By John McMurray
If Topps World Series subsets from the 1960s are remembered for portraying particular World Series events effectively with dramatic game action shots, the company’s continued production of World Series cards in the 1970s yielded mixed results.
Though 1970s World Series cards included sharper photography than they did in the 1960s, the overall quality of World Series cards issued by Topps in the 1970s was much more inconsistent.
On the one hand, Topps’ tinkering with its World Series subset resulted in some positive innovations. Most noticeably, color photography returned in 1970. In that same year, Topps also introduced additional cards of the two League Championship Series, which it would continue to produce in the years to follow
In addition, since Topps included wide-angle shots more frequently, collectors often received a better perspective of game action on World Series cards from the 1970s. Topps cards showing Tony Perez in a close play at first base (1973 Topps #204) and Blue Moon Odom attempting to score while Johnny Bench waits for the throw (1973 Topps #207) are two of the most unique World Series cards ever produced.
On the other hand, Topps made several changes to its World Series cards during the 1970s which diminished their appeal. In 1972, for one, Topps did not include any mention whatsoever of which player or event was shown on each card’s front. On World Series cards from 1972 showing Dave McNally, Nelson Briles and Steve Blass individually, for instance, all three are unidentified. Indeed, collectors were left guessing as to which players were portrayed on all of the World Series cards issued in 1972.
After not including any descriptive captions on the front of its World Series cards in 1972, Topps used this same approach in both 1974 and 1975, to the detriment of collectors. As a result, Willie Mays is shown on his only World Series card (1974 Topps #473) without any sense of context. Presumably, the photo shows Mays during his at-bat against Rollie Fingers during Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, when Mays got a single to put the Mets ahead for good, but the card provides no relevant details.
Topps did include captions on its World Series cards in 1973, but they fell flat. Gone was the bold lettering, which had been typical on Topps World Series cards, and, surprisingly, Topps used periods rather than exclamation points to describe pivotal game action. Instead of energetic 1960s-era captions like “Mazeroski’s Homer Wins It!” or “Lonborg Wins Again!” on the fronts, collectors in 1973 saw comparatively bland descriptions like “A’s Make It Two Straight.” and “Reds Win Squeeker.” Topps continued using muted captions thereafter, including on “Cincy Wins 2nd Straight Series” (1977 Topps #413).
Many World Series cards from the 1970s remain popular. “Koosman Shuts the Door!” (1970 Topps #309) is an excellent game action photo, as are “Agee’s Catch Saves The Day!” (1970 Topps #307), “Powell Homers to Opposite Field!” (1971 Topps #327) and “B. Robinson Commits Robbery!” (of Brooks Robinson, 1971 Topps #332).
Roberto Clemente makes his only appearance on a World Series card in the 1972 Topps set (#226), which actually shows him in more of an action photo than does his “In Action” card in the same set. Reggie Jackson is also featured on two World Series cards about to swing for the fences (1975 Topps #461 and 1978 Topps #481).
In keeping with Topps’ tradition, World Series subsets from 1970-76 include an image of the winning team celebrating. While several of these photos are somewhat blurry and the players can be hard to distinguish, the sharpest of these 1970s-era group shots is probably 1972 Topps #230 showing the victorious 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, with the caption: “Series Celebration: On TOP of the WORLD!”
Collectors also remember World Series cards of perennial fan favorites. Longtime Oriole Don Buford appears on a card from Game 2 of the 1970 World Series (1971 Topps #328). Though his back is to the camera, Manny Sanguillen is pictured sliding home in Game 3 of the 1971 World Series, the only horizontal card in the 1972 Topps World Series subset (#225). Joe Ferguson being greeted in the dugout by manager Walter Alston (presumably after hitting a two-run homer off of Vida Blue in the sixth inning) in Game 2 of the 1974 World Series is also distinctive (1975 Topps #462).
It was Topps’ approach in 1976 that began to signal the decline of its World Series subset. Although it had produced a card for every World Series game in 15 of the previous 16 seasons, Topps issued only a single card to commemorate the entire 1975 World Series (1976 Topps #462), which included five photos covering the seven games, hardly doing justice to one of the finest World Series ever played. Since the respective photos are so small, players are also difficult to identify. Miniature images of Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant on that card in no way make up for Topps’ lackluster approach to portraying the best World Series of the decade.
