I completed my 1976 Topps set today.
These were the last two cards that I needed:
A Nebulous 9 need. Please note there are two catchers in the top three there.
And Fergie standing among the palm trees.
Reader Denis sent these cards to me. I love having a want list for everyone to view. People see that you need only one or two cards to wrap up a set and it's like you set off an orange flair into the blackened night. Help!!!! A collector needs just two cards!
Thanks to Denis I have now completed the sets from the first three years of my collecting life -- 1974, 1975 and 1976. My childhood trifecta. This is all I ever wanted when I returned to collecting back in 2004. Finish off the sets of my childhood.
But we all know I'm not going to walk away now. There's too much other good stuff out there!
The 1976 set signifies my transition from collecting newbie to collecting veteran. Sure, I was only 10. But I had one full year of scouting every drug store under my belt. I could smell cardboard from 5 miles away.
My lasting memory of collecting that '76 set when I was 10 is being at school with my friend, Mario. We were in 4th grade together and, as I may have mentioned before, were in an experimental classroom.
It was some '70s thing. We went to school in a building that was built off the end of the main school building. It was called The Annex. It had a modern look. Inside there were three large classrooms, side-by-side, with an open doorway in between each room. The rooms had tables and chairs and books. But they weren't arranged in the traditional classroom setting. You spent most of your learning time seated on the floor, sometimes in a circle or sometimes in a large group.
There were no desks. They weren't allowed. The classroom day was a lot less structured than a normal classroom. And there were lots of movies and shows and guest speakers. I also remember a lot of individual study time, which is when I read a complete bio on Sandy Koufax.
It was during one of those study times that I was seated, in the far classroom, all the way along the back wall, with Mario next to me. We were supposed to be reading, but both of us had our own stacks of 1976 baseball cards by our sides. We had smuggled them into class as any good boy would. I remember putting the stack down on a shelf beneath our table, hoping with all my might that the teacher would not see them and take them away.
That's the memory. Not too exciting, is it? But it's the first thing I think of when the topic of the 1976 set comes up.
To perk you up a little bit, I thought I'd show my favorite 25 cards from this set. Believe me, it was hard getting it down to 25.
Now, because it's a set from my childhood, I can't possibly evaluate this set through a grown-up's eyes. I can't focus on the goofy hairstyles and dayglo uniforms and cheesy poses, because there are too many memories tied up in stuff that I thought was important when I was 10 years old.
What did I think was important in cards as a 10-year-old?
Well judging from the cards I picked, the following:
1. The player had to have a chaw in his cheek. Well, he didn't HAVE to, but it was a major, major bonus.
2. There had to be a shadow on the player's face. This conveyed intensity, or mysteriousness or SOMETHING. I'm not really sure. I just liked it.
3. There had to be action. Action was good. I was in perpetual motion when I was 10. I didn't see why everybody else couldn't be.
4. One of those yellow stars in the corner was great. That automatically made you cool.
OK, so get ready for some chaws and some shadows. Here are my favorites from my COMPLETE 1976 set. As selected by a 10-year-old:
Mickey Rivers. I believe this is a pose that showed up fairly often on 1960s cards. It had been phased out by the mid-1970s. But Mickey made it cool again.
Andy Messersmith. Just a white dude with lots of curly hair, you say? Not to a 10-year-old. I wanted Messersmith to be the best pitcher that the solar system ever knew. And for a year or two, he seemed like he was headed that way.
Bob Grich. Does a 10-year-old know what it means to have great hair? Apparently so.
Oscar Gamble: (yes, I've completed the traded set, too): I may have said this before, but we didn't really comprehend the monstrousness of Gamble's afro. Lots of people had big hair in those days. But there was something in the back of our minds that said, "That guy is a little different than the rest."
Gary Carter: He seemed so FRIENDLY. And, gosh darn it, he was.
Gene Tenace: Oakland had a lot of guys with yellow stars on their cards. In fact, I thought they made them yellow because the A's wore yellow. But I didn't pick Reggie Jackson or Vida Blue as my favorite. It was this guy. Maybe it's because he looks like he's talking to his bat.
Ron Cey: Unlike The Penguin, who is trying to choke the life out of it.
Vada Pinson: The final card of Pinson during his playing career. I took to this card because of my friend from Kansas who loved the Royals.
Mike Cuellar: For a long time, I thought this photo was taken at night. Unfortunately, no night card for Mr. Cuellar.
Manny Sanguillen: The 10-year-old me says this indeed is an electric fireball shooting behind Sanguillen. Grown-ups have to spoil everything.
Bobby Bonds: There were so many kids around me who oohed and aahed over this card that I began to like it just from association. "Yankee Fan by Association"? Yuck!
Joe Torre: Yes, I did once like Joe Torre.
Reggie Smith: The bad-ass Cardinal was a bad-ass Dodger soon after I had this card in my hands in '76. I was much pleased.
Dave Concepcion: Hey, it's one of those slanted background cards! This card is awesome on so many levels. It even rises above its Red-ness.
Luis Tiant: Fresh off the 1975 World Series, Tiant was like a god. Fantastic card.
Rico Petrocelli: A friend of mine was a big Oakland fan. But he thought very highly of this card. I think it was because of the chaw. He was one of those kids who thought smoking was cool. And, although I was never there for his eventual downward spiral, I'm pretty sure he suffered one, and he was probably clutching the Petrocelli card in a nicotine-deprived haze at his very lowest.
Greg Luzinski: More shadow. More chaw. The card is almost perfect.
Fred Lynn: My brother's favorite player. He picked a good one. I half suspect it was because of this card.
Dave Lopes, Record Breaker: I was fiercely proud of Lopes' record. In fact, I think when the teacher told me my answer was wrong, I'd say, "Oh yeah? Well, Davey Lopes holds the record for most consecutive successful stolen base attempts!" The whole classroom would erupt into applause.
Lou Brock: I think I passed out when I saw this card. It was that good.
Garry Maddox: My interest in Maddox started with the '75 set, when he was a Giant. Fortunately, he became a Phillie, and I could appreciate him without guilt.
Carl Yastrzemski: Best Yaz card of the '70s! All those people in the stands think so, too.
Johnny Bench: I never understood why Bench never told us about his days in 'Nam.
Kurt Bevacqua, Bubble Gum champion: Bevacqua may not have been able to hit water if he fell out of a boat, but he didn't have to, because he could blow a bubble big enough to hold all the water in the world.
Kudos to Topps for putting this card in the set even though it's not related to anything else. We noticed as 10-year-olds.
Those are my favorites. I read somewhere in some baseball card magazine a long time ago that the 1976 set signaled Topps' renewed dedication to photography in its sets. I don't know if that's true, but there certainly were some great photos in these cards.
Thank you to everyone who helped me complete this set. It's been a blast.
So now that I've completed 1974, 1975 and 1976, you may be wondering what is next. I've mentioned before what it was:
There's no reason my 11-year-old self can't have a little fun, too.
I'll be putting up a want list. Eventually.