Skip to main content

How Upper Deck did the '70s

I said several posts ago that now that I've completed the 2001 Upper Deck Decade '70s set that I'd conduct a full examination of the set that covered the time period when I first became aware of baseball, first watched games on TV and attended them in stadiums, and first collected baseball cards.

I like this set a lot because of its colorful tribute to the '70s. It had to be something special to grab my attention during a period when I had no idea what was going on in card collecting. But, like I said a few times before, I spotted it while shopping for something else in a drug store and became fascinated with the cards.

One of the things I find most interesting about them is that it is Upper Deck paying tribute to the '70s. That was amusing to me. It's still amusing to me. I always thought of Upper Deck as believing that baseball started when they put Ken Griffey Jr. on a card and that anything before that was not important.

And if you look closely at this set, you will realize that, yeah, that is kind of the case. This is actually a deeply flawed set.

How deep?

Here are some of the players who are not featured in this 179-card tribute to the '70s:

George Brett, Rod Carew, Sparky Lyle, Mark Fidrych, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Vida Blue, Lou Whitaker, Bill Buckner, Larry Bowa, Jim Rice and Dick Allen.

That is a lot of the '70s to leave out.

I didn't realize that this was the case before examining this set for this post. I was kind of aware that Brett was nowhere to be found and also Fidrych. But I became appalled when I discovered that Carlton and Palmer and Rice were missing. As someone who grew up reading about those guys during the '70s, I can safely say that they were everywhere that decade and actually were the '70s.

But this explains a lot about the set. For anyone who has collected it, they know that several players are repeated throughout the set. Some players have 3 or 4 different cards. But I'll get into that in a little bit. Let's take a look at some of the set's basics.

The base set is 90 cards, the first 90 cards of the set. As you can see, it is numbered in alphabetical order according to team name. It is also ordered with the American League teams first, followed by the National League. This organization decision reveals what I consider another indicator that Upper Deck doesn't know the '70s so well.

Here is a page that shows some of the National League order:

Catch Upper Deck's goof?

The Brewers are grouped with the National League teams. Yes, the Brewers were a National League team in 2001, when the set was issued. But they were NOT a National League team in the '70s. They were as American League an American League team as you could get back then. It's bizarre seeing Gorman Thomas and Robin Yount grouped with notable National League players. Upper Deck just didn't have a firm handle on the '70s.

It did try though.

The set is an obvious tribute to my favorite set of all-time, 1975 Topps. It riffs off of '75 Topps' two-tone border design and offers up several border combinations just as '75 Topps did.

There are six with this set.







Many of these are well-known '70s colors. As I write this, I can see that orange, yellow and lime-green flower-printed wallpaper in my parents' kitchen back on Chadwick Road in 1974.

I also enjoy that Upper Deck -- although missing several stars of the '70s -- did not forget some of the notable players that often get overlooked when people discuss '70s baseball.

These are all '70s standouts who rarely get credit for their '70s abilities. So, thank you Decade '70s for getting these guys in here.

The set also included several of the top rookies from that decade, even if Fidrych and Blue and Whitaker are missing.

Upper Deck covers every team that existed in the '70s in its base set. Here is the card-total breakdown according to the divisions that existed at the time:

AL East

Blue Jays - 2
Indians - 4
Orioles - 4
Red Sox - 5
Tigers  - 2
Yankees - 6
Brewers - 3

AL West

Angels - 3
A's - 6
Mariners - 1
Rangers - 3
Royals - 2
Twins - 3
White Sox - 2

NL East

Cardinals - 4
Cubs - 4
Expos - 4
Mets - 5
Phillies - 4
Pirates - 3

NL West

Astros - 2
Braves - 2
Dodgers - 5
Giants - 3
Padres - 2
Reds - 4

The set makes sure to note that baseball added two teams during the 1970s with two respective players for the Blue Jays and Mariners.

As you can see, I've shown a couple of cards with black-and-white photos. This is a drawback to the set that I noticed right away when buying those first cards. It's obvious that Upper Deck had a limited supply of photos for this set. It wasn't used to digging into the history files for its cards and it definitely didn't have the experience that Topps had.

So you got some black-and-white shots on your very colorful border design. I do like that Aparicio card, though.

