With the new decade upon us comes the realization that the year 1960 was half a century ago! I truly find this hard to believe because I remember as if it was yesterday when I bought my first 1960 Topps baseball cards while growing up in the small blue collar town of Hobart, Indiana back in the 1970s.
The local baseball card shop was one of the first in the region and even though those 1960 cards were 17 years old at the time they looked pack fresh having that all too familiar new smell with sharp corners and rich colors. I was fascinated with the colors and graphics of the cards from the previous decade and made it my mission as a young baseball card collector to get as many cards from the 1960’s as possible and build complete sets.
The baseball card shop had abundant examples from the sixties which made my quest a fun and achievable goal while giving me the opportunity to see firsthand all the great cards from the 1960’s. It is important to remember that during the entire 1960’s cards were issued in series unlike today where cards are issued all at once. This fact made it more difficult to put together complete sets because cards from the higher series be it a common or star card are more valuable.
I remember struggling to save enough money to buy the highly desired 1960 rookie card of Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski but I badly wanted the card because he went to the University of Notre Dame which was only a few miles away. Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Willie Stargell, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Jim Palmer were just a few of the many star players who were in their prime in the 1970’s that have rookie cards in the 1960’s. They were cards that were high in demand and in price making them tuff to acquire for a kid who was on a fixed budget. Add Mickey Mantle to the mix who had a card for every year of the 1960’s and what a challenge it was to complete my sets!
Difficult decisions had to be made such as do I use the money that I saved for the upcoming Elvis Presley concert in Indianapolis, Indiana which ended up being his last show ever to make that big name card purchase? Or do I find alternative funding methods such as sacrificing some of my sacred beer can or stamp collections to buy that 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle card? It wasn’t easy but in the end I was able to achieve my goal and in the process I became very familiar and knowledgeable about baseball cards from the 1960s. There was no Ebay or Internet back in those days so the only way to get cards from the 1960s was to go to one of the few baseball card shops in the region, visit a flea market, order them through a magazine or make trades with your friends or their older brother.
What I like about baseball cards collected during ones childhood is that you can tie in a memory to a particular card knowing exactly where you were when you opened that lucky pack or made that trade with your friend to get that star card you so eagerly wanted! It is from my experience and knowledge gained as a young collector back in the 1970s that I have compiled a chronological list of what I believe to be the best or most unique cards from each year of the 1960s starting in 1960.
I have mainly concentrated on the regular issued cards from the Topps sets which total over 5,900 cards and represent the majority of the most popular cards from the era. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron all have cards in each year of the 1960’s that represent the majority of the most valuable cards of the decade. They are the foundation of the baseball card hobby from the 1960’s and their cards alone could take up the entire body of this story.
From the 1960 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle card to the 1969 Topps #500 Mickey Mantle white and yellow lettered versions, the Mick ruled the decade and set the bar for the rest. With all due respect to the cards of the big four I have decided to list the best of the rest of the cards from the 1960’s. The criteria will be the top few cards from each year and set but not necessarily the most valuable cards. With so many great cards to choose from and only so much space to list them there are bound to be omissions so without further delay here is my best of the 1960’s!
Fifty years ago, Topps introduced their beautiful 1960 baseball card set which is loaded with color and abundant in stars. An argument could be made that the entire set is the best of the decade but if I had to choose the finest examples of this stellar set I would start out with the before mentioned card #148 of Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz as he would be known to Red Sox fans and the baseball world was the heir apparent to Ted Williams and the future Triple Crown winner would live up to the billing! Listed as a second baseman on this colorful Sport Magazine 1960 Rookie Star card it has always been a collectors favorite and was one of the hottest cards in the hobby back in his playing days and rightfully so!
Like the Yastrzemski rookie, card #316 of Willie McCovey is the other highly desired rookie card from the 1960 set. McCovey won the AL Rookie of The Year award in 1959 playing in only 52 games with just 192 at bats while hitting a lofty .354. His very colorful rookie card acknowledges this on the front while the card back mentions his season’s highlights. While not as expensive as the Yastrzemski rookie card the McCovey rookie was still a card a kid had to budget for. Three other cards in the set that are collector favorites are #250 of Stan Musial, #343 of Sandy Koufax and #377 of Roger Maris.
The 1960 and 1961 Fleer sets offered the collector a chance to own some of the game’s all-time greats at an affordable price. If one could not obtain the expensive 1933 or 1934 Ruth and Gehrig Goudey versions you could have the feasible 1960 Fleer #3 Babe Ruth and #28 Lou Gehrig cards or the 1961 Fleer #75 Babe Ruth and the #31 Lou Gehrig. To say that you own a Ruth or Gehrig card regardless of the year was a good feeling especially for a kid!
The 1961 Topps baseball card set veered away from the flashy colors of the 1950’s and established a new identity for the 1960’s. When you think of 1961 in baseball terms the name Roger Maris resounds loud and clear. Both his 1961 Topps #2 card and his #576 All-Star card are ones of significance since it was he who out dueled fellow teammate Mickey Mantle to set the all-time single season home run mark of 61 in 1961, a record that still stands in the American League today. Add the rookie cards of Hall of Famers Juan Marichal #417 and Billy Williams #141 along with those of veterans Sandy Koufax #344 and Stan Musial #290 and you have a solid set!
The 1962 Topps or wood grain set as I like to call it was the first set of the 1960’s that had card variations with some having a green tint as a result of a printing error. Like the 1961 Topps set, Roger Maris again has a key card which is card #1. The first and last cards in a set are usually more valuable because when stored in numerical order they are the cards most subject to damage thus harder to find in high grade condition. One of my favorite cards and the key rookie in the set is card #387 of Lou Brock. Growing up in the Chicago area this card always reminded us Cub fans of what might have been! The cards of power pitchers Sandy Koufax #5 and Bob Gibson #530 along with card #50 of hitting great Stan Musial round out my list of key cards from the 1962 Topps set.
