Five years before Fleer and Donruss ignited a revolution, 15 cents still bought you a pack of the only card game in town. The 1976 Topps baseball set was a dramatic change from the company’s colorful 1975 product. It was a much cleaner look than the year before, which featured colored full-bleed corners around all edges of the cards. The white-bordered cards added a nice touch of assorted colors at the bottom where the team names and player names were displayed. Overall, it was a more simplistic card, but still added enough color to the front to keep things interesting.
Now 40 years later, here are six key cards from that 1976 Topps release that are still classics today. They’re not necessarily the most valuable but offer a great snapshot of the past, present and future of baseball as it looked then.
Most fans know Reggie Jackson from his playing days with the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees. What is often forgotten is that he spent a year, 1976, with the Baltimore Orioles after the A’s traded him just before the start of that season. He signed with the Yankees after that brief stint and as a result, Jackson didn’t land on a Topps release with the Orioles in 1976 or 1977 (although there are a few proofs of him wearing Orioles garb in ’77 that are quite valuable).
This card features an up close shot of Jackson in his final season with the Athletics, despite the fact that he played for Baltimore that season. Presumably, Topps either did not have the time to have an Orioles card produced and didn’t include him in their Traded set, either. This card of the Hall of Famer can be found for less than $5.
The inclusion of Brett and Yount in the 1975 Topps set help make that issue a popular one with collectors. A value play are these second-year releases of two Hall of Famers who dominated the 1980s. They were just beginning to make their mark when Topps packs hit store shelves that spring, but both players each collected 3,000 hits and had long careers, playing into the 1990s.
The pair is somewhat joined at the hip for collectors because of those rookie cards, so it’s fitting that they remain tied in our list for their 1976 Topps follow-up issues that are often available in ungraded form for under $10.
One of the interesting subsets produced in the 1976 Topps set was an All-Time All-Stars group that included legendary players from days gone by. Ruth headlines a group that also includes Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, and others. The black and white image of Ruth features his trademark swing and is featured on an attractive post-career card that can be had for just a few bucks.
The Eckersley rookie card is one of the most expensive ones in the set and for good reason. He was a Hall of Famer and while mostly known for his days with the Oakland Athletics, where he participated in three consecutive World Series’, this is one of his few cards with the team that drafted him back in 1972 – the Cleveland Indians.
Eckersley made a seamless transition as a 20-win starting pitcher to one of the game’s greatest relief pitchers. He not only won a Cy Young in 1992 with a league leading 51 saves, but also took home Most Valuable Player honors that season. Often available in the $10 – $15 range, it is a remarkable value for a 1970s Hall of Fame rookie card.
Topping our list is Hank Aaron, who is featured here in his final contemporary Topps release. Aaron’s base card is worth significantly more, but it’s his Record Breaker that is my favorite in the set. Hammerin’ Hank is remembered most for his 715th home run that surpassed Babe Ruth, but his 2,210th run batted in also bested the Babe’s long-time career mark and was commemorated on this card. Another great reason to like it? It’s the very first card in the set and fittingly allows Hank to lead things off in the last issue from his playing days.
One of the most affordable cards from his long career, it’s a nice commemoration of an all-time legend breaking one of the game’s biggest records as he prepares to bid farewell to the game.