More is better.
That seemed to be the credo of the 1970s.
With big hair and gaudy styles dominating the social scene, it was a decade in which inhibitions were shed and moderation was scoffed at.
And no set better reflects this era than the 1972 Topps Baseball issue. At 787 cards, Topps's largest offering to that point – and a record number of specialty cards and subsets, this set was a clear indication that the pasteboard manufacturer also believed that more is better.
"It was sort of the last of the big beast sets," explained Frank Bakka, who owned the top 1972 set on the PSA Set Registry from 2002 to 2006. "Topps kept raising the number of cards in their sets until 1972. In 1973, they dropped it down to 660."
But it's the psychedelic design of these cards that most represents the '70s. The fronts showcase a player picture surrounded by a tombstone-shaped frame and a two-color border. At the top, the team name is highlighted in a dazzling, three-dimensional font, with the player's name noted in a white panel on the bottom. Oddly, the player's position is absent.
"I love the vibrant colors," said Derek Irwin, whose 1972 set is currently tied for sixth on the registry. "It was a nice change from the 1970 and 1971 sets that didn't have much color."
Jami Pfister, proprietor of the registry's No. 5 Current Finest set, agrees.
"The set has a unique eye-appeal with its psychedelic colors and team names. (There are) lots of great photos and poses whether it be Walter Alston (#749) pointing at the sky, Clemente appearing to take a called strike on his In Action (#310) card or Billy Martin (#33) supposedly flipping the bird," he said.
Neil Downey, the first to complete the 1972 Topps set on the registry, also loves the design, but he acknowledges that the set does have it detractors.
"It was always just that psychedelic early '70s set that people either liked or didn't like," he said.
"You either love it or hate it," he added.
Count the PSA Message Board's "Fab Five" among those that love it the most. Bakka, Downey, Carlos Aponte, Mike Castaldi and Erik Jarvi are the "Fab Five" five collectors, anointed as such for their persistence in assembling their 1972 sets and their pioneering efforts on the registry.
"We used to have the cards graded and then trade with each other, and we tried very hard to never have money cross the table," said Downey of working with his fellow Fab Fivers.
Bakka shares similar recollections.
"It was a great bunch of guys. We helped each other. We competed against each other, and all five of us eventually completed the set in varying forms," he said.
This set was distributed in six series. Reportedly produced in smaller quantities, the fifth (#526 to 656) and sixth series (#657 to 787) are the most difficult to track down.
"By the time, the fifth and sixth series would come out, I'm pretty sure football was starting, so a lot of the kids would've already moved on to another sport and most would not have even completed their sets," explained Downey.
Seven variations are often noted in this set. The first four are Cubs cards (#18 Juan Pizarro, #29 Bill Bonham, #45 Glenn Beckert and #117 Cleo James). The regular version of these singles showcases yellow underneath the letters "C" and "S" in the team name. A second rarer incarnation exhibits green underneath the "C" and "S." The green versions command a significant premium.
"I'm one of the people that believes that the green cards are much more rare than people want to give them credit for," said Joe Maggio, who sold most of his set.
Variations of three checklists also exist. There are two checklists (#251 and #478) that display the players' names in larger print on one version than another version. Two versions of checklist #604 have also been uncovered: the first has the copyright on the bottom right of the back and the second has it on the bottom left. None of these variations command a premium.
The only Hall of Famer rookie card is Carlton Fisk (#79). Hobbyists say that Pudge is not difficult to track down in high-grade. Of the 3,140 submitted, there have been 3 PSA GEM-MT 10s and 108 PSA Mint 9s. A PSA 10 sold for $7,850 on eBay in February 2008.
The inaugural issues of a number of other longtime big leaguers – Jose Cruz (#107), Chris Chambliss (#142), Dave Kingman (#147), Charlie Hough (#198), George Hendrick (#406), Ron Cey (#761) and Rick Dempsey (#778) – are also featured.
There is also no shortage of Cooperstowners in this issue. Legends like Willie Mays (#49), Roberto Clemente (#309), Reggie Jackson (#435) and Hank Aaron (#299) are represented, as are three Hall of Famers in the traded series: Steve Carlton (#751), Joe Morgan (#752) and Frank Robinson (#754). The most coveted Cooperstowner is Nolan Ryan (#595). Of the 2,954 Ryans graded, there have been 7 PSA 10s and 106 PSA 9s. A PSA 10 sold for $10,100 on eBay in October 2006.
The most elusive Hall of Famer in top grade, however, is the Hank Aaron In Action card (#300). There are no PSA 10s and just 17 PSA 9s of this single.
"The Aaron card is notorious for being off-center," said Irwin.
Poor centering plagues many of the In Action cards. Hobbyists consistently cite the In Action singles of Bob Barton (#40), Vida Blue (#170), Paul Schaal (#178), Hal McRae (#292), Jerry Koosman (#698) and Tim Foli (#708) as some of the toughest cards to find in pristine condition.
"Having seen original sheets of '72 cards, it is my theory that the cards placed in the bottom right section of the sheet are the cards that are traditionally off-center. Many of the In Action cards fit this bill – (including) Vida Blue, Paul Schaal and Bob Barton," said Pfister.
There's also a laundry list of low pop commons that command exorbitant prices. Fred Kendall (#532) is frequently near the top of this list.
Of the 129 Kendalls graded, there has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are just 10 PSA 9s. A PSA NM-MT 8 sold for $175.22 on eBay in March.
But hobbyists seem to agree that the most evasive card in high-grade is the Montreal Expos team single (#582). Just 110 have been evaluated by PSA, the lowest number of any card in the set. There are no PSA 10s and just 7 PSA 9s.
Maggio has experienced the same fruitless quest. He says poor centering hampers this card.
"The left-hand side is always a really tiny sliver of white," he said.
Of course, the overall size of the set (787 cards) also makes it challenging. So does tolerating the flashy design for some hobbyists. But love this set or loathe it, it truly reflects the style of the decade it was produced in. And for those who collect it, they still enthusiastically believe that more is better.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Joe Maggio, Frank Bakka and Mastro Auctions provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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