Against the backdrop of troubled times, the 1968 Topps Baseball set was an oasis. While their parents and older siblings dealt with assassinations, war, drugs, riots and a myriad of unrest in the United States, youngsters could still grab a pack of bubble gum cards for a nickel.
Cards from the first series became available March 1, just as spring training camps were getting underway with the final series released in early September.
In a growingly psychedelic era, the ’68 Topps set stands out for its decidedly bland design. A burlap-type border surrounded the cards, with bright yellow backs providing some color. Today, some loathe the design while others like the fact that it tends to mask corner imperfections. Inside those packs were two players appearing on Topps cards for the first time. Both were young. Both became iconic Hall of Fame players.
The Nolan Ryan rookie card, one he shared with fellow Mets prospect Jerry Koosman who also had a nice career, is the key to the set and among the most popular post-War cards issued. Johnny Bench was still a teenager when he appeared on a Reds’ Rookies card that summer.
It was the beginning of a new era for players like Ryan and Bench and the end of the line for Mickey Mantle, who was in what turned out to be his final season. Mantle would have a card in 1969 but retired before the season began. Mantle’s 1968 Topps card is somewhat hard to find in high grade.
Topps had cut its set from 609 cards to 598 for 1968, but All-Star cards returned after spending most of the decade in hiatus. There were League Leader cards and World Series Highlights, but for the most part, the ’68 Topps set was devoid of bells and whistles.
There were a few multi-player cards including a ‘Superstars’ trio featuring Mantle, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew that is one of the most expensive cards in the set today. Collectors will also pay a premium for many of the 1968 Detroit Tigers. Dominant from start to finish, the ’68 Tigers remain immensely popular in Michigan, as fans recall their greatness and the boost they gave a troubled city. The Mickey Lolich card is especially popular and difficult to find in high grade.
Other cards in the set that have proven elusive in a truly mint state include; the National League Home Run Leaders, Senators Rookies (#96), Bobby Knoop, Hal McRae rookie, Grady Hatton, Alex Johnson, John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom, Tony Oliva, Claude Raymond and the A’s Rookies #199.
On the other side of the coin, there seem to be about two dozen cards that were double printed. Even mint, graded examples of those cards, in the 400s and low 500s, rarely sell for enough to cover the cost of submitting them.
There are three variations that are valuable, all because of having the team name printed in a different color. The Mike McCormick white team letters card is very tough, with only two PSA 9 examples in existence as of this writing. The color variation for Casey Cox and Eddie Brinkman is yellow with those carrying significant premiums.
1968 Topps Baseball set prices range from around $1,000 for a mid to lower grade set to several thousand for a true NM/MT set that includes Ryan and Bench. You can see them on eBay here.