Friday, October 13, 2017

G.O.A.T., the '70s, 70-61

I have some gall placing a countdown show in the middle of the baseball postseason. Doesn't Major League Baseball have a rule against that? No transactions or countdowns while the playoffs are going on!

I'm not feeling that guilty about it however.

Sure I've got baseball playoff fever. My Dodgers are still alive (playing those Cubs again, who don't have that "we haven't won in a century" sob story to get fans on their side anymore). And there's still lots of work to do getting rid of those Yankees.

But I also know that the games last six hours and 12 minutes on average. And one-fourth of that time is filled by bourbon commercials. So you've got time to look at a countdown of some of the greatest cards the 1970s ever made.

So, if you haven't made yourself a baseball meal tonight yet, might I suggest something:

Grab a bowl of Freakies cereal and pour some Nestle's Strawberry Quik on it. Then, if you're still not fired up over the '70s after that, watch about 25 episodes of "This Week in Baseball" back-to-back, followed by the James Caan movie "Rollerball".

That ought to do it.

It's the greatest cards of the '70s, numbers 70-61:


Pete Rose, 1979 Topps Burger King, #13

The 1978 season was over. The Yankees had defeated the Dodgers in six games for the second straight year in the World Series.

The Cincinnati Reds, the former Big Red Machine, had finished out of the postseason for the second straight year. These were restless times for the Reds and no one was more restless than Pete Rose.

Rose wanted to be the highest-paid player in baseball. Everyone knew it. The man who had hit in 44 straight games that summer had taken turns with Reds management batting down contract offers. Then, it happened on Dec. 5, 1978. Rose, a Red as long as just about everyone had known him, was now a Phillie.

The concept was baffling. If you weren't a Reds fan, you probably spent most of your time rooting against Rose and Cincinnati. I know I did. But he was always a Red. That's how you found him, scuffling to first in crimson trim between Aqua Velva commercials. How weird would it be to see Rose as a Phillie?

It took a Burger King baseball card, an oddball card, to show us.

Even though I was never a Reds, Phillies or Rose fan, this card was on my want list from the day I knew it existed. And it stayed on that list for decades until I landed one a year or so ago. Those who see nothing more than Pete Rose in an airbrushed Phillies helmet simply don't understand what Rose and the Reds meant to 1970s baseball.


Willie Mays, 1973 Topps, #305

I am assuming that seeing Willie Mays as a Met on cardboard was just as jarring as seeing Pete Rose as a Phillie on cardboard. Mays' transition from the Giants to the Mets happened before I started following baseball.

But I can appreciate the strangeness. And from the looks of Mays' expression, he can, too.

"Whaaat?" he seems to be saying, "I'm a Met??????"

Yep. Get a load of you, Say Hey Kid, you're wearing blue pinstripes. This is Mays' final card of his career, other than the World Series card featuring him in the 1974 Topps set. It's not exactly the kind of card that you'd want for your finale.

But then, hitting .238 in his last two seasons, both with the Mets, maybe that's the card Willie Mays deserved.


Bud Harrelson, 1970 Topps, #634

There aren't a lot of cards from the 1970s that I haven't seen before, especially now after doing research for this countdown.

But I discovered the 1970 Bud Harrelson card for the first time maybe two years ago and fell in love with it instantly.

It was off my radar for so many years because I didn't bother paying attention to 1970 Topps for a long time, what with those drab borders. But also because Harrelson's card falls in the high numbers and those high number cards just don't seem to get distributed so people can see them.

Photos of players signing for fans are always pleasing. But this one is special just because of the almost private moment captured on cardboard. Harrelson is thoughtfully signing for a single fan. We're so close to the scene we can almost make out the type of pen being used.

I still don't own this card. I need to get it.


Tony Horton, 1971 Kellogg's, #69

I can't imagine what kids who didn't grow up in Cleveland thought when they pulled a 3-D card of Tony Horton out of their cereal box.

Tony Horton? Who is Tony Horton?

In those days before the internet or cable television, kids learned about baseball players from baseball cards. But Horton didn't show up on baseball cards. Topps didn't make a card of Horton during his time with the Red Sox or the Indians. He hit 27 home runs in 1969. No card.

Horton, who likely did not have a contract with Topps during his time in the majors, ended up leaving baseball at age 25. He dealt with mental health issues and the game was too trying for him. In fact, this card appeared after Horton had quit the game.

It is the only 1970s card of Horton created during his career.


Mickey Mantle/Maury Wills, 1975 Topps, MVP subset, #200

The internet is stuffed to the rafters with "cards that never were," created by inventive types, often using familiar Topps designs.

But Topps created some of the first "cards that never were" in its 1975 set.

A subset that year commemorated each league's MVPs for the life of Topps' cards, from 1951-74. Topps decided to showcase the player's card from the year he won the MVP.

There was one problem with that. The MVP didn't always have a Topps card the year he won the award. That was the case a couple of times with Roy Campanella, so Topps created a mock-up of Campanella in a 1951 and 1955 card for its MVP subset.

And it created a 1962 mock-up for Maury Wills.

Wills, like Horton, didn't have a contract with Topps for much of his career. But the created "card" for the subset seemed so real that for years I thought there was a Wills card in the 1962 Topps set. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

Topps then reused that "card" for other cards in later sets, solidifying this "card" in reality even though it doesn't actually exist.

The repeated use of the image is fascinating to me. And it's why this card is on this list and the Campanella cards are not. (OK, Mickey Mantle has a little bit to do with it).


George Scott, 1977 Topps, #255

George Scott was almost a mythical figure to kids in the 1970s.

