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Ramblings: Old Publication Reveals Topps’ Player Selection Rationale

As the faithful readers of this column know is that we like to write about ‘cards that never were’. We like to look back on card sets from the past and wonder why cards of certain players didn’t make the grade during a certain year.

Recently in a Net54 Message board discussion, a collector posted a part of a 1973 hobby publication in which famed collector Bill Haber (a long-time Richs Ramblings Topps employee) explained some of the reasons why certain players not included in that year’s baseball set. The reasons noted were fairly accurate for most of the listed players with the biggest exception to that reasoning being Rusty Staub who was lumped in with an assortment of players who Topps thought had a less than 50-50 chance to make their team’s active roster.

1973 Topps boxWhile a couple of other players on that list might have been included for the same possible reason Staub was not included (Topps not having them under contract), Topps was pretty much right on about those it didn’t think would land a big league job that spring. In retrospect, the biggest name among the others is Tony LaRussa, who was not much of a player but within a few years would begin his Hall of Fame managerial career.  La Russa had appeared on Topps sets in 1964, 1968, 1971 and 1972.

To me the biggest 1973 omissions in retrospect were Pete Mikkelsen (who had not had a card since 1968), Rick Reichardt, Jay Johnstone and Rusty Staub.  Staub's absence was especially interesting since he had been in a higher numbered series in 1970 and 1971 and was not issued in 1972. Staub had been considered a star ever since hitting .333 in 1967 and was beloved in Montreal Expos as “Le Grand Orange” during his three seasons north of the border. Perhaps instead of thinking Staub was not going to make the Mets in 1973, there were yearly contract battles to get him onto a card.

But, for those of us who always wonder why Topps did not usually print cards of players they knew were retiring the answer is actually simpler then we always believe. Topps was so focused on printing cards of players who would, you know, actually be on the field during the season they probably never considered printing cards of players they knew were not going to play.

For example, since Stan Musial had retired after the 1963 season, why print a card of him?  Kids wanted current players and at the time, kids were the primary focus of Topps cards.  They weren’t much into ‘tributes'.

What it goes to show that sometimes on those rare occasions we get to see primary source evidence from that period which verifies why certain cards were not produced. So, to me, the suspicions about why there were no 1974 Willie Mays or 1977 Hank Aaron cards are now confirmed and the theories are true.  Topps was always thinking about today and not worrying about yesterday.

There’s a 2014 Topps Mariano Rivera card in Topps’ 2014 series and we may see a few others to honor his career.  As a historian, I like that better but in any case, here’s to finding more original source documentation for some of those cards that never were.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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  1. […] might remember us discussing the players missing from the 1973 Topps set.  Twenty years later, companies were still reluctant to put players in a set who were not going to […]

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