Cody’s Favorite vintage set: 1970 Topps? ’70??

That’s not a typo. I didn’t accidentally type a “0” when you thought I should have typed a “1” in the title. 

Call it my years of news writing making this decision, but I like things simple and to-the-point. I’m not a fan of fluff and three-ring circuses, which Topps seemed to do with its landmark 1971 set, but I prefer the year before as opposed 1971.

Don’t be misunderstood, the 1971 set is BETTER than the 1970 set for many reasons: Color, font, the first action photographs and better rookies, not to mention those tricky black borders. While I like the 1971 set a lot, it’s a close No. 2 in my favorites to 1970.

Critics of the 1970 set will say that the design lacks appeal, and the set lacks a prime group of rookie cards — in fact, the set is the only one between 1954 and 1983 to not feature a rookie card of a hall of fame player. At 720 cards, it was Topps’ largest set at the time, and that was to accommodate the players on four new expansion teams: the Pilots (!!!), Royals, Expos and Padres. 

As far as rookies go in 1970: Vida Blue and Gene Tenace (on the same card), Jerry Reuss, Ralph Garr, Thurman Munson, Johnny Mayberry, “Spaceman” Bill Lee, Bill Buckner, Bill Russell, Larry Bowa, Darrell Evans, Oscar Gamble, and future 1986 Red Sox manager John McNamara as the Athletics manager. Some good names, but nothing greater than Munson.

The yellow-and-blue colored backs do give some color to the cards, but it’s not too much color – but definitely more color than the 1971 backs. While the 1971 black borders often cause angst among condition-minded collector, the grays of 1970 aren’t that much trouble, and are better ID’ed than the white borders of 1969.

By the way, 1969 can be considered Topps’ WORST set ever: too many errors, variations, and the photographs were a strange case – it’s been said that Topps was unable to get photos of the players for the 1969 set and had to use plenty of previous photos for them. Not really desirable.

As mentioned, 1971 has a lot of neat cards, but the same can be said for 1970 if you look past your opinions of design. I also like the card stock: It’s a white cardboard stock that Topps started with the 1963 set and improved with the 1964 set. Brown card stock returned in 1971 and lasted until 1991.

Here’s a rundown of what I find interesting about 1970 Topps:

It’s the first set to feature team cards of the Expos, Pilots, Padres and Royals – By the time Topps finally got around to getting photos of players for the disastrous 1969 set, they only got around to getting half of the expansion teams’ players in their respective uniforms. Even the 1970 and 1971 sets have Expos players in uniforms of colors other than red, white and blue. The Padres and Royals have been around for a while. The Expos, obviously, was Canada’s first team; and the Pilots … well, the rest is a short history.


#1: The Miracle Mets – One of baseball’s most interesting postseason race stories happened in the first year of the divisional playoff format, brought upon by the 1969 expansion. Cubs fans will tell you that 1969 was supposed to be their year, but fortunes turned, and a black cat turned in circles, to push the Mets forward just 7 seasons after one of the most abysmal debut seasons in recent memory. It was the jump-start of the careers of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Amos Otis (who didn’t play in the postseason), and gave a ring to recently-named Hall of Fame Gil Hodges.

#2: Diego Segui – As we know, the Pilots only lasted for 1 season, but it’s so unique that Topps decided to put Pilots pitcher Segui as the first player card in the 1970 set. At the time the first series of this set was being put together, the Pilots were in financial calamity and its future uncertain. Segui, who had career highs in wins (12) and saves (six) in this season, was named the team’s Most Valuable Player – the only Pilots MVP, ever. 

Many in Seattle knew that baseball would eventually come back to their city, but little did anyone know that Segui would be an original Seattle Mariner. Nicknamed “The Ancient Mariner” at that time (1977), Segui became the only player to pitch for the Pilots and Mariners. No 1978 card of Segui in a Mariners uniform exists, but he is featured “as a Mariner” in the 1977 set while in Red Sox garb. 

#8: Jose Martinez (and several other similar cards in this set) – I’ve written about the baseball card “cameo” several times. They first started with the 1956 set, albeit in non-photo quality, and were only sporadic in the 1960s sets. Starting with the 1970 set, and perhaps most prominent in the 1971 and 1973 sets, there were more photos of players with other players in the background. This Martinez rookie card features a blurry Pirates player in the background. While it’s tough to figure out who, but it can be looked at deeper to break down who it can and cannot be. Personally, I don’t know for sure.

#11: Nate Colbert – No player from the early 1970s hit more home runs and received so little national attention than Nate Colbert, the Padres’ first slugger. That’s because the Padres were such a bad team. This card is the first of Colbert in a Padres uniform; the 1969 Topps card has him “as a Padre” but without a cap on. 

#21: Vida Blue and Gene Tenace – (I wrote about this card in my previous blog entry about Topps’ rookie star combos that they got right. Here is what I wrote.)

#40: Dick Allen – This card doesn’t really matter unless you have the 1972 Topps Dick Allen. That’s because Topps didn’t have all of their pieces together to have the right Allen card for the 1972 set both before and after his trade from the Dodgers to the White Sox. In one of the strangest reuses of a photo in Topps history, Allen’s 1972 card looks exactly like his 1970. The 1970 card has Allen pictured in Phillies garb under a Cardinals name. The 1971 Allen, the rare high-series card, has Allen with bushy hair, facial hair and glasses in a Dodgers uniform. The 1972 Allen, which looks like the 1970, is back to the clean-shaven Phillies photo despite Allen keeping his same Dodgers look after his trade to Chicago. 

