It would mark the end of Topps’ first run as the exclusive manufacturer of baseball cards. A court ruling would change the hobby forever as the calendar entered the 80s but marking the best baseball rookie cards by year during the 1970s was still a pretty straightforward exercise.
In the third installment of a series, we present a year-by-year look at the prime cardboard of an era that gave us our first cardboard commemoration of some future Hall of Fame faces. Click the title of each to see them for sale and auction on eBay.
Sadly, he would be dead before the decade was over, but Munson’s mark on the Yankees’ resurgence during the 1970s is indelible. Who knows if he would have made the Hall of Fame if his career had lasted a few more years, but he certainly would have been a strong candidate if he had continued to play at a high level into the 80s. Munson’s rookie card is almost treated as if he was elected with even NM/MT graded examples selling for over $150. Easy to find but very popular, especially with Yankee fans who treat it like a relic.
Honorable Mention: Bill Buckner, Vida Blue, Darrell Evans
It took a while, but Blyleven was finally elected to the Hall of Fame and his card prices have ticked up a bit since. In a year with several solid rookie cards but few truly outstanding, this one narrowly comes out on top. The black borders are notoriously tough to tame and you’ll pay a few hundred for a truly high-end example—not much at all for one with a little corner wear.
Honorable Mention: Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Dave Concepcion, Dusty Baker/Don Baylor
Fisk was a huge star in Boston who left for Chicago and kept on playing until he was well into his 40s. He actually appeared in two games late in the 1969 season, saw a little more action in ’71 and then established himself behind the plate the year he appeared on this card. He spent 24 years behind the plate, an American League record. Cooper wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but had a solid career, especially after a trade to Milwaukee, where he became a star. Easy to find in Topps’ first series of ’72, you can still buy this one for a relatively low price because of the number of high-grade examples.
Honorable Mention: Ron Cey/Ben Oglivie
You’ll find Ron Cey (again) and Dave Hilton on this card but Schmidt is the reason mint, graded examples sell for four-figure prices. Excellent on defense and a feared hitter, Schmidt was a three-time MVP who won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger on a regular basis. A member of baseball’s All-Century team, Schmidt’s rookie card came out in the last series of the last year Topps distributed cards that way. It’s an easy pick as the cream of the crop.
Honorable Mention: Dwight Evans
Winfield was born the day Bobby Thomson hit his famous 1951 pennant-winning home run. Twenty-two years later, he made his debut with the Padres. A stellar all-around athlete, Winfield won seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers and eventually reached 3,000 hits. After becoming a star in the late 1970s, he left for New York as a free agent in 1981. His tenure with the Yankees was rocky from the start. He won a World Series title with the Blue Jays in 1992. His rookie card, even at the NM/MT level, is still very affordable.
Honorable Mention: Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Ken Griffey Sr.
The 1975 set was a good mine for rookie cards but Brett is the biggest star. A three-time batting champion with a .305 career average, Brett even gave .400 a run in 1980 before finishing at .390. Brett was brash and not always friendly to autograph seekers home or away, but his aggressive play and love of the game earned him a lot of points with collectors. As one of the premier rookie cards of the decade, Brett’s #228 has exploded in value at the high-end with a PSA 10 reaching $40,630 in 2015. You can own an ‘8’ for around $200.
Honorable Mention: Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Jim Rice
Until the late 1980s, you wouldn’t have given Eckersley a snowball’s chance to become a Hall of Famer, but his success as a closer became so sustained it was impossible not to consider the man with the mustache, long hair and unusual delivery. Eckersley pitched a no-hitter in 1977 and became the first of two pitchers in history to record both a 20-win season and a 50-save season in his career. High-grade examples of his rookie card are still under $100.
Honorable Mention: Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph
Dawson shared his rookie card but it wouldn’t take long for him to separate himself from the rest of the pack. He was the Rookie of the Year in ’77, became a multi-tool talent with Montreal and then, his knees aching, signed with the Chicago Cubs where his 1987 MVP season endeared him to fans and raised his profile among collectors. He made eight All-Star teams and won eight Gold Gloves. The Hawk’s rookie card seems underpriced, with the value of a graded NM/MT example sitting at $32.
Honorable Mention: Dale Murphy, Bruce Sutter
It’s a tough call between this card and Eddie Murray’s debut at card #36 but the combined star power of Molitor—a Hall of Famer—and Trammell, a borderline candidate, is hard to beat. Not only that, but a weird print smudge that often adorns #707 makes it elusive in high-grade with Mint 9s selling for over $300 and a PSA 10 bringing $10,226 in 2015. Molitor was “The Ignitor”, capable of getting on base any number of ways. A member of the 3,000 hit club, he showed versatility in the field, too. Trammell was a steady rock for the Tigers from the late 1970s to the 1990s, considered one of the game’s best hitting shortstops during his tenure.
Honorable Mention: Eddie Murray, Jack Morris
The Wizard began as an acrobatic San Diego Padre but became an icon after his trade to St. Louis, where he matched his spectacular defense with a knack for clutch hits and a memorable World Series homer. No one covered more ground or made more seemingly impossible plays than Smith, who won 13 Gloves and collected 2,460 career hits. His rookie card is hard to find in high-grade with prices for 8s at around $100 but 9s at $800 and more. A 10 made headlines several years ago when it set a record price at over $20,000.
Honorable Mention: Pedro Guerrero
Also in the series: