From 1977-1980, one of the world’s most popular fast food chains produced sets of baseball cards. Distributed on a regional basis and produced by the Topps Company, they were similar to the mainstream cards that came with bubble gum during those years. However, there were some pose variations and, of course, different numbering on the 1970s Burger King sets.
We’ve got a four-part series covering each of those 1970s Burger King baseball card sets. Part I covered the 1977 Yankees set and in Part II today, we’ll study the 1978 Burger King follow-up issue.
1978 Burger King Baseball Card Overview
In 1977, Burger King broke into the baseball card market for the first time, issuing a set of New York Yankees cards limited to the market in that state. The release must have been a popular one since it not only prompted the fast food chain to continue the experiment in 1978, but expand it.
One of the new markets for the 1978 Topps Burger King team sets was Detroit, which was added after the company released a set of four 8″ x 10″ photographs of Tigers players at retail locations in 1977. That had to be another successful venture as the restaurant chain opted to return there with a full set of cards.
In addition to the Tri-State area, which again received a set of Yankee cards, the restaurant also went south, adding the Dallas/Fort Worth market (Texas Rangers) as well as Houston (Astros) to create a total of four different sets for 1978.
Cellophane-wrapped packs of three cards plus a checklist were again the mode of distribution at the restaurants. As noted on the checklist card for each set, children 14 and under received an unopened pack with the purchase of a sandwich. Each set contained 23 cards as Burger King avoided any late releases, such as the famed Lou Piniella SP card that hit the streets after production began in 1977.
As was the case with the 1977 cards, the 1978 Burger King issue doesn’t vary much from the regular Topps cards. The cards utilized the same design and size (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) as the standard Topps release. The Burger King logo again only appears on the checklist card and the main difference between the two issues remained the card numbers on the backs.
Fresh off of their 1977 World Series championship, the Yankees were again back on the radar of Burger King and received a set distributed in the New York market. Cards were mostly identical to the 1978 regular Topps cards with the only pose variations for Goose Gossage, Rawly Eastwick, and Jim Spencer. Eastwick and Spencer were on different teams in the standard Topps releases and while Gossage’s 1978 Topps card depicts him as a member of the Yankees, his Burger King card features a close-up of him rather than the action shot in Topps’ main issue. Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson lead the way as the key cards in the Yankees’ set.
Houston Astros Set
Easily the least desirable of the four 1978 Burger King sets in terms of star power, there’s little to get excited about when it comes to the Astros team set if you prefer allure of big names. Still, two interesting player variations have drawn the interest of some collectors. Dave Bergman, featured on a Rookie Outfielders card with three other players, gets his own card here. In addition, Jesus Alou has his only Topps card in the Burger King release as he was not included in the standard set. Outside of those variances, Joe Niekro and J.R. Richard are perhaps the two biggest names here.
The Texas Rangers also received a set in ’78. Here, several players had different cards from the regular Topps set including Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins. In addition, Jon Matlack, Reggie Cleveland, Bump Wills, John Lowenstein, and Bobby Thompson also had variations and different poses. Jenkins’ variation is a nice touch as it presents collectors with a rarer card of a star player. His Rangers card is a replacement of his Red Sox issue in the standard Topps release and the cases were similar for Matlack, Cleveland, and Lowenstein, whose regular Topps cards showed them with other teams. Like Alou, Thompson was included here but not in Topps’ main set. Wills’ major difference is the removal of his All-Star Rookie Cup logo on the front – similar to what happened in the 1977 set with Willie Randolph, whose Burger King card was printed without that icon as well.
If you’re a rookie card collector, you’ll likely be intrigued by the Tigers release. Detroit’s set is the only one that features a major rookie card and they have three of them. The middle infield combo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, as well as pitcher Jack Morris, were all featured as rookie cards in the 1978 set with other players. However, the Burger King set includes individual cards of each one without the extra players. While some collectors may not deem these to be ‘true’ rookie cards since this was not a mainstream release distributed across the country, they are highly desirable since they are from the same year and brand as their first major league cards.
Player variations here from the regular Topps issue include Jack Billingham, Jim Slaton, and Steve Dillard, as well as the three prominent rookies.
As with the 1977 sets, these four releases are pretty affordable. You can usually pick up the Yankees, Astros, and Rangers sets anywhere from $10 – $20. The rookie-heavy Tigers set sells for more, often in the $20 – $40 range. Individually, most of the star cards (i.e. Jackson, Jenkins, Munson) are usually under $10 while the Trammell and Whitaker first-year cards are more in the $10 – $20 area.
Unopened packs can be found relatively easy as well and won’t cost you much – generally around $1 – $3 unless a star player is showing or it’s a Detroit Tigers pack (both instances will run a bit more).