By 1973, the multi-player Topps rookie cards were now limited to about 15 cards per set at most and they were all grouped together. Errors like the 1967 George Korince photo incident in which Topps used the wrong photo and felt compelled to correct it later in the set just weren’t happening much anymore. To show they really thought Korince was a good prospect, he would then re-appear in the 1968 Topps set on a two-player rookie card. By the mid-1970s, with all cards issued in one giant series, oddities like that—and other players appearing on a ‘rookie card’ more than once—were a thing of the past. However, there are still some awesome multi-player rookie cards with great stories throughout the 1970s.
We’ll begin our tour with the Vida Blue/Gene Tenace card in the wildly overproduced 1970 first series. The early 1970s first series cards were printed in such huge quantities they are still easy to find to this day. The Blue/Tenace rookie card has two of the stars of the A’s dynasty. While Blue never again had a season like 1971 where he won the Cy Young and MVP, he did have a nice long career. Tenace stuck around long enough to play for the 1982 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. What we did not realize in the 1970s was Tenace was a prototype for today’s three true outcome style with his low batting average, good power and fine eye at the plate. Tenace would be better appreciated today than he was when he was a player. You can buy this one in nice shape for around five bucks.
1971 has the classic “Reynolds” card in which each guy shared the same last name. To say it’s a wrap none of these pitchers (and they were all pitchers) were in the majors after about 1973 says something about pitching in that era. But this also goes to show Topps was always looking out for an occasional opportunity for humor. Now, it’s not quite as a good as the Jung Bong and Brandon Puffer joint card but it’s good enough for us looking through the prism of history. And I almost wish Topps would do cards like this again just so we can see if they are still looking for interesting name combinations. As a high number in short supply, you’re looking at $15 and up.
The 1972 set has an example which tells us what regional popularity can do for a card. The last series in 1972 is very popular (and at a book value of $10 or more per card, somewhat expensive) but there was at least one card which kept collectors in the megalopolis hopping for many years. Card number 741 featured Tommy Hutton of the Phillies, John Milner of the Mets and Rick Miller of the Red Sox. Well combine a high number to go with three popular collector team bases and you have a recipe for a card which will forever be on want lists up and down the East Coast. It’s fairly easy on eBay now with $10 usually enough to own one. Amazingly, Hutton had actually been on two rookie cards previous to his 1972 appearance with the first one way back in 1967 alongside long-time baseball man Gene Michael. If any card proved back in the day what regional scarcity could do for popularity it was this one.
1973 has a couple of my favorite stories. The first one involves a short time major leaguer named Bill McNultny. Never heard of him? Well very few have except for those who were fascinated by the 1974 Sacramento minor league team. You see the ballpark they played in (Hughes Stadium, built for football and track) had a very short left field and was such a band box the team hit more than 300 homers for the season.
Even with such future stars as Sixto Lezcano and Gorman Thomas blasting a combined 85 homers between them, the team leader was McNultny with 55 which was enough to lead all of professional baseball that season. He’s pictured with the Rangers on card #604, which is another high number that’s usually around $5. While McNulty never returned to the majors even after that power show, for a young fan following the exploits each week in the Sporting News there was an excitement to his chase. And looking back after 40 years, I now wish somehow he had gotten to 60 bombs that year.
The other interesting player is the Steve Busby rookie card. Busby had a short but sweet career then a very long second baseball second act as a Rangers broadcaster. He was announcing games when I moved to Dallas in 1990 and he is back doing games in 2015. There is still something soothing on a hot Dallas evening in hearing Busby and Tom Grieve announce a game on TV. Now if we could only get more games on free TV again (we are down to five Rangers game this year on broadcast television) .
By the time we get to 1974, Topps has made the decision to release all their cards at the same time and end the long experiment of issuing cards by series. On a business level this made more sense as the higher number series would be returned in larger quantities and the kid collectors would now have easier times finishing their set. Well, 1974 was also the year the San Diego Padres almost moved to Washington, D.C. Topps had gotten word that the move was a go and printed several Padres cards with “Washington” instead of “San Diego”.
Those error cards are generally a little more expensive but the multi-player rookie card of Dave Freisleben is one in which the Washington version is more common and the San Diego variation. But keep in mind there are three total variations, with most usually available here. What a strange twist to an interesting variation series and those San Diego cards are just as difficult as the last three (309, 364 and 387) “Washington Nat’l League” cards.
In 1975, we have cardboard evidence as to why the Yankees would not win any pennants between 1982 and 1995 despite usually being in contention. Card number 618 featured Scott McGregor and Rick Rhoden. McGregor was given up by the Yankees to help acquire Doyle Alexander and although Alexander pitched fine for the Yankees , as the years went on, McGregor proved his staying power for the Orioles and was a fine pitcher for many years. Meanwhile Rhoden’s best years were behind him when he finally arrived in New York, he never was quite as effective for the Yankees.
Ron Guidry, who won the 1978 Cy Young award and pitched till the end of the 1988 season, is one of the first multi-player rookie face we think of in the 1976 set. But what is more interesting to collectors is you almost never find a Guidry rookie without a printing smudge on the front. If you don’t believe me, just check on eBay or at a local store or show (if you are fortunate enough to be near one of these).
When we get to 1977, we get a far better rookie card class again. We get Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy (who you can still own in a ‘9’ for under $60, by the way) and we get a couple of cards which show the dangers of investing in younger players. I once wrote about the Jack Clark/Lee Mazzilli/Ruppert Jones card as an example of a card which petered out despite appearing to have a real solid future. Well there is another card featuring outfielders which showed, not quite to the same extent, the issues with investing in younger players.
There was a four player card featuring as the keys Tony Armas and Steve Kemp. Now Armas won two home run titles and was even the Red Sox nominal starting center fielder in 1986 until Dave Henderson arrived and became a hero for this Championship Series heroics and Steve Kemp sure looked like a future star in training until the Yankees signed him to a big free agent contract. Kemp was never the same player, with some help from injuries as he was in Detroit and Armas was basically done as a player by the end of the 1986 season. Today you can own one for a buck, but in the early 1980s, the future of this card must’ve looked much brighter than the end result.
The 1978 rookie card subset has the Paul Molitor/Alan Trammell card, of course, but there’s another good one, too: The Rookie Catchers card, #708. Murphy (who returns on a combo for a second straight year) and Lance Parrish aren’t Hall of Famers but they were both very popular players on their respective teams and enjoyed long, productive careers. Pair those two players and their combined 700+ homers with future all-stars Bo Diaz and Ernie Whitt and you have a pretty good 1980’s catcher crop. Today, the card is usually under $10 in nm/mt condition. And because of Diaz’s unfortunate passing in 1990 while trying to adjust his satellite dish, this is a real difficult card on which to own autographs of all four players.
For years, no one gave the 1979 Astros Prospects card much of a thought but then Bruce Bochy won his third World Series as a manager, livening up a comparatively unexciting subset. Bochy might make the Hall as a manager which has given a little speculative boost to it.
And we’ll conclude our tour with the two Basses in the 1979 rookie grouping. Randy Bass never made it big in the U.S. major leagues but became a huge power hitting star in Japan and Kevin Bass was an integral part of the 1986 Houston Astros, a team best known for giving the Mets that terrific battle in the 1986 NL Championship Series. Not enough aquatic verbiage for you?
Even Pedro Guerrero, who is undoubtedly the best player from the 1979 Topps rookie class was never going to be anything more than a big rookie fish within a small pond.
And with those poor puns, we conclude our 1970’s multi-player rookie card tour.