Revisiting a vintage favorite: 1970 Topps

The 1970 Topps set was a slow comeback from a much-troubled 1969 set when it comes to production and design. Obviously, the 1971 set restored the shiny armor that we’ve come to know with Topps cards, but not only were there many interesting improvements with the 1970 set, but there were also some interesting details about some of the cards as well.

What collectors should see out of the 1970 Topps set, aside from what many call a plain and lackluster look, is the efforts of what Topps tried hard to do to make sure there was no train-wreck of a set again (that 1969 was).

In order to understand the interesting things about the 1970 Topps set, one needs to know what make the 1969 set such a disaster.

If you’re a collector for money and players, sure, the 1969 set was notable for rookie cards such as Reggie Jackson, Bobby Cox, Bobby Bonds, Graig Nettles, and second-year cards of Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench. However, it was a production nightmare.

For starters, the MLBPA (led by future Hall of Famer Marvin Miller) and Topps had a dispute with licensing and likenesses starting with the 1968 set. A player’s boycott of photographs for the 1969 Topps set took place, resulting in many boring head shots and photos from players in year’s past. Then there were ugly airbrush changes, with the Donn Clendenen card the most notable given his refusal to be traded. Then there were several printing errors with colors going where colors weren’t supposed to go. And, for the first time since 1955, there were NO team cards.

Eventually, things worked out to where newer photos of players were used for late-series cards, so we did get to see the first cards of players in Pilots (#482), Expos (#442), Royals (#463) and Padres (#452) uniforms. Still, that meant only half of a year’s baseball roster had at least some photographic proof of a player’s team rather than Topps slapping a sticker on it. Offseason trades will mean that not every team set within a set will have every player in that team’s colors, but the more the better.

With the 1970 set, Topps finally had its full say in what it wanted to do as far as card production went. As photographs were a real weakness with the 1969 set, they made sure that 1970 was going to be much, much better. Most baseball card poses of the 1950s and 1960s were simple standstill images with not much excitement to look at. The 1970 set would be something that photojournalists would consider much better improvement, because what they look for in a good photograph is movement and action.

Game-action photographs, the pinnacle of baseball card photography, didn’t happen until 1971 (save for black-and-white press photographs for playoff cards), but there was still enough motion in the 1970 pictures to make them more visually appealing. 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.

I have written much already about the 1970 Topps set in a previous blog entry (HERE).

After you give that entry a read, here are some more interesting observations about the 1970 set that are unique:

• As mentioned, team cards for all of the teams were released for the first time since the 1967 set. In that 1967 set, some team photographs were recycled from years past. You couldn’t get away with that this time, meaning these team photos were much more updated. Oh, and opening the set with the 1969 Miracle Mets team card was a great decision.

• Another absence from the 1971 set were the cartoons on the back. They appear in select cards in both 1970 and 1972 and sets. The 1970 card of Carl Taylor has a misspelling of the word “collecting” in the cartoon. The line is “Carl’s hobby is colleting coins.” Only one coin was ever made of Taylor in a baseball uniform, in the 1971 set.

Another interesting cartoon is on the Amos Otis card, his first as a Royal. Cartoons were almost always used for positive accomplishments, except that the one for Otis tells the story of him becoming Steve Carlton’s then-record 19th strikeout victim (he played on a limited basis with the 1969 Miracle Mets then). Topps couldn’t find anything more positive about Otis? Thankfully, the career Otis would have after this card would provide Topps with plenty of positive things to share.

Not an important observation, but an interesting one in a local history perspective. Clinton (IA)’s first MLB player was Tom Hilgendorf, whose rookie card appears in the 1970 set. The cartoon that comes with his card tells the fact that he does carpentry work in the offseason. The cartoon has him holding a piece of lumber. The lumber industry was huge in Clinton back in the day, and there’s a local Sawmill Museum in Clinton.

However, no cartoon from the 1970 set gains more notoriety than the one on the back of Pedro Borbon’s rookie card: “Pedro’s hobby is cock fighting!”

• It is told that Topps was not made aware of a legendary “oops” within its 1969 set until 1972. That card was the infamous Aurelio Rodriguez “bat boy” card which actually features Leonard Garcia. However, with a keen eye, you can see that the person pictured on the 1970 Rodriguez card (#228) ISN’T the same person on the 1969 card.

• Frank Tepedino is a retired baseball player who assisted with rescue efforts as a fireman at the World Trade Center during 9/11. His rookie card, as a New York Yankee, is in the 1970 high-series cards.

• With brand new team photos in the 1970 set, this means another set of possibilities for cameo appearances in team cards. These team pictures were taken in 1970.

Yogi Berra appears as a coach in the Mets team card; he was first-base coach.

The Dodgers team card shows a No. 6 in the second row, and Steve Garvey played in some games for the 1969 team. However, that’s Ron Fairly, who put up some decent numbers in a long career in his own right.

Indians pitching great Mel Harder (200+ wins) appears in the Royals team card as a pitching coach.

Billy Goodman, largely forgotten these days due to a .300 career batting average not meaning much in today’s game, was a star back in the 50s and 60s, and was a Braves coach in 1969, and thus on the 1970 team card. Another Braves coach on that 1969 team was Satchel Paige, but that was more of an honorary role (site note: it appears that it’s Paige on the second row, far right, in this photo, but that’s actually Rico Carty.

Angels owner Gene Autry has been cropped from the 1970 team card. He was 3 feet to the right of the guy in the suit in the second row at left.

Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn was a pitching coach for the 1969 Twins, and appears on the 1970 card.

Hall of Fame infielder Bobby Doerr, who played his entire career with the Red Sox, coached on the 1969 BoSox squad and is on the 1970 team card. Doerr also appears on a couple of Blue Jays cards in the late 1970s as a hitting coach.

Ageful Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson was a coach for the inaugural 1969 Padres and appears on the Padres’ first team card. Anderson also has a 1970 card of his own, pictured with the Reds name on an airbrushed Padres jersey.

Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Nellie Fox appear for the first time on the same card in the 1970 Senators team card. That, however, isn’t the most notable card of these two in the same photo: the 1973 Rangers team card has both in Rangers colors.

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