The baseball card design meetings at Topps in 1970 must have been lit.
During a year in which it was issuing cards with light gray borders and probably grumbling about the Seattle Pilots’ late move to Milwaukee, the company was putting together a set unlike anything they’d ever done before. Jet black borders, lower case letters for the player’s name and position and no complete stats on the back. They would be as mod as the early 70s themselves.
It had to be a little unnerving. Would kids like it or loathe it?
As the company gets ready to make us all recall the 1971 set with its latest edition of Topps Heritage, here’s a shout out to five memorable cards from the original. Heck, they were all memorable and some are far more valuable than the ones we’re highlighting, but if you’re looking to start a collection, you could certainly do worse than these.
Thurman Munson #5
Munson’s first solo appearance on a Topps card is one of a limited number of action shots used in the 1971 Topps base set. While the production limitations and lack of available photos in ’71 seem quaint, it’s still a classic: The cloud of dust, Munson’s backwards cap, his grimace as he tried to make a play on the sliding runner, Chuck Dobson, the crowd in the background and of course, the Topps Rookie Cup on the front that tells you he had a pretty solid rookie season the year before. The nice “Thurman L. Munson” signature on the bottom doesn’t hurt the aesthetics either.
Interestingly, Munson also appears sprawled out in another play at the plate on Vada Pinson’s almost equally wonderful card in the ’71 set.
High-grade examples of the ’71 Topps Munson can be pricey, even though he isn’t a Hall of Famer but you can still by a decent one for a fairly modest price.
Roberto Clemente #630
Collectors had to wait until late summer/early fall to land this card but it was worth it. Beautiful colors, sure, but the angle that puts Clemente’s bat right in your grill is terrific. The Pirates were now wearing their double-knits and Clemente’s uniform is clean and bright while he gives the photographer a kind of game face.
Because of his popularity and the card’s presence in the more difficult 5th series, it isn’t cheap but you can find a nice copy on eBay for under $150.
Ernie Banks #525
Mr. Cub’s last card from a year in which he was an active player. This one is also from the 5th series. We’re not sure what Ernie’s saying or who he’s talking too, but we’d like to imagine it’s something upbeat.
It’s a bargain compared to Clemente’s card.
Don Baylor/Dusty Baker/Tom Paciorek Rookie Card #709
All three guys got to play in the big leagues for quite a while, but all three also stayed active in the game for a long time after their playing days ended. Baker is STILL managing, having signed on to bring some quiet to the Houston chaos. “Groove” was gone way too soon but certainly left his mark on the game and Tom “Wimpy” Paciorek was no slouch, having played for 18 years and then settling down behind a microphone.
It’s a single printed rookie card and a high number to boot, so you’ll pay $50 or more for a respectable one, but it’s truly one of the key cards in this set and a fun one to own.
Cookie Rojas #118
Cookie Rojas? Yup. Take a look. He’s captured in mid-air, turning a double play, with a field level scoreboard, a sparse crowd and a couple of guys in the bullpen for a background. Perfectly positioned is his beautiful, flowing autograph. Eat your heart out, 1953 Bowman Pee Wee Reese.
You can own this one for a couple of bucks.
There are several other cards in a strong runner-up field. We’re partial to the action shots like Chris Short which has Pete Rose in it; Bud Harrelson applying a tag as Nolan Ryan of the Mets walks near the mound in the foreground; Dal Maxville leaping to avoid a runner and Brooks Robinson, who unfortunately appears to have just swung and missed. There’s also a great horizontal image of Rudy May. It’ll be interesting to see if Topps attempts to go with some action shots of current players in its Heritage set but it’s always hard to top the original.