Top 12 Vintage-ish “Rookie Stars” Cards Topps Got Right

As a White Sox fan, I enjoy the occasional White Sox trivia question from time to time. 

Here’s a baseball card one for you: Which Sox player has the most expensive rookie card?

The Frank Thomas no-name? A rare variation Luis Robert? Hall of famers such as Minnie Minoso, Al Simmons, Ted Lyons, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox, or Luke Appling? 

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. And no.

That honor goes to some guy named Al Weis. 

Getting Weis’ rookie card isn’t too tough to find, but it comes with a price tag at the time of this blog post of $3,000. That’s because he shares his 1963 Topps rookie card with some dude named Rose.

Topps’ multi-player rookie card setup was a thing from 1962 to 1982 before being resurrected once more in 1992, but for those first 20 years, completing that player set from your favorite team sometimes was tough if the packs at the stores were already tossed out. You look at it as the 1977 Denny Walling rookie card, when everyone sees it as the Andre Dawson rookie. 

Who chooses these setups, anyway? Why couldn’t Walling, or Weis, have their own rookie cards? The folks at Topps have the answer to that question, and sometimes they were lucky to get some good players together, but not all of the time.

In this entry, which probably has been repeated in other media, I’ll deep dive into 12 Vintage-era (-ish) “Rookie Stars” cards that Topps got right, pairing players who went on to have good careers.

This list is based off of stars’ true rookie cards; second-year statuses are not considered.

1975 #623: Keith Hernandez, Phil Garner, Bob Sheldon, Tom Veryzer

This card features a non-mustachioed Keith Hernandez as a young Cardinal, along with fellow mustache guy Phil Garner. The other two don’t have them, and thus are the “other two.” Hernandez, a 5-time All-Star, drove in more than 1,000 runs and hit for a near .300 average by the time he wrapped his career in 1990. Garner was a 3-time All-Star who played on several playoff teams, and managed Houston to the 2005 World Series. As for Sheldon, he played parts of 3 seasons; and Veryzer put in a 10+ year career. 

1981 #302: Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scioscia, Jack Perconte 

It’s not the first time Topps would get a battery combo right (see later in this list), but what a card this was in 1981 when Fernandomania was getting started. With Scioscia having a good career around the same time, this card winds up being more expensive than the Tim Raines (and two others) card in this same set. Valenzuela’s success came in a 10-year period, and capped with a comeback after the baseball strike. Scioscia later managed for what seemed like forever in Anaheim. Perconte, the odd man out in this card, actually had a good sophomore campaign with 60 stolen bases for the hapless 1981 Mariners. 

1972 #761: Ben Oglivie, Ron Cey, Bernie Williams

Haha, not the Bernie Williams you’re thinking of. This Bernie is the odd man out in this rookie card that features All-Stars Ben Oglivie and Ron Cey. Oglivie was a good hitter who collected more than 900 RBI and hit more than 200 homers. Cey hit more than 300 homers, and, yes, this is his rookie card: He shares space on Mike Schmidt’s rookie the following year. As for Bernie, who rookie card is in 1971, he didn’t do much in the majors; but he, along with Oglivie, played in Japan to close their careers. Unlike Oglivie, Bernie played on a Japanese All-Star team in 1976. 

1969 #82: Al Oliver, Richie Hebner

The success of the 1971 Pirates is often attributed to hall-of-fame veterans such as Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, as well as a budding farm system that developed guys such as Al Oliver and Richie Hebner. Oliver has been a light HOF argument due to his  2,700+ hits, 1,300 RBI and .303 career average. Hebner, named Rich on this card, was never named an all-star, but had 203 homers and nearly 900 RBI.  

1965 #473: Paul Blair, Davey Johnson

Like the aforementioned Oliver/Hebner, this pairing also helped bring a World Series title to their team in short time – and there’s plenty of rings among these two. Blair, a 8-time Gold Glove winner, played on Baltimore title teams in 1966 and 1970, and Yankee title teams in 1977-78. Johnson, who hit 43 homers in 1973, also shared rings with Blair in Baltimore, and managed the 1986 Mets to a championship. 

1972 #79: Cecil Cooper, Carlton Fisk, Mike Garman

The 1972 set got it right twice with a second good pairing of 5x All-Star Cecil Cooper and future hall of fame Carlton Fisk. Mike Garman, who appears as a second-year player, lingered in the majors for a few years after his Red Sox days. Cooper had bursts of power and consistent hitting in an all-star career that saw him appear in World Series’ in 1975 with Boston and 1982 with the Brewers. Fisk’s career is often-told, from his 1975 “foul pole” homer, his 300+ homers, swatting a pair of Yankee runners out in succession, and several other catching milestones. 

1962 #228: Tony Oliva, Ed Kranepool, Max Alvis, Bob Bailey

The oldest card in this list has one of the newest hall of famers in Tony Oliva, an 8-time All-Star who hit .304 and drove in nearly 950 runs in a 15-year career. The Twins went to the World Series three times, and Oliva, named Pedro on this card, was there for all three: a player in 1965, hitting coach in 1987 and bench coach in 1991. Kranepool was a longtime fan favorite with the Mets from their early days to the late 1970s, himself appearing in World Series’ in 1969 and 1973. Max Alvis was one of those “what could have been” players, having two All-Star appearances and 61 homers from 1964-66, but it didn’t last long. Bailey’s career also had alright numbers, with nearly 200 homers and more than 700 RBI in 17 years. 

