Collection Crossroads: 1969 Topps & 1984 Fleer

With the announcement of the 2022 baseball hall of fame class, the 1969 Topps set hit a milestone that surpassed 1984 Fleer.

The announcement of Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and Gil Hodges into the Hall gives the 1969 Topps 50 different base cards of persons enshrined, be it a player, manager or a player who later became a manager.

The 1984 Fleer set, which also includes some future hall of fame managers in the set’s checklists, but are priced as if they were base cards, tally 48.

At least that’s my count for the two, having checked and double-checked the checklists of the late 60s to 1971, and those from 1983 and 1984.

I’ve maligned the 1969 Topps set quite a bit in recent posts because of reused photography, printing errors, and black marks and airbrushes that just make these cards look awkward. However, having 50 hall of famers in the set leads all sets, to my knowledge, with others a couple of years either way with around 46-48 hall members. It’s the set with final cards of Mickey Mantle and Don Drysdale, and firsts of Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Earl Weaver and Bobby Cox. Several other stars were just starting, and several more were seeing the sunset.

The 1983 and 1984 cards offer a personal subject of debate as to which set produced in those years is my favorite. Obviously, 1984 Donruss blows everyone else out as far as popularity and pricing, but the difference for me preferring Fleer over Donruss that year is its transitional phase.

Topps’ longstanding policy of not issuing base cards of players in their final year came back to haunt them in the mid-1980s when the new kids on the block didn’t have such a stance. Those who retired after the 1983 season never had a 1984 Topps card (and we’re not counting the “Highlights” card of Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski and Gaylord Perry). That, and an overall “meh” design, decimated that year’s Topps set against the others.

Not even Donruss issued base cards for Bench, Yaz and Perry; or even Rollie Fingers, who sat out with an injury the entire season. The special two-card “set” honoring the four that was displayed only in factory sets is nice, but they still aren’t base cards. The 1984 Fleer set DID have base cards for the four, so their stats are included. Fingers, whose career went on to 1985, did have a 1984 Topps card.

The 1984 Fleer set also had the swansong cards for Fergie Jenkins and Jim Palmer, as well as rookie cards for Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry (although Strawberry’s first major appearance was in 1983 Topps Traded as an XRC).

One other unique concept of the 1984 Fleer set is the inclusion of select managers on the checklist cards, which Fleer hadn’t done since 1981. There are 14 checklist cards, with two teams on a card. The folks at Fleer picked some good guys to grace the front inset pictures on those cards, including hall of famers Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Dick Williams and Whitey Herzog. Typically, checklist cards that feature a person are treated with subset pricing – half off the base card – but this isn’t the case for this set. The managers are in 1984 Topps, but, again, that set doesn’t include Bench, Yaz and Perry.

So what about 1983? There’s a better rookie card crop with Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs, and new HOF’er Jim Kaat is in his final card. I’ll take 1984 since it has the final stats of Bench, Yaz, Perry and Jenkins.

Also within the 1984 Fleer set are two “fun” cards that have been trading a lot in the online market: The Jay Johnstone (Cubs) card with him in a Budweiser umbrella hat, and the Glenn Hubbard (Braves) card with him holding a cobra. Subset variety creation also improved from the prior year’s set, with one special card of two hall of famers, George Brett and Gaylord Perry, in a card about the Pine Tar Incident.

And we haven’t even touched 1984 Fleer Update, undisputedly the greatest post-set of all time with the Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens rookies. However, I’m looking for an Al Oliver and an Amos Otis from that set.

If collectors missed out on the 1983 Topps Traded set, the Strawberry rookie was going to be in the 1984 sets for sure (oddly enough, not in Donruss). The chases for Strawberry and Mattingly, and later for Clemens and Puckett made Fleer more of a major player in the card market. Donruss, with its landmark set that year, also became more of a major player. Both of those deals didn’t make Topps any better – and I consider 1984 the year that Topps truly lost its monopoly on the card market.

