Monday, August 8, 2011

1979 Topps -- A Deeper Look

Today is a travel day for me as I make my way back home from The National. But there's still a post that has to be made -- my regular readers expect no less from me -- so here's a little tribute to the first set I ever collected.

When I decided to make a set-specific blog, there were two immediate sets that popped into my mind. The first was 1973 Topps, as I have always enjoyed the sometimes interesting/sometime awful photography. the other was 1979 Topps, a sentimental favorite. I began collecting in 1979 and those were my first baseball cards. In the end, '73 won out...but I may eventually talk myself into starting that '79 Topps blog at some point.

1979 Topps really isn't near the top of anybody's list because it isn't one of their most aesthetically pleasing issues. The design is considered to be blase by many, a factor of nearly a quarter century without competition.
However, I don't really think it's awful, either.

Let's take a look at the front design:

Card #524 --  Tom Burgmeier, Boston Red Sox

The picture is large, and very little of it is obscured by anything on the card. A solid-colored banner stretching along the bottom has the team name (and each team is given its own color scheme throughout the set), along with a player name and position. However, for the very first time as part of the set design, a Topps logo is included. It had previously shown up on checklists, but was added to the base cards for the first time in 1979.

Personally, I prefer the "old school" Topps logo here over the one they included on their cards beginning in 1982.

Now, let's flip the Burgmeier card over and take a look at the back:

 Card #524 --  Tom Burgmeier, Boston Red Sox (Back)

Except for the color, there's not a lot different here design-wise from what was used in 1978. The space used for the baseball game in '78 was changed to a trivia question and the card number is now inside a baseball-shaped icon, but everything else is in the same place.

Each team was given its own card as well:

Card #66 -- Detroit Tigers Team/Les Moss

This time, the banner is given a "waving" effect, which allows the team's manager to get his own card. This was a return to the way Topps had featured skippers between 1975-'77, and they wouldn't be given separate cards again until 1983.

Oh, and Les Moss wouldn't survive the 1979 season. He would be fired 53 games in, despite having a record over .500. However, in 1979 six of the seven teams in the A.L. East had winning records, so .500 wasn't good enough. He was eventually replaced by Sparky Anderson, who led the team for more than a decade.

The 1978 season was also given a review. The league leaders in several statistical categories make up the set's first eight cards:

Card #8 -- Leading Firemen (Gossage/Fingers)

I chose this card for a few reasons. First, this is the only Leaders card that features two Hall of Fame players on it. It also shows two guys known for their facial hair (even though Goose is clean-shaven here). Finally, I like the term "Firemen." Nobody uses that anymore to refer to relief pitchers. Now they're more specialized, as "set-up men" and "closers."

Cards #201-206 feature personal highlights from 1978:

Card #202 -- Ron Guidry, 1978 Record Breaker

Ron Guidry had an amazing season in 1978 and was a big part of keeping the team in the pennant race while the team went through some very public internal strife between George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. Without Guidry's 25-3 record, the team may not have been able to even get to a one-game playoff against Boston.

This card commemorates only one of those 25 wins, when "Lightnin'" moved down 18 Angels in a single game.

For whatever reason, there was no subset for the '78 postseason. It would be the first time since 1966 that Topps failed to include a nod to the previous year's World Series. That would seem odd to many, as Topps was a New York-based company and the Yankees won that World Series.

In addition to the look back at the 1978 season, there were also glimpses much father into the past on cards #411-418:

Card #414 -- All-Time Batting Leaders (Hornsby/Cobb)

I've already done an entry about this entire subset, so I'll just link to that for anybody interested in finding out more about it.

There was also a subset that showed the future hopefuls:

 Card #719 -- Los Angeles Dodgers Prospects (Guerrero/Law/Simpson)

The final 26 cards (#701-726) featured three newcomers from each team. Many stuck around for a while, while many didn't. I really wish the pictures on the cards weren't in black-and-white, though. After all, Topps had been doing multi-player rookie cards every year since 1962 and had always made them color, even if an airbrush was needed.

However, it's kinda neat to see the minor league uniforms in some of the pictures, like with Rudy Law here.

Card #121 -- Checklist #1

There were six checklist cards scattered throughout the set, each listing 121 cards. While I never marked my own checklist cards (I used to just keep my cards organized by team and subset and used paper to keep track of what I needed), some collectors did, and then tossed out their extras. However, there really isn't the shortage of unmarked checklists that cause 50s/60s checklists to be so valuable, so they don't get the respect they would have gotten in an earlier set.