1965 #526: Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Skip Lockwood, Rene Lachemann

Another card from the 1965 that Topps got right, in my opinion, with two pitchers who were key to the Oakland Athletics’ dynasty of the early 1970s; and two others who were in baseball for a number of years. Hunter made it to the Hall of Fame through his success with both Oakland and the Yankees late in his career. Odom didn’t have a whole lot of wins, but was in the rotation all three years of the A’s success. 

The other two players are interesting for reasons having nothing to do with the A’s dynasty. Lachemann only played for a couple of seasons before starting a lengthy coaching and managing career from 1973 to 2016, highlighted by being the Florida Marlins’ first skipper in 1993. 

Lockwood’s career has some interesting trivia. He started as a third baseman for the As, then was a member of the ill-fated Seattle Pilots as a pitcher, was the last of the original Pilots to play for the Brewers, and was the last pitcher to play who won a ballgame at both Sicks Stadium (Pilots) and the Kingdome (Mariners). Perhaps most interesting, according to Lockwood’s SABR profile, is his single tally mark edited onto his contact to garner him another $100,000 (look it up). Lockwood’s reason, according to the story, was, he told A’s owner Charlie Finley, “because I’ll make you a winner.” He did, several times as a Brewer.

1970 #21: Vida Blue, Gene Tenace

This is one of those “woulda, coulda, shoulda” cards. You have to understand the current world of baseball card collecting AND the world of baseball card collecting in 1971 to know why. Simply put, today’s card market hinges a lot on investment, and there was no such thing as a baseball card’s monetary value 50 years ago.

These days, you’ve got rookie cards of players who sometimes do awesome things to start their careers – and when they do, the value of those cards goes up. Blue pitched a no-hitter 10 days after making his major league debut in 1970. Pitcher does that today, card value shoots up. Blue had that awesome 1971 season where he was both MVP and Cy Young winner, ran up a 24-8 record and started in the All-Star game at a mere 21 years old. Pitcher does that today, card value shoots up even more. Nevermind helping to lead the A’s to three straight titles AFTER all of that, but can you imagine what the value of this card would have been if pricing was a thing in 1971? 

To have batterymate Gene Tenace on this card, too, makes it even more special. Tenace, who hit 201 homers, was a member of six World Series title teams: four as a player, including one more with the Cardinals in 1982, and two as a coach with the Blue Jays in 1992-93. 

By the way, the current value of this card? Merely $4.00.

1968 #177: Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman

Topps hit the jackpot with this one, with Nolan Ryan making 200-game winner Jerry Koosman as second banana on his own rookie card. The card is often the butt of hobby jokes because of the Ryan value (“Anyone have a cheap Jerry Koosman rookie for sale?”). Ryan’s career is legendary with more than 5,000 strikeouts and seven no-hitters (and 12 one-hitters!) in a career than spanned from 1966 to 1993. 

Koosman actually was the top player among the two in the couple of years since the card came out: He was an All-Star in both 1968 and 1969, and was a durable pitcher up until retirement in 1985. He won 222 games, lost 209, and struck out 2,556 batters. 

That’s 8,270 career strikeouts featured in this rookie card. The second-highest combined total for a rookie card, (I think), would be Don Sutton-Bill Singer’s 5,089 in 1966 Topps.

1971 #709: Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Tom Paciorek

Tom Paciorek, who played for 18 seasons with a respectable .282 career average, receives third-billing on this high-series rookie card from one of Topps’ landmark sets. Between the three of them, that’s 56 years of playing time. Add more than 30 to that when you include both Baker’s and Baylor’s managing years, both of whom have led their teams to multiple playoff appearances. 

Baylor, whose only World Series ring game as a member of the Twins in 1988, hit 338 homers and drive in 1.276 runs from 1970 to 1988. Baker, whose only ring came as a Dodger in 1981, hit 242 homers and drove in 1,013 runs. Baker had the better managerial career, leading the Giants (2002) and Astros (2021) to the World Series. There are two other Baker-Baylor similarities: Both ended their careers in Oakland (Baker in 1986 and Baylor in 1988, both under Tony La Russa), and both managed the Chicago Cubs.

My favorite Baker tidbit is that he is the last MLB service-time link to the legendary Satchel Paige: Baker’s rookie year with the Atlanta Braves (1968) was Paige’s final year as a coach on the same team. 

Paciorek holds the baseball record for most pinch hits in a game with five, and did so during the White Sox’ 25-inning marathon in a 1984 game. He is perhaps better known among Sox fans as Hawk Harrelson’s color guy, “Wimpy.”

1978 #707: Alan Trammell, Paul Molitor, Mickey Klutts, U.L. Washington

While the Baker-Baylor-Paciorek trio is a more complete card, this one is the only Topps card to feature TWO hall of famers on what is BOTH of their rookie cards. If you were a Yankees fan in 1978 and needed that Mickey Klutts card to complete your team set, you really had to get lucky in breaking open a pack. Same if you were a Royals fan who needed that U.L. Washington. 

Paul Molitor is one of the hobby’s most under-appreciated Hall of Famers. Why his card prices were cut by more than half in the years after his retirement baffles me. His 3,319 hits is 9th all time, and he’s in the minor star tier throughout most of his career. With all due respect to Tigers fans, Trammell’s induction into the Hall also baffles me. He had some good, but not great, numbers, and so did Lou Whitaker. 

As for Klutts and Washington … Klutts played in parts of eight seasons with the Yankees, Athletics and Blue Jays with not much fanfare. Washington played in four postseasons with the Royals and put in a career of 11 years. 

I’m proud to own three of these cards. They aren’t in sellable condition, but they’re great cards to have.

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