Let’s face it – some of the later 1970s Topps baseball card sets aren’t credited for being all that popular from an aesthetics point of view. However, if you’re a 1970s and early 1980s collector and looking for a little bit of a twist, the 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980 Topps Burger King baseball card sets might fit the bill.
What are they? In a nutshell, they are baseball cards from those years that were produced by Topps but distributed at retail Burger King locations in select markets. We’ll provide a closer look at these oddities over four separate features and today, we’ll digest the 1977 Burger King Yankees release.
Founded in 1953, Burger King broke into the baseball card market for the first time 24 years later in 1977. While the popular fast food chain had offered up other promotional items in the past, that year marked the first when the company tried its hand at baseball cards.
While Burger King also distributed some 8″ x 10″ photos of Detroit Tigers players in the Detroit market in 1977, the company’s cards that year were limited to New York Yankees players and only issued for restaurants in New York locations. A total of 22 (then 23 … we’ll get to that in a minute) players were featured with an additional checklist card. Topps created and printed the cards for the restaurant.
Cellophane-wrapped three-card packs of three 1977 Burger King Yankees cards plus a checklist were distributed at BK stores and according to the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards, approximately 170,000 cards of each player were produced.
Design Mirrored Topps
If you only glanced at some of the 1977 Burger King cards, you might not know the difference between them and the standard issue 1977 Topps cards. In many instances, Topps used the same images as those in their regular set. The fronts and backs had the same design and were the same 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ standard size as the main issue.
No marking is included to indicate that the cards are a part of a special set designed for Burger King as only the checklist card includes a Burger King logo. The primary distinguishable difference between the standard Topps cards and the Burger King issue is that the card numbers on the backs are different.
Many of the 1977 Burger King Yankees featured the same image from their regular Topps counterparts and the only differences in some instances are that the images have been slightly cropped. However, several 1977 Topps Burger King cards were variations from the regular Topps editions.
The most popular, perhaps, is that of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Jackson’s standard Topps card pictured him in an airbrushed Yankees uniform as he hadn’t signed with that team until late 1976 and they apparently didn’t have an updated image of him available before production. The Burger King issue corrects that, featuring Jackson in a much more appealing picture with his new team uniform with a bat. Another card with a key difference? Willie Randolph’s regular Topps card includes the All-Star Rookie Cup logo, noting his inclusion on that honorary team, while his Burger King issue does not.
Jackson and Randolph were two of several players that had modified cards. Others with different poses included Thurman Munson, Don Gullett, Mike Torrez, Bucky Dent, Graig Nettles, Jim Wynn, and Paul Blair – several of whom had come from new teams.
No, we’re not talking about a special insert card of Michael Jordan. No. 23 refers to a specially-released 23rd card in the 1977 Topps Burger King set featuring Lou Piniella.
Not the biggest name in the set, Piniella is certainly the most interesting subject. Despite a solid 1976 season where he was a key member of the team, batting .281 while appearing in 100 games, the outfielder/designated hitter and future big league manager didn’t make the cut initially. However, with speculation that someone higher up in the organization wanted him to be included, phone calls were placed and Piniella eventually got a card, being added to the set later in the promotion. As a result, not as many Piniella cards were available, thus making his a short print and a desirable find.
Whatever the reason for his lack of inclusion, Burger King made sure to not make the mistake again. The company created two more sets of Yankees cards in 1978 and 1979 and Sweet Lou appears in both.
Value of 1977 Burger King Yankees
Despite being an older food release from nearly 40 years ago, the 1977 Topps Burger King cards are very affordable, although high-grade examples can surprise you.
As you would expect, the short-printed Piniella as well as the Jackson variation are the key cards in the release. Both are relatively easy to find and their cards can usually be purchased for $10-25.
A third key card, the Munson, generally goes for under $15.
Unopened packs from 1977 are still around but not the easiest to find and certainly are the scarcest of all of the Burger King issues. Why? Likely for two reasons. First, the cards were only released in a single market making their mass availability much more scarce. In addition, you can bet that many collectors opened them in search of the missing Piniella card, which was tougher to find. Unlike other Burger King sets where you can occasionally find even full boxes, unopened packs from the 1977 set are much more difficult to find.
Sets, on the other hand, are easy to secure and those with the Piniella card are often found for under $50.