Several cards identify most of the All-Stars from 1978:

Card #700 -- Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees

Those players got an added banner to identify them. Actually, there were only 17 players...for whatever reason, the A.L. shortstop (Fred Patek) wasn't given the credit he deserved.

Another thing Topps forgot to add was a Rookie All-Star trophy. That had been a regular feature in every Topps set (except one) since 1960. At the time, I felt cheated. My friends and their older brothers had cards with trophies on them and I had to wait until 1987 to pull one out of a wax pack. Somehow, that didn't seem right.

For the sake of showing who should have gotten identified, here is the official Rookie All-Star team from the '78 season:

C -- Bill Nahorodny
1B -- Dave Revering
2B -- Paul Molitor
3B -- Bob Horner
SS -- Ozzie Smith
OF -- Bob Molinaro
OF -- Hosken Powell
OF -- Rick Bosetti
RHP -- Rich Gale
LHP -- John Henry Johnson

While an All-Star Rookie trophy would have looked great alongside Ozzie Smith's rookie card, it just wasn't meant to be.

There was one minor error to address, though:

Card #369 -- Bump Wills, Error and Corrected Versions

Initially, Bump Wills was identified as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. How ironic is it that the son of Maury Wills (who famously held out on signing a Topps contract for several years) would be the subject of an error like that? Anyways, Topps corrected the error and both were a big deal in the hobby until all the collectors who wanted both versions were satisfied. There was once a premium attached to the error, but that seems to have faded over time.

Speaking of error cards, there are some Yankees and Phillies cards that are mistaken for errors because they have wrong numbers. Those were actually distributed as a promotion through Burger King and are two separate sets. I have done blog entries on both sets: here is the one about the 1979 BK Yankees and here are the '79 BK Phillies.

Finally, here is the card that will be part of my collection forever:

Card #310 -- Thurman Munson, New York Yankees

It doesn't look like much, I know. But this card was pulled out of a wax pack a couple of days after Munson's plane crash. I was 6 at the time, and the card was one of the first real reminders of how life can sometimes play very cruel tricks when you've planned to do other things.

Munson's crash was probably the single moment that made me a Yankee fan (although I was hooked the year before when the Yanks won the Series), and getting that card may have been the very first moment I can remember actually getting a card. As a long-time hobbyist, that is a very dear memory even if it is bittersweet.

Like I said at the top of this entry, I may still start a blog about the '79 Topps set in the future. I'm busy enough with four blogs right now, but the sentimentality of the set might just win me over.


  1. I hope you give it "a-go", Chris, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the '79 set.

    I was born in '79, so it has always held a special meaning for me, too. I can remember staring at the Ozzie in the back of my LCS's display case for several minutes at a time....before facing the reality of what my allowance could really fetch for me during that particular visit! I always liked that Reggie, too. It was almost as if Lando Calrissian had been awarded his own piece of cardboard. Smooth!

    Now that I have returned to the hobby after 20+ years away with a fresh yet old-school (oxymoron?) take on how to enjoy my old passion (i.e. patient set building!).....I am sure it will only be a matter of time before I construct the list, label the binder and start counting the 9-counts out for place-keeping. I just need to find that reasonable stack of commons as a starter set to send me on my way!

  2. the front is nice, but those numbers on the back are SO small..did not matter much as a kid..but now that we are older, it is pretty tough to see these...

  3. Glad to see some love for 79 Topps.

    Recieved the complete set as a Christmas gift when I was 12. Still the only complete set I have, and I will always cherish it. I believe The BK Phils set contains the first Pete Rose Phillies card.

  4. I've also got a soft spot for 1979 baseball. It was the first sports set I collected from packs. (I had done '76 Welcome Back Kotter and some other non-sports.) My cards were OPC, but it's close enough. :)

    The stats are easier to read on the OPC backs because of the lighter card stock, but the text is half the size because it's bilingual.

    I wonder if that's why OPC went for the card stock they did. Every set from 1971 onwards (when French was added) has lighter card stock than Topps did.

  5. What about card no.201? The very last line on the back says, "Feat was first attained in NL by Dave Force, 9-15-81, & Claude Richey, 7-9-99. If the card was printed in 1979 how can those dates be there?