Arguably the best card of the 1960’s resides in the 1963 Topps set and may be the best card of the last 50 years. Despite all the controversy that surrounds Pete Rose his #537 rookie card has remained at the top of the list with collectors, more popular than ever before! One of the main cogs from the Big Red Machine of the 1970’s, it’s hard to say what the value of this card may be should he ever be reinstated into baseball and eventually elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The other key rookie is the Willie Stargell #553 card which was another one of those hard to buy cards as a kid in the 70’s. Also in this set is the last regular issued Topps card of Stan Musial #250 which has always been a favorite with collectors and caps off a long and productive run of yearly baseball cards of Stan “The Man”.
For whatever reason, I never had a difficult time putting together my 1964 Topps set as a kid because the card shop had plenty examples of them. Maybe because it is one of the lower valued sets of the 1960’s and doesn’t have any major rookie cards outside of Phil Niekro or possibly that the star cards were very affordable. Most likely it was because the majority of star cards were in the more abundant and higher circulated lower numbered series. I have been told by those who collected in 1964 that the last card in the set, #587 of Bennie Daniels was a very difficult card to get and usually the last card needed to complete ones set. The second year card of Pete Rose #125 and card #200 of Sandy Koufax are two of the best cards in the set but card #331 of the A.L. Bombers showing Roger Maris, Norm Cash, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline is a very popular classic!
The 1965 Topps cards with their classic pennants on the card front which have the team name and logo inside the pennant made for one neat looking set! This was a popular set to collect in the 1970’s because some of the game’s best players at that time had rookie cards in the set but for most of my friends it was issued the year we were born and to own a set from the year you were born was a cool thing! The rookie cards of Steve Carlton #477 and Jim “Catfish” Hunter #526 are the top rookie cards in the set and two of the best rookie cards from the 1960’s. Other cards worth mentioning are the #16 Joe Morgan and #581 Tony Perez rookies along with the #207 Pete Rose, #300 Sandy Koufax and #510 Ernie Banks cards.
Like the 1964 Topps set, the 1966 Topps were a rather reasonable set to assemble and I wasted no time by splurging to get the #50 Mickey Mantle card right off the bat. It was my first Mantle card and I cherished it like no other card I had! The last regular issued card of Sandy Koufax #100 is in this set which caps his great career and also the #30 Pete Rose card. One of the better short print cards of the decade is the last card in the set of #598 Gaylord Perry. Other tough short prints include the #526 Twins team card, the #583 Tigers team card and the #550 Willie McCovey card. The key rookie cards of Jim Palmer #126, Fergie Jenkins #254 and Don Sutton #288 make this tri-fecta of pitching Hall of Famers one of the best of the decade.
One of the most difficult cards to acquire as a young collector in the 1970’s was the 1967 Topps #581 Tom Seaver rookie card considered by us kids to be the “Holy Grail” of all cards! It was one of those cards that had its own glass display case which was securely locked as if to protect it from us kids drooling all over it. Tom Terrific as he was known was exactly that in the hobby making completion of the 1967 Topps set a near impossibility. Adding to the challenge was the other top rookie card of the set, #569 of Rod Carew who at the time in 1977 was flirting with hitting .400 which only escalated his rookie card price! The #600 Brooks Robinson card is also included with the Seaver and Carew cards as being very difficult to acquire which made those three cards bank breakers for us young collectors!
At the time I remember the 1968 Topps #247 Johnny Bench rookie card being more desirable than the #177 Nolan Ryan rookie card. That’s hard to believe but back then Bench was winning World Series titles with the Big Red Machine while Ryan was winning strikeout titles with some very bad California Angels teams. Of course over time that would all change with Ryan’s rookie card becoming one of the hottest cards in the hobby claiming the top spot over the 1963 Pete Rose rookie for a while as Ryan accumulated more no-hitters, wins and strikeouts. Reflecting back on this set I wish I had more interest in the Ryan rookie card as opposed to the Bench rookie as a collector in the 1970’s but isn’t that the way it goes some times?
When I first started to put together the 1969 Topps set I couldn’t believe how many cards were in the set! A whopping 664 cards along with some white lettered versions which pushed the total to almost 700 cards! I didn’t care if a card had white or yellow letters I just wanted to complete the set. In the set was one card in particular that was very expensive and hard to get at the time and that was the #260 rookie card of Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. Reggie was the most flamboyant player of the day and he backed it up with his clutch hitting during key playoff moments. Forget about getting his card unless you saved up your allowance and were lucky enough to find one in a card store. Fortunately I did and my quest was over quickly! If you couldn’t get your hands on his 1968 Topps rookie card the next best thing was the second year Topps card of #533 Nolan Ryan. Along with the Reggie Jackson rookie the second year Ryan card helped make up the backbone of the 1969 Topps set as did the third year #480 Tom Seaver card. There are lots of cards in the set which made it very challenging to complete but once I did it was a great sense of accomplishment!
With so many great cards to choose from I am sure that some very worthy key cards of the 1960’s were left out but with that said it just goes to show that so many excellent cards exist beyond the Mantle, Mays, Aaron and Clemente cards of the 1960’s. From the perspective of a young collector of the 1970’s it was those great cards of the 1960’s that fueled my passion for the hobby that continues to this day, just as it has for so many others!
Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at [email protected] with any additional information, comments, or questions.