I stumbled across another anniversary today.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the debut of Toronto Blue Jays uniforms on trading cards.
As many know, the first Blue Jays cards appeared in the 1977 Topps set. But none of the players shown as Blue Jays were wearing actual Blue Jays uniforms. Topps airbrushed the players into Blue Jays caps and -- having stumbled through various versions of the Blue Jay bird -- didn't dare tackle the uniform and kept the selection to head shots, airbrushing only the collars mostly.
So, the 1978 Topps set provided the first lengthy look at the Blue Jays uniform for those who didn't live in Toronto or in one of the U.S. border towns (note: as someone on Twitter has already mentioned, 1977 OPC featured Blue Jays unis).
It was quite a treat seeing those players, most of whom I didn't know at all, in their baby blue Jays uniforms with the electric letters and numbers. Most of what I gathered from the cards were that these players were not good! But there's more to the story than that, so let's run through another Joy of a Team Set episode to explore that first Blue Jays coming-out party.
Here we go:
That's 26 cards, which is on par with the other teams in the set.
There were a couple of other Blue Jays if you count the four-player rookie cards:
Poor Garth Iorg and Ernie Whitt are a bit overshadowed by Whitaker, Murphy and Parrish, but they had solid careers in their own right -- more solid than some of their teammates with their own cards.
All right, let's explore the team set a little bit more on this Canada Day holiday:
Favorite card runners-up: 5. Otto Velez, 4. Alvis Wood, 3. Jerry Johnson, 2. Rick Cerone.
Favorite element on the back:
For me, the manager card is interesting on both the front and the back. I had no idea at the time that the Blue Jays' first manager, Roy Hartsfield, had been an infielder for the Braves in the 1950s. I also had no idea what that "B" was on his hat (it certainly wasn't the Brooklyn "B"!).
Then, turn the card over and look at all those years and teams!!! The "batted" and "threw" freaked me out a little back then. How ancient was this guy? Also, Chattahoochee!!!
Famous error card: The '78 set is almost blissfully free of errors. Topps had some quality control back then.
Team's claim to fame: After finishing 54-107 in their debut season, the Blue Jays were dead last again in 1978 with a slightly better mark of 59-102. Perhaps more of note that season, Toronto drafted both Lloyd Moseby and Dave Stieb.
Players I've talked to: none.
Most interesting cards:
Ron Fairly is the only Blue Jay with a card number ending in a "5" or "0" in the 1978 set (card No. 85). But the Blue Jays did have three players with rookie cups. Not bad for a seventh place team.
Former or future Dodgers: Ron Fairly, Bob Bailor.
Dispelling the myth:
As I came to know the Blue Jays while collecting the 1978 set, I noted quite a few players with lousy stats. Luis Gomez's career batting average was .199! Tim Nordbrook's was .179! Perhaps more disturbingly, Jeff Byrd's career ERA was 6.21!
But after crunching the numbers, the Blue Jays hitters shown in the 1978 set totaled a semi-respectable .258 batting average (if you take out Ron Fairly and Doug Rader -- two established star players with other teams -- you drop to .251).
The pitchers finish with a 4.26 ERA, which isn't great, but is certainly no big deal during this day and age.
Spot the Brut sign!:
A number of the Blue Jays cards feature photos taken at Yankee Stadium.
Favorite card in the set:
I'm sure everyone saw this coming.
This is one of the most-referenced cards in the history of this blog.
You'll notice that the edges of the Doug Ault card are rather rough. This is pretty common in my complete 1978 Topps set.
That's because '78 falls in that weird gray area of childhood collecting. I was in my fourth year of buying packs and old enough to take care of my toys better than I once did. Yet, it's apparent that they're still well-handled.
I'm on the fence on whether to upgrade many of them, as I did with my 1976 and 1977 Topps sets (the original cards in those sets were in much worse shape). Maybe someday I will.
But for now, these cards come straight from that first year we saw Blue Jays uniforms on cardboard.
Thanks for joining me in Joy of a Team Set! (This is the second straight time I've focused on the Blue Jays. I'll choose someone different next time, but it won't be Canada Day then).