Card combinations: The base cards are what people want, there’s no doubt about it. I didn’t live in a time when cards didn’t have a real monetary value, but I’m sure there were some collectors who thought that one card with multiple superstars on it was more desirable that one card with one superstar on it. I’m thinking that’s why Topps made them. Topps not only made special cards with multiple players on them, but also had stat leader cards in an age where finding out the stats involved reading some sort of print publication. While the description pertains to many years of cards, the 1970 has its certain one-off combos:

• #61 NL batting leaders, Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente

• #62 AL batting leaders, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva

• #64 AL RBI leaders, Harmon Killebrew and Reggie Jackson (w/ Boog Powell)

• #66 AL HR leaders, Killebrew and Jackson (w/ Frank Howard)

• #67 NL ERA leaders, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton (as Cardinals teammates)

• #69 NL pitching leaders quartet of Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins and Juan Marichal

• #70 AL pitching leaders has six players on a card, which isn’t the first time, but is led by Denny McLain, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Perry.

#86: Lum Harris – Another cameo alert. I think? I can’t confirm at the moment, but is that Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda (uniform #20) crouched in the background? My senses say no, but I can’t say for sure.

#88: Miguel Fuentes and Dick Baney – One of the sadder stories in baseball history has to do with Fuentes. This is a paired rookie card. Fuentes has the distinction of throwing the last pitch in Seattle Pilots history. Unfortunately for Fuentes, it was the last pitch of his career; he was murdered during the off-season. 

#96: Leron Lee and Jerry Reuss – One of my uninteresting hobby stories told only on this platform has to do with this being Reuss’ rookie card. A prolonged career helped Reuss achieve plenty of stats, such as 220 wins over a 22-year career, which began with the Cardinals. If you look at pitchers with service time in the 1970s and earlier who have more than 200 wins in their careers, Reuss’ has the cheapest Topps rookie card among them, at $1 (the O-Pee-Chee is $2). 

#194: “Chuck” Manuel – This guy is Charlie Manuel, who would later lead the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title. This is his rookie card. In the background is one of two possible Minnesota Twins players: 1) Jim Kaat, named to the Hall of Fame this year, or 2) longtime veteran Rick Dempsey. If it’s Dempsey, it would mark a rare occurrence of a “pre-cameo” before his own card (which came out in 1972). 

#252: Lowell Palmer – The first known baseball card of a player who is wearing sunglasses. This is Palmer’s rookie card, as a Phillies player.

#273: Ralph Houk – The Yankees’ manager during their initial wilderness years, Houk had several Yankees greats at his side to help coach their players. One of which was Elston Howard, whose back makes a “cameo” in this card. This isn’t the only Yankee catcher cameo (see later in this list).

#360: Curt Flood – Here’s a card that indirectly tells an important story in baseball history. Flood is known for being the player who challenged baseball’s Reserve Clause due to his refusal to report to the Phillies after being traded by the Cardinals. Flood is pictured in Cardinals garb, but is featured as a Philly on the card front. Flood’s challenge was unsuccessful, and he sat out the 1970 season. Perhaps Flood’s challenge was successful in the long run, as Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith showed just a few years later to usher in free agency.

#398: Bill Stoneman – There have been many no-hitters in baseball, but what makes Bill Stoneman’s unique is that it took place in the 9th game in Expos history, the earliest no-hitter to start a franchise’s history. The feat is depicted in the cartoon back.

#399: Yankees team card – Until I have a look at this card with my own two eyes, and have an expert confirm it, the following description is merely a question: Is coach Mickey Mantle in this picture? We’ll look at another Yankees great on another team card later in this list.

#428: Don Buford – What consists of a good “cameo” card? It’s when the person in the background is more of a star than the player being featured. In this case for Orioles player Don Buford, that’s clearly Boog Powell in the background.

#570: Jim Fregosi – Long before the rad Omar Visquel 1997 Collector’s Choice and 1997 Fleer Benito Santiago cards with the yellow sports cars, there was Jim Fregosi’s 1970 Topps with a white pickup truck. This one isn’t as stylish: It’s small, in the background, and it looks like Fregosi is scooping it up like a ground ball. 

#585: Rusty Staub – With all due respect to aforementioned Nate Colbert, perhaps no player among the 1969 expansion clubs was more popular among their team than Rusty Staub was with the Expos. This is Le Grande Orange’s first card in an Expos uniform. 

#594: Jake Gibbs – There are many cameos in this set, but perhaps none more interesting than who’s in the background on this Jake Gibbs card: none other than fellow Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, who has his rookie card in this set. This is the first of many Munson cameos in Topps cards, most of which after this one feature him behind the plate, or in the case of the 1974 Topps Fran Healy, sliding into home plate.

#631: Oakland Athletics team card – Many players in this photo would be a part of the last non-Yankees team to win three straight World Series championships (1972-74), but that’s not the most interesting thing about this card. Look close, and you’ll see a hitting coach. That’s none other than Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.

#634: Bud Harrelson – This is the first of two straight interesting Bud Harrelson cards, with the 1971 card having a Nolan Ryan cameo in it. This is likely the first instance of a card of someone signing autographs for fans. Many card poses before that often were closeups, posed shots, and not much attention drawn to anything other than the person photographed. While 1971 was known for the debut of action photography in base cards, 1970 was a warm-up with photos of players not even looking at the camera at times, as with Harrelson here.


Do you know of any other interesting things about the 1970 Topps set? Comment below: