The Mitchell Report was enough to sour the most steadfast baseball fan on this generation's stars, but how will it impact the card industry?
Veteran hobbyist Ken Dunbar believes that collectors will start looking back and fostering a greater appreciation for players from previous eras.
"People are going to go back and long for the time when everybody was on the up and up, not using HGH and steroids and trying to beat the other guy with an illegal substance, instead of trying to take a little extra batting practice. That's what they did back then (in the '60s). They fielded 500 balls over the course of a Spring Training day. They didn't take HGH to improve their performance," he said.
And if you're looking to celebrate the legends of yesteryear, the 1969 Topps Super set is a good place to begin. Of the 66 players featured in this premium, glossy issue, 18 are Hall of Famers and four others (Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, Joe Torre and Pete Rose) boast a decent shot at future enshrinement.
"It's littered with Hall of Famers," said Dunbar, who owns the PSA Set Registry's No. 2 Current Finest Supers set.
Hobbyists are still debating how this test-issue series was originally distributed. Some reports indicate that these were issued in five-card packs with gum, while others contend they were released in three-card cello packs. Some hobby publications state that they were not issued with the regular 1969 Topps series, but Dunbar distinctly remembers pulling Supers from the regular issue cello packs.
"The '69s had very limited distribution in the New York area and some nearby areas," said longtime hobbyist Scott Susor. "I know that I didn't see any retailed in the Detroit area. Even in later years, very few if any appeared on seller's tables at the midwestern card shows I attended in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. It's truly a rare test issue."
Measuring 2-1/4" by 3-1/4", the singles in this set are in alphabetical order by team within each league. The fronts sport a glossy photo with a facsimile autograph, while the backs showcase a box near the bottom that includes the player's name, team and position. The corners are round, although square-cornered copies have also surfaced. The square-cornered examples are believed to be from sheets cut by hobbyists. An uncut sheet in a 2004 Robert Edward Auction reveals that these were printed in six rows of 11 cards.
Hobbyists say that it's the dazzling design of these cards that inspire them to collect the set.
"It has a really nice gloss finish to it, which enhances the bright colors of the photos. I thought that the rounded corners were really interesting too because it framed the photos nicely," said Wayne Gurowsky, who owns the Registry's No. 5 Current Finest set.
This issue also brings back childhood memories for both Gurowsky and Dunbar.
"It's been one of my passions for a long time – since I was a kid," said Dunbar. "In 1969, I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and I guess it was just dumb luck, there were a couple of packs in a store called Great Eastern, which is like the Wal-Mart of the time."
Gurowsky shares similar sentiments.
"The players that were in the set were pretty much my childhood heroes," he said. "I grew up in New York City and I was pretty close to Shea Stadium, so Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Bob Gibson and Willie Mays – all the National Leaguers, especially, were part of my childhood."
The Willie Mays (#65) single is the set's only card without a PSA 10 example.
"He has no (PSA) 10s because he has a white print mark (on the upper right portion) on the card. I've never seen a Mays without one," said Dunbar.
The uncut sheet from the Robert Edward Auction reveals that Mays is the first card on the left in the third row, a position that makes the card vulnerable to condition flaws. A PSA 9 Mays sold for $441 on eBay in May 2007.
Mays' centerfield contemporary, Mickey Mantle (#24), is also featured in this set.
"It's (the Mantle card) obviously the most important card ... to buy a (PSA) 9 is going to be a couple grand. A (PSA) 10 would cost over $7,000," said Gurowsky.
Of the 104 Mantles submitted, nine have been deemed PSA 10s and there are 42 PSA 9s.
Another popular Yankee represented is Reggie Jackson (#28). The fact that this card is from his rookie year adds to its appeal.
"I think the photo is the same as the regular Topps card. It might be even nicer," said Gurowsky.
There are 14 PSA 10 Reggies and 40 PSA 9s. A PSA 10 copy sold for $3,957.40 in a Memory Lane auction in December 2006.
One of the toughest Hall of Famers to uncover in gem mint condition is Tom Seaver (#52). Hobbyists say that a white line or border along the right side generally plagues Tom Terrific's singles. Six PSA 10 Seavers exist and a PSA 9 sold for $635 on eBay in February 2007.
Billy Williams (#39) is another Cooperstowner whose card is difficult to uncover in top grade. The sheet in the Robert Edward Auction reveals that his single is the last card on the right in the fifth row, making it susceptible to flaws. Just three PSA 10s have been uncovered and a PSA 9 sold for $178.50 on eBay in January 2007.
Also elusive in pristine condition is Brooks Robinson (#3). Similar to the Mays single, a print dot also hampers the Robinson, says Dunbar. There are just two PSA 10 examples.
Robinson's teammate, Dave McNally, the set's first card, is also difficult to uncover in flawless form. This single suffers from the typical wear and tear associated with being the first card of a set. One of the three PSA 10s of the Orioles hurler fetched $1,633.98 in an eBay auction in February 2006.
With the Mitchell Report casting a dark shadow over the modern era, a greater appreciation for players like McNally, Robinson and Williams is likely to be fostered. Also represented in this set are legends Hank Aaron (#34) and Roberto Clemente (#58), and Dunbar points out that Frank Robinson (#2) and Harmon Killebrew (#19) – two oft-overlooked Cooperstowners that are also in the set – might finally receive proper recognition.
"They were truly stars of their day and I think people are going to long for that now," said Dunbar.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Wayne Gurowsky provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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