In 1977, Topps again issued a single card for the entire World Series, this one with photos of two different games on the front (1977 Topps #411). Since Topps only included photos of the victorious Cincinnati Reds, the defeated New York Yankees received no mention, except in the composite statistics on the reverse. In similar fashion, Topps’ solitary World Series card issued in 1978 shows only Reggie Jackson without giving attention to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Topps did not produce any World Series cards in 1979, and, although the company did release two World Series cards in 1981, the era where Topps featured World Series cards prominently in its card sets had clearly come to an end by that time. Topps soon turned its attention to other subsets (like Super Veteran cards in 1983 or cards showing active leaders in various statistical categories in 1984).
In baseball card collecting, subsets seem to ebb and flow. Multi-player cards, which were so popular during the 1960s, for instance, were virtually non-existent in card sets only two decades later. Perhaps World Series cards were part of this kind of rotation, resulting in their long disappearance from Topps sets after 1981.
But it is also reasonable to wonder if Topps should have stayed with the successful recipe of employing bold colors, using strong captions and portraying the biggest events from each game on its World Series cards, which had worked so well in the 1960s. It would seem that a full collection of World Series cards should have had – and should have – a rightful place in Topps’ baseball card set every season.
League Championship Cards, Too!
In both 1970 and 1971, Topps issued more cards for the respective League Championship Series (LCS) than it did for the World Series. Beginning in 1970, Topps produced a card for each LCS game in both the American League and the National League, resulting in eight additional cards in both 1970 and 1971.
While Topps had used black-and-white photos for its World Series cards in both 1968 and 1969, only the LCS cards were in black and white in 1970 and 1971. In contrast, Topps issued its World Series cards in each of those years in color. The championship series cards from 1971 represented the last time that Topps would use black-and-white photos on any of its postseason cards.
Two of the most popular LCS cards are those of Tom Seaver (1969 NCLS Game 1, “Seaver Wins Opener!”) and Nolan Ryan (1969 NCLS Game 3, “Ryan Saves the Day!”), both issued in 1970. For 1970 and ’71, the caption on each card front ended with an exclamation point. In keeping with Topps’ style for its World Series subsets of that time, the final card for each series shows players from the winning team’s victory celebration (with “Orioles Celebrate: Sweep Twins in Three!” being a notable example).
Topps’ LCS cards were in color for the first time in 1972, but the company that year changed its emphasis, releasing only one card for each series. A simpler approach also prevailed, as the cards were titled merely “1971 A.L. Playoffs” and “1971 N.L. Playoffs.” As with its World Series cards that year, absent were the captions that were typically so prominent on Topps’ postseason cards. Captions returned in 1973 before disappearing again in 1974 and 1975.
In contrast to the superabundance of LCS cards produced in the early 1970s, Topps went to the opposite extreme in 1976, when it portrayed the two League Championship Series together on a single card (1976 Topps #461). Dramatic game action photos, which had made previous years’ playoff cards so distinctive, were gone as well. Dampening things further, the photos that Topps in 1976 used were grainy and did depict any signature moments from the LCS games.
Even though Topps continued to release only one card per series from each league, Topps LCS cards experienced a bit of a rebound in 1977. The card showing Chris Chambliss’ dramatic home run against Kansas City in 1976 (1977 Topps #276) may be the best-looking League Championship Series card of the 1970s. The card showing Pete Rose’s intensity is captured as he runs the bases in the 1976 NLCS against Philadelphia (1977 Topps #277) is also memorable. Game action photos from the 1977 ALCS and NCLS shown in the 1978 Topps set are well done as well.
Players shown on League Championship Series cards of the 1970s range from those who are well-known (such as Jim Palmer and Dave Lopes) to those who had only a brief moment of distinction (Ty Cline, for instance, appears on two of the three cards showing game action from the 1970 NLCS). As Topps changed its approach from producing black-and-white LCS cards to using color, the company also went from emphasizing the LCS to de-emphasizing it. Paying relatively little attention to the League Championship Series is a tradition which still endures among card producers today.
John McMurray is a freelance contributor to SCD, focusing on vintage cards. He can be reached at email@example.com.