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SSPC (Super spectacular perfect cards)

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 featured up-and-coming players who wouldn't have their own Topps card for another one-to-three years. Above, clockwise from the top, is Gary Roenicke, Jim Kern, Jim Essian, Bob McClure, Dave Bergman and Rick Cerone.

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.

29. Felix Millan - #536

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.


Nick said…
I don't think I've ever been more jealous of you than right now. I love SSPC so much, to have the complete set at your disposal must be heaven. I picked up a handful of these in a recent Just Commons order (including that magnificent Doug Rader), but now I see my love affair with SSPC is just getting started. The Killebrew (which I've owned for a while) is probably one of my top 15 or 20 all-time favorite baseball cards.
mr haverkamp said…
There is no better set than 76 SSPC for card bloggers! The bizarre photos, uniforms of the era, facial hair, prose by Olbermann, make it an untouchable effort. The Night Owl will give it the proper credit it has always deserved! So glad you have a completed copy.
Jamie Meyers said…
I know who Jerry Cram is. He's now a pitching coach in the Giants' system. I got that card signed by him in person last year. About six months before his death I attended a Harmon Killebrew event that he was the main speaker at. He said he wished he could forget his time with the Royals, he played so poorly for them. I got his MVP card from the 75 Topps set signed that night. He was a very nice man. I probably have 15 - 20 cards from that set signed. They look good signed, especially since most guys from era knew how to actually write their names neatly. I have never seen many of the cards you showed, they're cool.
SpastikMooss said…
Needs more Pete LaCock. That sidehair is too good to not be involved!

Although - Gamble definitely beats that. And the Royals duo is simply amazing.
zman40 said…
I always wondered what SSPC stood for. Thanks for clarifying that.

Is that facial hair around Brett's mouth?
Captain Canuck said…
why the hell can't I make trades like this??????????????
Mark Hoyle said…
Jim Hutto was originally in the Redsox organization
Stealing Home said…
I'm with you on those Brooklyn Dodgers
Tony L. said…
I don't think Robin Yount could help looking all boy-wonder-ish. I mean, at most he was 19 years old when that photo was taken.

For whatever reason, I bought this set on a whim on eBay when I first got back into collecting two years ago for around $30. Since then, I've been torn about either bindering it or parsing it out amongst the blog world. I think after this it will be going into the binders!
Greg said…
Man, that Brett/Cowens card is amazing. I'm going to have to track one down.
Brett Alan said…
Yeah. I was a George Brett collector back in the day, for fairly obvious reasons, and there are very few 70s Brett cards I don't have (apart from the endless disc variations), but I don't think I've even seen that one before! That's certainly out of the ordinary for him.

I do have that Erskine/BrancaReese card, which indeed is a gem.
Mike Matson said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Matson said…
Man, those Expos cards are nice

(couldn't spell in the original message)
Scott Crawford said…
Glad you're enjoying it. Stunned that you didn't include Duke Snider in his Expos uniform.

Also: remind me to trade you the SSPC Mantle (from the 6 card preview set) next time we do this thing.
Sascards67 said…
The only card I have from that set is the Frank Robinson. I use it as a night light. :)
Unknown said…
I love this post. you have single handily made me want to complete my set now. as I mentioned to you earlier on Twitter, I need 274 cards to complete this set. I also share in the delight of the pureness of these pictures and how they are screaming 70s. is Felix Millan doing a TV interview or a ad for a local Broyhill Furniture dealer?
Fuji said…
I tip my cap to Mr. LaRoche for setting the trend of not wearing your ball cap straight. Great set. One of the first vintage sets I targeted after getting back into the hobby.
Yup, this is a must have set for any 70's lovin' card collector :-)

It's fun reading about others favorite cards - especially from this set. Thanks for including the link to my Top 30 SSPC cards. I agree, my list could've had 60 more.

For anyone interested, I've got extra cards from this set. So if you want to trade for 2011 Lineage, 2001 Archives or any other cards that look like a 1975 card, get in touch.
Anonymous said…
I've been a Mets fan since 1974, you bet your bippy I know who Jerry Cram is!

I am tremendously jealous right now... I'm making some progress on my own set, but I'm a bit shy of 3/4 done.

...And I wouldn't get on Topps too much for Fran Healy/Steve Busby; SSPC confused Rick Manning and Duane Kuiper.
Scott Crawford said…
Ha. I did trade you the Mantle!
Jon said…
These were the last cards I bought as an adolescent (started in 1971 as a ten-year-old). Ordered the SSPC set through the mail. Mine came with 630 cards plus a 42-card subset that I cannot find any info about. They're not from a sheet, or a magazine insert - but came with my order. Funny thing is that I sold some of the star cards years ago, and now had to find those few singles on eBay to re-complete my set.
Jon, you may be referring to the SSPC Superstar set which consisted of 42 cards and is from that era.

I have some questions for you about that set. If you can, could you contact me through my contact page at ? Thanks

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