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Respect for '74

This year marks the 45th anniversary of my first knowledge of baseball cards and actually owning some.

That was in 1974 when my mom gave me a few packs of 1974 Topps. To this day, the look of '74 Topps takes me back to a time when baseball cards were new, fascinating, even strange. I knew I liked these baseball players in their colorful uniforms and I knew I liked that every card featured a different team with different colors. I liked the pictures and the presentation, and the '74 set is probably one of the first times that I was able to appreciate photographs -- most of my world had been drawings and paintings up to that point.

That's why I get annoyed when '74 Topps doesn't get its due. Among all of the vintage sets that Topps has released, it is often forgotten. (Have you seen an Archives set with the '74 design? No you have not). But even among the sets that share a decade with 1974 Topps, it's barely appreciated.

I'd put 1974 Topps ahead of '79 Topps in a flash. It also goes ahead of '70 Topps and  '77 Topps. Some days, when I can feel the power of everything those brand-new pieces of cardboard meant to me back in '74, I can put it ahead of '76 and '78 Topps, and probably even '73 Topps, if I'm being honest.

There's another reason for my appreciation for '74 other than it being the first cards I ever saw in my own hands.

It's because -- and this cannot be stressed enough -- everything matches.

Yes, this is going back to color, but the fact that the design matches the team being portrayed is very important to me (someone will bring up my appreciation for 1975 Topps right about now and all I can say about that is '75 and also '72 is so invested in the sheer colorfulness of color that it supersedes everything else).

Topps did not use team logos at this time to help draw the connection between the design and the player/team featured. If it wanted to make that connection, it had to go with the colors it chose in the design. Often times, Topps didn't want to make that connection. But that made it all the sweeter when it did.

For example, in '74 Topps:

The Mets cards looked like Mets cards! Orange for the pennants and blue for the frame border, dammit. Is that so hard? Everything in harmony on one little card.

The A's cards looked like A's cards. Green and gold in the field and along the border. Why mess with anything else?

And so it went in '74:

Expos cards looked like Expos cards.

Yankees cards looked like Yankees cards.

Orioles cards looked like Orioles cards.

Brewers cards looked like Brewers cards.

Twins cards looked like Twins cards.

OK, '74 didn't get everything right. The pink could've been red in both of these cases.

Still, when compared with the other Topps sets from the '70s, and even from much of the '80s, the color-coding was almost spot on in 1974. No green and yellow with the Orioles or purple and pink with the Dodgers or brown and orange with the Blue Jays.

This is why '74 Topps means a great deal to me, both the fact that it was ground zero for my baseball card habit, the prelude to my first collecting year in '75; and that it got everything so right.

When people bring up '74 Topps they tend to go with certain standbys:

The rookies, of course.


The traded set.

Willie Mays' final cardboard appearance for his playing career.

The manager cards.

The shared All-Star cards with the puzzle on the back.

The airbrushing.


The Hank Aaron retrospective to start the set.

The "Washington Nat'l Lea." cards. (Sorry, I still haven't pulled the trigger on any of those cards).

And, of course, the pockets of magnificent horizontal cards that could be found distributed through the set.

And those sweet cartoons on the back, don't forget those.

But, for me, the set is about making a great-looking card, a card that matches, in the very same year I held trading cards in my hands for the very first time.

It was enough for me to pick up the habit full-time the following year (I threw those first '74s in the garbage at the end of summer, I guess the impression the set made was a bit delayed). And it was enough to be collecting exactly 45 years later.

Here's to you, '74 Topps.



Nick Vossbrink said…
I hadn't thought about it before but 1974's actually the first year that Topps put all the teams in their team colors right?

This is also a design that moves around a lot for me. I don't love it (though realizing the team colors thing could change my mind a bit) but it's got bits of greatness all over with some of the photos and has a really understated design that looks great signed.
night owl said…
Yes, '74 is a first for Topps. It makes you wonder how much greater some of those '60s sets could have been.
Brett Alan said…
Were the Aaron specials the first time Topps ever revisited old cards or designs? It’s so common now, but it was a major innovation then. I loved those cards. The following year, of course, they went further with the MVP cards.
74' is a nice set. I prefer it over 71, 73, 77, and most definitely over 76 & 78! Sorry 76-78 were blah for me (77' being the best of the three). 79' jacked me up a bit.
Chris said…
I only have one card from this set at the moment (Killebrew) and about a week ago I came across an eBay auction of a partial set (missing the Winfield RC and about 80 others) I thought I'd take a stab at it since the cards looked very clean. But my budget was $150 max and it ended up selling for almost $500.

It's a shame, because I know I would have appreciated this set a lot more if I could see each card in hand. I've seen a few in this post that I want to try and trade for on TCDB. (not that Garvey though. That one's just too weird!)
Old Cards said…
Great post on the 74 set. With all the special Hank Aaron cards, the fact that he did not have a regular issue card that looked like the rest of the set was always disappointing to me.
Josh D. said…
Don't leave us hanging...did Larry ever get his math degree??
BaseSetCalling said…
I bought the Topps “Wall Art” print of the Garvey card. One of the spookiest ever. All the world’s a stage, or all the field, anyway, for the players, is what I always think about when seeing it.

But I have never worked on the set even a tiny bit, cuz I opened my very first pack the next year and didn’t see 74s until at least four years later.
night owl said…
Paragraph 6:
Fuji said…
The 74T overall design is okay at best... but the subsets are awesome. The set also features some of the coolest cards in regards to photography. My favorite is without a doubt... Juan Marichal's base card.
I'm biased, but I've always felt that 1974 gets short shrift. I get why some people are underwhelmed by the design, but part of the appeal is the overall impact of the design, colors, photography and subsets. 1974 deserves more consideration from collectors than it gets.

You really need to get yourself a Washington "Nat'l Lea." card... even if it's just Rich Troedson or Bill Greif. I won't be able to look you in the (figurative) eye until you do!
GCA said…
I too, remember my first handful of cards being '74s. There was this one guy with a funky name ~ Yastrzemski. But I liked the two Brewer guys better. Pedro Garcia was the happy one, and Eduardo Rodriguez was the serious one.
Chantilly show and the Nat are coming up. I'll hook you up with Wash/Nat'l Leagues.
gregory said…
Excellent post! And wow, I've got a post scheduled later this month that talks about one specific card from the 1974 set and the impressive color matching it displays. I even mention the magenta color in the Los Angeles/Chicago cards as being an outlier in the set. It's going to seem like a copycat post now ;-)
CaptKirk42 said…
I have always loved the 74s. Also the 75s. For me it was not just the colors matching up but the "sort of pennant" design.
Josh D. said…
Oh yeah! Go get 'em, Larry!!
jacobmrley said…
I am pretty sure I have an extra Washington Nat. League card somewhere that can find its way to Night Owl World Headquarters.