In 1959, Topps expanded their baseball card set to 572 cards and produced them in series. So when you purchased a pack early in the year, the cards would only be numbered 1-110 and as the year went on, other series would be offered for sale. At the time, it seemed logical, but for collectors of Topps cards from 1959-1973, it represented a challenge…and still does today. The later series were marketed late in the season when interest had waned and the cards became more scarce. So, when you hear a collector talk about “high numbers” being difficult to find, you understand the issue.
How this relates to “rookie cards” begins with that beautiful ’59 set. The best rookie card that year was future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and his card was in the high number series (#514)…making it a tough card to find, especially in nice condition. In addition, all the All-Star cards were also in the high number run, creating another difficult collecting challenge that included Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron.
As the calendar turned to the 60’s, many great players made their debut and their rookie cards were (and still are) in great demand. In 1960, there was Carl Yastrzemski & Willie McCovey…1961 had Juan Marichal & Billy Williams…and in ’62, it was Lou Brock, Gaylord Perry and “Mr. Baseball” Bob Uecker.
The 1963 Topps set included a concept where many of the rookies were shown together on cards that had small, cropped photos of four different players…and some were in the high series. That is where you’ll find the rookie card of Pete Rose…shown with Pedro Gonzalez, Ken McMullen & Al Weis. While not very visually appealing, still a valuable card indeed. Willie Stargell’s rookie card is also in this category and includes three more obscure players.
The ’64 set has Phil Niekro and two famous Managers inTony LaRussa & Lou Piniella as well as a medical miracle in Tommy John. Lots of Hall of Famers in ’65 with Steve Carlton, Joe Morgan, “Catfish” Hunter & Tony Perez…’66 included three HOF hurlers with Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins & Don Sutton. Tom Seaver & Rod Carew both debuted in the high number series of the ’67 set.
The 1968 set features the rookie cards of two of the most popular players of the era…Nolan Ryan & Johnny Bench. Once again, Topps included multiple rookies on certain cards, so Ryan shares his cardboard with Jerry Koosman, while Bench is shown with Ron Tomkins. Finishing off the decade, Reggie Jackson & Rollie Fingers grace the ’69 set with their rookie cards.
In 1970, Topps issued their largest set ever at 720 cards in six series. The key rookie card in the set was that of the Yankee Captain, Thurman Munson. Interestingly, however, the 3rd year Nolan Ryan card is twice as valuable because it was part of the scarce high number run.
The 1971 set was even larger at 752 cards and remains a distinct challenge to collectors even today for one primary reason…the cards had black borders. So, even the most careful of handling couldn’t prevent excessive wear and finding 71’s in nice condition is very difficult. The key rookie cards are the Dusty Baker / Don Baylor in the high number series, Steve Garvey & HOF Pitcher Bert Blyleven.
In 1972, the Topps set expanded once again…this time to 787 cards. Carlton Fisk (who shares the card with Cecil Cooper) is the key rookie card. 1973 found the set reduced to 660 cards (five series of 132) and includes one of the best rookie cards of the decade in Phillie great Mike Schmidt. As with other years, this particular card was in the high series and Schmidt shared the card with two other players.
660 cards remained the standard from 1974-1977 and cards were no longer issued in series, making it easier for the collector to put together a set. Great rookie cards were found during that time including Dave Winfield in ’74. George Brett, Robin Yount, Jim Rice & Gary Carter were all in the ’75 set…Dennis Eckersley in ’76…and Andre Dawson in ’77 along with Mark Fidrych.
Topps went to 726 cards for 1978 and that remained in place for the next four years. The ’78 set featured the rookie card of Eddie Murray and a combo rookie card including both Paul Molitor & Alan Trammell. 1979 finished off the decade with the rookie card of the “Wizard”…Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.
We’ll include the 1980 set in our review, as it was the final year of the Topps monopoly. Rickey Henderson’s RC highlighted the product and is still very desirable today.
Hope some of your favorites are included…