By Doug Koztoski
Batman vs. Superman. Captain America. The Avengers. The X-men. These are just some of the comic book superheroes that have made a successful leap to (and back to) the silver screen in recent years, with more action-packed movies from that genre on the horizon.
If one or more of the movie studios ever needs something different to add to the category, even as an aside, they might consider the sports card comic book inserts that made a bit of a splash starting with the 1970 Topps Baseball packs. Granted, it is unlikely the multi-page pack bonuses from 1970 will make it to Hollywood, but they do deserve a closer look.
When Topps doubled the price of a baseball card pack in 1970 to a dime, collectors, no doubt, went a little Incredible Hulk. Maybe the average sports card enthusiast got a little grumpy at the price hike, understandably, but at least Topps made the transition a bit easier with having inserts in packs for each of the seven series of cards that season.
Posters came in some wax packs, scratch-offs in others and, of course, those comic books featuring 24 players with mostly a recap of how they got to the big leagues. A couple MLB highlights usually appear across the four pages, as well, normally with a mention of a hobby interest or an off-season job, too.
Each of the two-dozen MLB teams had a sole representative in the issue, so sometimes the biggest star on the team did not make the cut into comic book form, which measured about the size of a card. The first 12 booklets show American Leaguers with Reggie Jackson (Oakland A’s) and Tony Oliva (Twins), as likely the best choices for their teams.
Selecting Rico Petrocelli over Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox) and Mike Epstein over slugger Frank Howard (Washington Senators) seem like odd selections, but maybe the card maker was just looking to mix things up a little since some of the stars made it into the other inserts that season.
Going into the National League teams, Ernie Banks (Cubs) Pete Rose (Reds), Bob Gibson (Cardinals) and Willie Mays (Giants) are excellent picks, yet Orlando Cepeda beat out Hank Aaron (Braves). Bob Moose taking the Pirates slot over Roberto Clemente is perhaps the strangest choice in the bunch, at first glance, but checking out the comic book, we find out that the pitcher went 14-3 in 1969, so, OK, with the variety.
“The early 1970s tend to be good for inserts, but there is not a high demand for the (baseball comic book) inserts series,” said Rick Currence, co-owner of Sports Card Heroes in Laurel, Md.
But the sports card dealer said there is a key reason collectors give these inserts more of a Clark Kent reception than one closer to The Man of Steel.
“Not a lot of people know about the inserts,” said Currence. “They are listed in the yearly price guides, but not in the monthly guides (Beckett),” he said. “If people don’t know much, if anything, about them, they will (likely) not collect them.”
Currence said the booklets of Mays, Rose, Jackson and “other major stars” are “sellable,” but that they do not circulate much through the collections that find their way into Sports Card Heroes.
And then there is the condition issue. “It’s rare to find them in really good shape,” said the storeowner. “The centering is usually off, some yellowing, a little dog-eared, they look like a comic book from 40-plus years ago. They rarely show up in pristine shape.” On a scale of 10, he said most of the mini-comics from 1970 that he sees fall into the “three to five range.”
More fun to help save the day
In the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee packs, the card company trotted out the comic book theme once more, and with the same basic approach accompanying 24 players once again.
These hockey booklets, meanwhile, appear to be a bit more difficult to find, like Peter Parker getting a date.
The hockey comic books begin with Bobby Hull and end with Bobby Orr, so icemen fans must enjoy that symmetry. Gordie Howe, “Mr. Hockey,” shows up second to last in the set, and other stars include Phil Esposito and Henri Richard.
“I have not had a complete set of those (hockey comics) in 15 to 20 years,” said George Kruk, owner of Kruk Cards in Rochester, Mich. “The demand is pretty high for them, but the supply is really low.” Kruk said the Orr and Howe comics are on a “level of their own,” and that if he had a complete set of the hockey inserts in EX-EX/MT, he feels he could get “double or triple book” for the group. They hockey players appear in both English and French versions, just adding to the challenge.
The trading card shop owner added that the 1970 Topps Baseball comics outnumber their 1971-72 OPC brethren, in his experience, by around “four to one.” He also noted about 10 percent of those who collect the regular sets the inserts came with also hunt for the pack bonuses.
Whether it is the 1970 Topps Baseball booklets or the hockey versions from 1971-72 OPC, you almost never see them professionally graded. Looking on eBay for graded samples, only a BVG 6 Howe made the list. A few BCCG holders with a Topps baseball comic also showed up, but those in BCCG holders tend to take a back seat, or sit on the luggage rack more likely, compared to most graded items.
Just to get a feel for how much tougher it is to locate some of these comic books online, much less in higher end shape, an eBay search right before press time revealed 120 listings for a 1970 Topps Mays regular card (#600) against 17 for his comic book.
The story continues…
“(Vintage) inserts are grossly undervalued,” said Currence. “Eventually people will catch on to these. The potential is there for increasing popularity. They are harder and harder to find in better condition.”
Circling back to the movie motif of comic book superheroes and trying to come up with a good sequel to one of the popular flicks of recent times, but using these early ’70s sport card inserts for our main characters, maybe a Batman vs. Superman spinoff could have Pete Rose against Gordie Howe. It needs some fleshing out, of course, but there just might be a film in there somewhere. How do I know? My Spidey sense tells me so.
Doug Koztoski welcomes comments and questions related to this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.