Here are lists of the hall of famers from the 1969 Topps and 1984 Fleer sets:

1969 Topps

#20 Ernie Banks

#24 Walt Alston (Mgr.)

#35 Joe Morgan

#50 Roberto Clemente

#75 Luis Aparicio

#85 Lou Brock

#95 Johnny Bench

#100 Hank Aaron

#130 Carl Yastrzemski

#147 Leo Durocher (Mgr.)

#175 Jim Bunning

#190 Willie Mays

#200 Bob Gibson

#216 Don Sutton

#235 Catfish Hunter

#237 Bobby Cox (as player)

#250 Frank Robinson

#255 Steve Carlton

#260 Reggie Jackson

#290 Jim Kaat

#295 Tony Perez

#335 Bill Mazeroski

#349 Dick Williams (Mgr.)

#355 Phil Niekro

#370 Juan Marichal

#375 Harmon Killebrew

#385 Orlando Cepeda

#400 Don Drysdale

#410 Al Kaline

#440 Willie McCovey

#450 Billy Williams

#460 Joe Torre (as player)

#462 Red Schoendienst (Mgr.)

#480 Tom Seaver

#485 Gaylord Perry

#500 Mickey Mantle

#510 Rod Carew

#516 Earl Weaver (Mgr.)

#527 Al Lopez (Mgr.)

#533 Nolan Ryan

#545 Willie Stargell

#550 Brooks Robinson

#564 Gil Hodges (Mgr.)

#565 Hoyt Wilhelm

#570 Ron Santo

#573 Jim Palmer

#597 Rollie Fingers 

#600 Tony Oliva

#640 Fergie Jenkins

#650 Ted Williams (Mgr.)

That’s 42 players, 8 managers. You’ll also notice that, with the exception of the manager cards and the Fingers and Cox rookies, that most of the card numbers end with a “0” or a “5”. The exceptions are Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer – three future hall of famers who took a few years to get their careers to legendary status. 

Another Jay Johnstone factoid: His 1969 Topps card features one of the very few known cameo appearances of a 1960s card; manager Bill Rigney appears in the background to Johnstone’s left.

———

1984 Fleer

#14 Eddie Murray

#16 Jim Palmer

#17 Cal Ripken Jr.

#25 Steve Carlton

#43 Joe Morgan

#44 Tony Perez

#48 Mike Schmidt

#51 Harold Baines

#58 Carlton Fisk

#87 Jack Morris

#91 Alan Trammell

#125 Goose Gossage

#143 Dave Winfield

#187 Phil Niekro

#199 Rollie Fingers

#207 Paul Molitor

#213 Ted Simmons

#215 Don Sutton

#219 Robin Yount

#239 Nolan Ryan

#271 Gary Carter

#273 Andre Dawson

#281 Tim Raines

#301 Tony Gwynn

#336 Ozzie Smith

#338 Bruce Sutter

#344 George Brett

#352 Gaylord Perry

#392 Wade Boggs

#396 Dennis Eckersley

#408 Jim Rice

#412 Carl Yastrzemski

#447 Rickey Henderson

#462 Johnny Bench

#494 Fergie Jenkins

#504 Ryne Sandberg

#505 Lee Smith

#511 Rod Carew

#520 Reggie Jackson

#536 Bert Blyleven

#595 Tom Seaver

#649 Tony La Russa (Mgr.)

#650 Sparky Anderson (Mgr.)

#651 Tommy Lasorda (Mgr.)

#653 Bobby Cox (Mgr.)

#654 Joe Torre (Mgr.)

#659 Dick Williams (Mgr.)

#660 Whitey Herzog (Mgr.)

That’s 41 players and seven managers. Fleer’s sets back then were grouped by team, with the 1983 World Champion Orioles leading off the set. Eighteen players are in both of the 1969 Topps and 1984 Fleer sets. 

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