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Rich’s Ramblings: Fun With O-Pee-Chee Baseball

The Sports Collectors Daily Facebook page posted a picture of a great card last week:  The 1972 O-Pee-Chee Gil Hodges #465.   In between the time Gil Hodges 1972 OPCTopps printed its cards here in the U.S. and the OPC cards were printed in Canada, the Mets’ manager had suffered a major heart attack and died just after finishing a round of golf on Easter Sunday. Hodges had time to play golf on that day because the first baseball strike which affected regular season games had begun that very day

Because the O-Pee-Chee cards were issued a bit later in any year than Topps, there was an opportunity for it to be updated with a notation on the front.  That was common practice during the years OPC was producing large sets.  While this is one of the most desirable 1970’s O-Pee-Chee cards, a brief wander through their many sets makes for some nice turns.  While the modern formal history (there were actually some pre-war cards released) of O-Pee-Chee really only goes back to 1965, there were actually cards issued specifically for the Canadian market long before 1965.

There is very strong hobby evidence that cards #’d 131-190 in the 1952 Topps Set and Cards #’d 1-50 in the 1954 Topps set were issued in Canada. With this knowledge, I wonder if any of the pre-1965 color variations were also Canadian based. Those include the 1956 white or gray backs and the 1959 and 1960 different colored backs.  Again there is no empirical evidence of this, just a wondering supposition.

Rich Ramblings 20141965 became a true turning point for O-Pee-Chee and Topps as it related to baseball as this was the first major set which paralleled the Topps version to be issued using the O-Pee-Chee name. While none of these cards are especially easy, the final series of 1965 is by far the most difficult to obtain that year.  I remember at a long ago show, trying to convince good hobby friend and now ace college admissions officer Steve Koenigsberg to buy my 1965 O-Pee-Chee Joe Morgan rookie for the seemingly too high price of $25. I think I explained to him that the copy was not perfect but he would likely not see one again for quite a while. Now, when I see him on his yearly tour through the DFW area, he always still thanks me for talking him into buying that card.

I also sold Michael Goldberg, who later became the customer service manager for SGC, a 1965 OPC Roberto Clemente. I think he mentioned years later that the card eventually graded an SGC 80 (equivalent to a PSA 6) and he is very happy with that card as well and still owned it more than 25 years later.

When the hobby was booming and just before the baseball strike of 1994, I was working at  Beckett and helping to create the first ever Canadian baseball card book. We were getting enough feedback from dealers who wanted us to do this book so we actually spent a couple of months getting prices ready and doing a ton of research. Unfortunately, the pre-release sales were not going to be strong enough to guarantee success so that book never was released. However, all the work was later adapted and used in the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards and Collectibles. And why did I work on that book? Well, back in my dealing days, I was an active dealer of ‘oddball’ cards and knew quite a bit about OPC material from practical experience.

Unopened 1971 OPC packThe O-Pee-Chee sets continued to parallel the early Topps series each year. I suspect, and have no proof, that the reason only the first couple of series were issued in Canada was because hockey was such a dominant sport that the baseball window was much shorter.  The first time a complete parallel set of O-Pee-Chee as relating to Topps was in 1971 and those last two series (524-752) are even tougher than their American counterparts. In addition, a few cards in the 1971 OPC set also have team updates and the backs, while similar to their American counterparts, do feature a slightly different design even with the same information.

From 1973-76, O-Pee-Chee was an almost exact parallel of the basic Topps set with this biggest difference being that there were no ’73 OPC high numbers so the Mike Schmidt rookie card does not have that extra premium. In addition, the 1974 Hank Aaron specials are spaced out slightly differently so there are some subtle differences in the set composition.

However, 1977 is an important transitional year.  Limited to just 264 cards, the set had become much smaller than Topps and for whatever reason, while the basic design of the cards mirror the Topps cards, a great deal of this set features totally different photos. In addition, a few players who were on multi-player cards had their own cards in the 1977 OPC set. However, Andre Dawson, who would end up in the Hall of Fame, did not. Talk about a cool card that never was.

I suspect one of the reasons for the big differences that year was this was the first year for the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. The next few years would have the sets just be smaller versions of the American sets including having double printed cards. Beginning in 1978, the updating player personnel moves really took hold and continued for the next decade plus.

The biggest wrinkle in that was the 1988 draft pick cards of players such as Derek Bell and Delino DeShields. When DeShields became a hot card, a hobby movement began to make that 1988 O-Pee-Chee card his rookie card instead of the vastly overproduced 1990 cards. Again these cards were always issued later, and in 1980, it took until almost September for them to reach the U.S. because of the Canadian postal strike.  I remember for a few years always ordering my sets from Morley Leeking, who seemed to be the number one dealer in O-Pee-Chee cards at that time.

The early 1990’s brought a different type of expansion as yes, even O-Pee-Chee started issuing a second brand called O-Pee-Chee Premier. When the 1991 O-Pee-Chee Premier product came out, it was a major hit on SportsNet and with dealers but I know I objected very heavily to those cards being added to the monthly Beckett Baseball Card Magazine. Although I lost that discussion, I still feel more than two decades later that by adding Premier we should have added the whole O-Pee-Chee line at that point.  Well, two decades later, even Premier is just like the other O-Pee-Chee cards, relegated to our hobby history books and to whoever posts them for sale online.

I now always carry my OPC Texas Rangers with me to card shows and at the Plano I show I coordinated recently, I actually had a customer notice those cards and pull out a ton of the 1970’s for his collection. I was shocked that no one had noticed them before to that detail. So yes, at the right price points, vintage OPC cards are still very popular at the right price points both on the buying end as well as the selling end.

Do you have any O-Pee-Chee stories to share? We’d love to hear them.  Drop me a note at the email address below.

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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