Some of the set seems a bit tilted toward the early part of the '70s, although that may be my personal biased view. I didn't start following baseball until the middle of the decade, so that early '70s stuff doesn't really seem "70s" to me. But I suppose it belongs. It's just disturbing that there is no card of Cesar Cedeno or Darrell Porter or Dave Winfield.

Then there are photos that I don't even know if they're from the '70s. Especially that Seaver shot. He looks waaaay too young for the '70s.

That's more like it. Don Baylor was the 1979 MVP with the Angels. It's interesting the choices UD made because Baylor spent a lot of the decade as a member of the Orioles. He also played for the Yankees and the A's during those 10 years.

The more I examined the cards the more I noticed the missing players and the repeated photos and that Upper Deck was probably hampered by licensing.

These are the Dodgers in the base set. Where is Davey Lopes? Where is Don Sutton? Reggie Smith? Dusty Baker? Bill Buckner? Tommy John? I could do without Maury Wills, he was gone from the Dodgers by 1972. But how about Bob Welch or Joe Ferguson? (I'd ask about Mike Marshall, but he was notorious for not allowing his photo to be shown).

Then there are the Reds, the "Big Red Machine". Outside of the A's and the Yankees, they were the biggest deal in the '70s. But there are just four base cards. There is no Pete Rose (probably for MLB-legal reasons). No Davey Concepcion. No Tony Perez.

Also please note that Ken Griffey is referred to as "Ken Griffey Sr." even though nobody called him that in the '70s. That is very Upper Deck, indirectly referring to Griffey Jr.

The Griffey Sr. card is the last of the base cards. Then we get into subsets.

First there is the Rookie subset, which is 20 cards. It's mostly a regurgitation of some of the cards in the base set, but there are several new photos, like this fun one.

There are also several repeated photos. This is where you notice that UD ran out of material.

Sheesh. At least the Ron Cey image used in this subset is different from his base card.

The next subset is the "Decade Dateline" subset, which is 30 cards and my favorite of the subsets.

I like this group because it lists a bunch of notable moments from the '70s, events that I remember well and that were larger-than-life to my 11- and 12-year-old brain.

Here are several of them. All of these were BIG, BIG, NEWS.

But Decade Dateline doesn't dodge the repetitive photos.

You can see that some of the photos were recropped in a bid to give the same photo a different look.

This is especially useful when you need to use the same player three times and have only one photo:

Oh, brother.

The Award Winners subset is also 30 cards strong and recognizes '70s awards for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and in one bizarre case, a Gold Glove.

Most years from the decade get 3 different cards. For example, the 1970 awards are recognized with cards for NL MVP (Johnny Bench), AL MVP (Boog Powell) and AL Cy Young Award (Jim Perry). But there is no NL Cy Young Award card, so there is no Bob Gibson card (he does show up in the base set).

And so it goes for the rest of the years. Three awards cards for 1971 but no Vida Blue. Two awards cards for 1972 but no Dick Allen or Steve Carlton.

The 1973 awards are especially amusing as the AL MVP gets a card (Reggie Jackson) and the NL Cy Young winner gets a card (Tom Seaver), but nothing for NL MVP (Rose) or AL Cy Young Award (Palmer) or the Rookies of the Year (Gary Mathews and Al Bumbry). Instead we get this:

Out of nowhere, a card for Thurman Munson's 1973 Gold Glove, the only Gold Glove mention in the set.

Also, that is a repeated photo:

The final subset recognizes the World Series of the 1970s. It is my other favorite subset because it's another moment-in-time subset.

Also, the black border pinstripes are so cool.

There is one card for each World Series of the decade (save for one) and Upper Deck does a good job recognizing the notable moments and players for each Series.

I do not understand why there is no card for the 1979 World Series, though. This is upsetting as it's the first World Series I watched from start to finish. Also, there are several Willie Stargell cards in the set and I don't believe any of the photos were repeated so it's not like UD couldn't have come up with one more ... or, just recropped one, given its habits in the set.

The '70s Decade set also contains four different insert sets. I am attempting to complete those, too.

I have completed my favorites, the Bellbottomed Bashers and the Disco Era Dandies. But I still have a couple needs for both the Arms Race and Decade Dynasties.

