave LaRoche - #510
Junior wore his cap backward on a card. Pssssssh.
20. Steve Stone - #302
There are a shocking number of cap-less cards in this set (the first seven or so Orioles are all cap-less). In most cases, it's only to showcase the player's dynamite hairdo. Case in point.
19. Rich Gossage - #156
Y'all know Gossage as "Goose," a fu-manchu wild-flinging Yankee or Padre, etc. I remember when he was clean-shaven Rich wearing White Sox red. SSPC backs me up.
18. Darrel Chaney - #33
For years, Chaney's 1976 Topps Traded card haunted me, holding a starring role in childhood nightmares. If only I could have viewed this Chaney card back then. I'd be so much more well-adjusted.
17. Jim Colborn - #226
Night card? Definitely. But more importantly, I am convinced if Colborn made that face every time he released a pitch, he would now be the greatest pitcher in MLB history.
16. Nolan Ryan - #187
Without a doubt, the best Nolan Ryan cards are Angel Ryan cards (Mets and Astros run a semi-distant second). It is pretty darn cool to land a mid-1970s Ryan card that I only had a vague idea existed before receiving this set.
15. Harmon Killebrew - #168
"Killebrew is a Kansas City Royal." SSPC was the only one that had the guts to tell this to Minnesota Twins fans. And to also say to them, "Deal."
14. Johnny Bench - #31
The same thing I mentioned about Nolan Ryan applies here. A mid-1970s Johnny Bench card?????? Gimme! Also, I feel very deprived that I was never an adult in the 1970s so I could wear red slacks.
13. Rowland Office - #20
My god, this was the 1970s.
12. Dave Cash - #465
I adore all Dave Cash cards, but I especially adore Dave Cash Phillies cards. So, this card in particular is too cool for words. I could go on about the dugout steps and the sitting and the stirrups and the scoreboard and Phillies and Mets together in diamond harmony, but I'd just be yammering.
11. Frank Robinson - #525
This card is amazing because Robinson is half-manager/half-player at this point. It's almost like being half-man/half-superhero. Also, don't tell anybody, but this card glows in the dark.
10. Fred Lynn - #402
Lynn's 1976 Topps rookie cup card has its charm. It's action-packed and quite the announcement of Lynn's sudden emergence as a '70s superstar. But you can't see much of him in that photo. This one -- ladies -- helps you get to know Lynn. Also, as an aside, I very much appreciate all the Red Sox red caps in this set. This is the Red Sox look I knew when I first watched games on TV. It's homey and seems right, even if longtime Sox fans consider it an abomination.
9. Woodie Fryman, #345
Somehow, you know by this photo that Woodie would rather be playing golf. Get out of his way.
8. Willie Randolph - #584
How I've wanted a card of Randolph when he's not wearing a Yankees uniform. Sure, the Dodgers and Mets years were fun (the Brewers era was a little sad). But those teams were after the fact. Seeing Randolph as a Pirate is sheer delight.
7. Joe Hoerner - #456
"Mom! ---- that's not grandma!"
6. Rod Carew - #214
Goodness. This is either the worst photo ever taken of Rod Carew or belongs in an art museum. I'm leaning toward the art museum.
5. Tony Perez - #39
The man drove in 109 runs in 1975 and is bunting on his baseball card. This is so '70s.
4. Willie Mays - #616
I love every card of Willie Mays as a Met, mostly because he's not a Giant. Mays was just a coach at this point, but I don't care.
3. Oscar Gamble - #526
Couldn't even get all of his hair in the frame. And don't tell me that wasn't on purpose.
2. George Brett/Al Cowens - #598
These two were so fresh and new that SSPC couldn't spell Cowens' name correctly on the front. Love that they gave the newbies their own chance to goof off.
1. Hank Aaron - #239
To me, this is the best final tribute Aaron card. Such a perfect card.
There is so much to love about this set, and so much to be proud of, since it showed up during my favorite collecting time period.
I enjoy the random orderliness of the set. It's organized by team, except when it's not (i.e. a stray Brewer card in the middle of the Rangers; Jerry Koosman in the back of the set, far from his teammates). It features a collection of coaches and minor league people that seem to have no connection to -- or reason for being in -- the set.
I look forward to making little discoveries.
Like this being an old photo of Bill Lee (because he's not wearing the new red Red Sox cap or pullover jersey).
And how these two don't look like the Jerry Terrell and Eric Soderholm in the Topps sets.
I even adore the backs.
Multi-colored type is so, so, so very '70s. I love it.
The fact that the vast majority of the photos were taken in Shea Stadium is also very '70s. The Yankees played at Shea in 1974/75 while work was being done on Yankee Stadium.
Although I will always be a fan of the Topps cards of the '70s and do not harbor a grudge against them for the monopoly it created during this period, I am still glad that the SSPC set snuck through before Topps had a chance to shut it down.
This is another window on the players and teams that were around when I started this hobby. For the longest time, I've known only one way to look at Milt May, Bob Boone and Alan Ashby. This provides another perspective.
This is also another chapter complete in my quest for everything mid-1970s cardboard. I can't wait for what's next.