Vintage Set of the Week: 1972 Topps Baseball a Hefty Landmark

Ready to collect the 1972 Topps Baseball set?  Better have a big binder.

This psychedelic whopper kept kids busy from late winter through the autumn and beyond, with those hampered by limited funds having little hope of collecting all six series.  Today, the set is loved by many and hated by others, but it’s hard to dispute that Topps pulled out all of the stops in ’72.

1972 Topps wrapper artIt was one of the final times during the course of the next 30 years that Topps tried hard to create a ‘living’ set that reflected what had happened in baseball the year before and in the weeks leading up to the season.

It’s a great reminder that Topps sometimes used designs that reflected the times. Their graphics for the 1972 set were like something you’d see on an album cover of the time. The photos were framed by an explosion of colors that stayed consistent depending on the team. The fronts were busy enough to not have room for a player’s position, a strange omission indeed.

1972 Topps Carlton Fisk1972 Topps isn’t a set that owes its value to rookie cards. There is but one Hall of Famer in the set but Carlton Fisk shares his card with another pretty fair player in Cecil Cooper.  Ron Cey, Chris Chambliss and Rick Dempsey are among the other rookie cards you’ll find but this set is packed with great players.

Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were headed down the home stretch of their careers, Nolan Ryan was just becoming a force and of course, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and the rest of the Big Red Machine was popular.

Nolan Ryan 1972 Topps TradedRoberto Clemente’s last card as an active player is here, too. Ryan’s card, in the fifth series, features an obvious shot of him as a Met with the cap airbrushed to reflect his new team, the California Angels.  It’s one of the more valuable cards in the set.

The 1972 Topps set is huge in part because of the ‘In Action’ cards that Topps produced for dozens of players including most of the big name stars.  Aaron’s In Action card is notoriously difficult in high grade because of centering issues and that holds true for many of the other action cards including Bench, Vida Blue, Paul Schaal and Bob Barton.  However, the two cards in the set that may cause collectors the biggest centering fits are the Expos team card (#582) and Fred Kendall (#532).

Jim Fregosi 1972 Topps TradedFor the first time, Topps added a seven card ‘Traded’ subset to its last series, printing cards of notable players who changed teams as late as March.  Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Steve Carlton have cards in the set, with backs reporting on the details of the deals.  They are among the more valuable cards in the final series.

Topps captivated kids with a ‘Boyhood Photos of the Stars’ subset that offered a glimpse into the young lives of several players including Joe Torre.  One can imagine the challenges Topps faced to acquire the photos from those players and get the cards printed.

Complete 1972 Topps sets vary in price depending on condition, of course.  A near set with all cards graded PSA 8 sold recently for $8,650 (not much more than the grading cost alone, unfortunately).  Ungraded sets in near mint condition often bring $1,000-1,500 at auction with EX/MT sets selling in the $600-$900 range.