Many of the insert photos are different than those for players who appear in the base set and subset. Then there is stuff like this:

However, I've always known about this with this set and I've been willing to give it a pass.

Yeah, some of the photos aren't great, and yeah, there's black-and-white pictures, and, yeah, there's a lot of guys missing, and, yeah, there's a lot of photos repeated, but ... it's THE '70s, MAN!!!!

I can spot new stuff every time I look at these cards because that's what the '70s were like.

Three different Indians uniforms, because it's the '70s.

Guys with the same team from opposite ends of the decade that might as well seem like they're opposite ends of the century because that's how long the '70s were to me.

I hope I'm not coming off too critical of the set because even though it is wildly inconsistent with a lot of inperfections and very Upper Deck, it's still one of my all-time favorite sets.

That's what happens when you focus on the '70s. You have my gratitude.

And one super-long post. That could've been much, much longer.



Old Cards said…
The cards look nice with bright colors reminiscent of the 75 Topps set and the subject matter is good with the 70's stars, but I collect Topps cards because I like consistency.
Billy Kingsley said…
I wonder how great that set could have been if licensing wasn't an issue? It looks pretty great to me as is, to be honest. Which is your favorite border combo from the base cards? The green and yellow is mine, my two favorite colors, currently.
night owl said…
I like the orange and blue. That was a combo in the '75 set and that was one of my favorites that year, too.
Commishbob said…
This set is what TCMA would have done if their staff meetings featured drugs.
Commishbob said…
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
BaseSetCalling said…
This post - should not be looked at on a little 'phone'
Angus said…
Nice review of a fun looking set.
Congrats on the completion of this set.
Despite its flaws, I'm a pretty big fan of this set. Still, leaving out Vida Blue as almost inexcusable.
acrackedbat said…
I dig this set! an all time UD fave for me! Sure, a few great players are missing. UD was in the their ripping-off-Topps stage which I appreciate so much more today, now that Topps has exclusive licensing. Bashers is my fave insert set here but I completed all of them as well. Loved this write up, N.O.!

Popular posts from this blog

Stuck in traffic with Series 2

In the whirlwind that has been my life this month, I found myself going absolutely nowhere for a portion of Thursday afternoon. I was in the middle of yet another road trip, the third one this week. This one was for work, and because it was job-related, it became quickly apparent that it would be a waste of time. The only thing that could save it was a side visit to the nearby Walmart to see if I could spot some Topps Series 2. I found it right away, which was shocking as I was pretty much in the middle of the country, where SUVs share the road with tractors and buggies. Who knew that the Amish wanted Series 2, too? The problem was getting back into civilization to open the contents of the 72-card hanger box I bought. The neighboring village is undergoing a summer construction project smack in the middle of downtown. It's not much of a downtown, but the main road happens to be the main artery in the entire county. Everyone -- and by everyone I mean every tractor trailer ha

Heading upstate

  Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated published an edition at the end of the year rating the top 50 athletes of the century for every state.   As a lifelong Upstate New Yorker, I braced for a list of New York State athletes that consisted almost entirely of downstate natives, that is, folks from the greater NYC area and Long Island.   We Upstaters are used to New York City trampling all over the rest of the state. They have the most people, the loudest voices. It happens all the time. It's a phenomenon unique to this state. Heck, there are still people out there who, when you tell them you're from New York, automatically think you're from NYC. They don't think of cows and chickens when they think of New York. But trust me, there are a lot of cows and chickens in New York State. Especially cows.   So, anyway, when I counted up the baseball players that SI listed as the greatest from New York State, six of the nine were from New York City or Long Island. I was surprised all

G.O.A.T, the '80s: 30-21

  I often call this current period of the television sports calendar the black hole of sports programming. The time between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of televised Spring Training baseball games is an empty void when I'm looking for something to watch on traditional television. I don't watch the NBA and I find the NHL on TV holds my interest for maybe a period. College basketball I can't watch until the tournament. This didn't used to be as much of a problem back when I could turn instead to my favorite sitcoms in February. Do you remember when February was "sweeps month"? (Maybe it still is, I don't know). Networks would make sure that every top show aired original episodes that month, no reruns. So you'd always have something to view during the week even when the sports scene was boring. (I know, people have multiple streaming viewing options now. But I find myself going weeks sometimes before I see something I want to view on Netfli