A large man who blasted something he called "taters" into the stratosphere became an instant favorite to me and others I knew.

The significance of his 1977 Topps card escaped me for a few years though. Again, I wasn't following baseball when a Milwaukee Journal reporter asked George Scott in 1975 about the "beads" he wore on a necklace.

Scott's famous response was: "those are second basemen's teeth," which if I had heard it at the time, I would have dropped everything and become a Milwaukee Brewers fan. The necklace is actually a combination of various shells, but you wouldn't have had a difficult time getting a kid to believe that they were actually some nasty old teeth from a middle infielder. Ewww! Is that dried blood?


Bud Harrelson, 1971 Topps, #355

How about this? Bud Harrelson's second appearance in this countdown segment!

Unlike his 1970 Topps card, Harrelson is not on prominent display, despite making the tag on Astros baserunner Jimmy Wynn. It's an interesting action shot that could have benefited from some closer cropping.

But it's fortunate that Topps' editors didn't crop too closely. The beauty of this card is future Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan at right giving the out call, even though Wynn was likely safe.


Reggie Jackson, 1977 Topps, #10

I will never own the blank back Reggie Jackson card featuring him in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. It's disappointing because the 1976 season was all about Reggie Jackson playing as an Oriole. I remember that Sports Illustrated cover as one of the wildest, because who would have ever considered Reggie Jackson wearing orange and black?

Then the news grew noisier Jackson became a Yankee. During that wild offseason, the first for unfettered free agency, Jackson signed up for the soap opera that was The Bronx in the 1970s.

The best that Topps could do was airbrush yet another card for the 1977 Topps set. We kids knew that Jackson wasn't really wearing a Yankee helmet or jersey. But still, we felt ready for what was to come in '77 because Jackson was shown with his proper team.


George Brett, 1978 Topps, #100

There was this thing that Topps did when a player was a superstar. Topps liked to get in the player's face.

Zoom up real close, so close that you almost can't tell whether the dude is a ballplayer by simply looking at the photo. But also don't lose the personality of the player. Find something that says "this is Mr. Superstar".

The Brett card accomplishes this. Brett had hit over .300 for a third straight year and was now in the conversation as one of the best hitters in baseball. Topps zoomed in real tight, but also showcased two aspects that still tells you that this is Brett:

His long blond hair is waving in the breeze.

He's sucking on a wad of tobacco.

Topps added the all-star shield just in case you still didn't know.


Doug Rader, 1976 SSPC, #59

For years, there must have been an unspoken agreement between Topps and its photographers:

"Make sure to feature the baseball player in nothing but the best light. Nothing negative, nothing gross and no silliness."

SSPC broke that wall. Players want to be silly. Boy, do they ever.

What's sillier than someone nicknamed The Rooster choking up severely on a bat while wearing the most famous horizontally-striped jersey and a wild grin on his face?


At least SSPC could figure out that something like that should be on a card.

And that's 10 more down for the week as the fourth installment is complete.

I hope you enjoy the game (I hope you notice I ended with an Astro).


  1. Another fantastic post. Really enjoying these.

  2. I love the reflection of the "M" in the George Scott card. Another awesome post.

  3. I wonder if Harrelson card is the first capturing a player signing an autograph for fans. Tony Horton appears in TCMAs stars of the 1960s that came out in 1978.

    1. Also on the 1970 Dell photo stamps, 72 Milton Bradley. . Dell stamps technically not a card. MB after he retired

    2. I'd love to see an insert set featuring players signing autos. So many iconic pics of players interacting with the fans. Would be fun.

  4. Ahhh! When cards were cards. No foil, no lighting bolts, no flying embers. Great lineup.

    1. Great lineup, except for the 71 Bud Harrelson. What sense does it make to have 4 players on a card where you have to pick out the featured player? Plus you can hardly see his face. As you said, it would have benefited from a closer cropping. I see no beauty in this card. If I wanted to see Nolan Ryan, I would look for a Nolan Ryan card.

  5. I am going to add a card to this 65.5...1977 O-Pee-Chee George Scott features the exact same photo but he is airbrushed into a red sox may be my favorite airbrush job because the artist captured the reflection on the helmet as well

  6. Like Kevin in the previous comment, I'd also nominate the OPC Boomer for the 65.5 slot. Fantastic airbrushing.

    That 1975 MVP subset was my introduction to just about every Topps design from before I started collecting in 1974. I pored over that subset for hours, so when I found out the Maury Wills wasn't a real card, I said something like "What? But it was in the K-Mart -- and the 1987 Turn Back The - WHAT???"

  7. 1971 Topps had so many awesome action shots. Not sure if I've seen that Harrelson before... but I know I want one now. And you nailed it. I can totally see Willie's 73T card being turned into a meme.

  8. I love the fact that Topps fabricated a Maury Wills card years later, then reused it on more than one occasion, solidifying its existence. That feels like cardboard Twilight Zone.

  9. Another excellent post. I like the Doug Rader, 1976 SSPC, #59.

  10. I recently acquired a copy of the Rader and it instantly became one of my favorite cards of the '70s...heck, of all-time, even. And from what I can gather, the Harrelson is probably the first card ever to feature a guy signing for fans. (Hank Aaron also has an autograph shot in '70 Topps, but he's signing from a box of balls in what looks to be the clubhouse or an otherwise nondescript room.)

  11. Great post,glad to see you have so much love for the 1976 sspc set,a very underrated set.

  12. Excellent job! Can't wait for the rest of the cards. BTW-That's Ken Boswell in the '71 Bud Harrelson backing up the play!