Collecting 1972 Topps Baseball Autographs

A Worthwhile, Psychedelic Trip

By Scot A. Reader

Count me among the many collectors who would love to own a complete autographed 1972 Topps baseball set. The colossal 787-card release is considered one of Topps' finest and the first cards I remember owning as a kid. But finishing the signed version of 1972 Topps was never meant to be. On Easter Sunday of the year of issue, popular ex-Dodger and Mets manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack returning to his spring training hotel after a round of golf. Several months later, on New Year's Eve, Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente perished when his Nicaraguan relief plane carrying supplies to earthquake survivors plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

Barring a miracle, these tragic events foreclosed the possibility of anyone ever completing a signed 1972 Topps set. Hodges' #465 card likely wasn't available to the public until after he passed away and, while a few copies of the Clemente #309 and Clemente (In Action) #310 cards bearing his signature exist, I am unaware of any copy of Clemente's third card in the set - World Series Game 4 #226 - surfacing with his legitimate autograph.

Still, the improbability of ever finishing a signed 1972 Topps set has not deterred faithful collectors from trying. The market for signed '72s is robust - more so than for many Topps sets from the era. Several reasons account for signed 1972 Topps' enduring popularity.

BenchAparicioBrock

First, the 1972 Topps set is an embarrassment of riches for the '70s baseball fan. If one were to pinpoint the year of "peak baseball cards" in the Topps' monopoly era from 1956 to 1980, 1972 would be a strong candidate. If one separately counts every subject on multiplayer cards, 1972 Topps features over 800 subjects. Leaving no stone unturned, the offering includes League Leader cards, League Playoff cards, World Series cards and even awards cards paying homage to hardware ranging from the highly prized (Most Valuable Player Award #622, Cy Young Award #623) to the quite literally minor (Minor League Player of the Year Award #624).

There are over 80 Hall of Fame subjects - a generous number enabled by League Leader cards, In Action and Boyhood parallels and manager cards featuring Cooperstown inductees. The already ample Hall of Fame checklist grows larger if one includes League Playoff and World Series cards depicting Clemente (#226), Brooks Robinson (#222), Frank Robinson (#228) and Willie Stargell (#221), and may drift higher still in coming years if any of the Eras Committees sees fit to honor greats like Rich Allen #240, Bob Grich #338, Jim Kaat #709 and #710, Tommy John #264, Tony Oliva #400 and Ted Simmons #154. Glaring omissions from the set include Rick Reichardt, Rusty Staub, Luis Tiant and Mike Torrez. Why these quality players didn't make the generous cut of 787 is a mystery.

Second, the 1972 Topps design is classic and signature-ready. In sync with the times, 1972 Topps pairs splashy psychedelic fronts with dull Earth-toned backs - capturing and nicely contrasting 1970s America's exciting future and prevailing industrial drabness. Moreover, 1972 Topps cards don't have facsimile autographs. Many Topps sets from the era were designed with preprinted signatures that clutter player photos and limit the area where players can add their real signatures. Not so for '72s. When a player (or manager) signs his 1972 Topps card, the product is just as intended - the player's likeness accompanied cleanly by his original expression.

Third, signed '72 Topps lies at a temporal inflection point that enables different collecting strategies. When '72 Topps was released a half century ago, the favored writing instrument for signing baseball cards was the ballpoint pen. In the years since, however, the Sharpie® has come to predominate. Today's signed '72 Topps collectors can decide to prioritize vintage ballpoint autos or contemporary Sharpie graphs. Additionally, as hundreds of the players featured in the set are still living (though they are passing away at a rate of about one per month), ambitious collectors can launch through-the-mail (TTM) campaigns and attend signing events to augment their collections with dozens of first-hand autographs.

CarewJackson

Fourth, the insurmountable challenge that signed 1972 Topps presents only adds to its allure. Beyond the unconfirmed Hodges #465 and Clemente World Series Game 4 #226 offerings that inspire highly improbable "white whale" quests, '72 Topps is replete with cards of players whose premature deaths and/or poor signing habits have resulted in a dearth of signed specimens. Card series add further intrigue, as signed examples of high numbers (Series 6, #657 - #787) and to a lesser extent semi-high numbers (Series 5, #526 - #656) are in generally shorter supply. Having grappled for years with the T206 set dubbed "The Monster" for its complexity and collecting challenges, I have come to believe that signed '72 Topps may be T206's problem stepchild - the psychedelic monster!

EARLY DEATHS

The improbability of ever finding Hodges' #465 card with his autograph has already been discussed. His Series 4 card was likely issued to the public after his untimely passing. But while obtaining a copy of Hodges #465 with his actual signature would be nothing short of miraculous, there are other hurdles to finishing the signed 1972 Topps set, including the rare Clemente #309, Clemente In Action #310 and the as yet unconfirmed (at least to my knowledge) World Series Game 4 #226, all of which feature the Bucs legend who died heroically in service to others on the final day of 1972.

Obstacles to set completion mount with Thurman Munson #441 and Munson In Action #442, both of which feature the iconic Yankee catcher who was a notoriously "tough sign" before he was killed in a mid-season light plane crash in 1979. Then there are Don Wilson #20, who was a generous signer before he died in a mysterious domestic incident in January 1975; Jim McGlothlin #236 and Danny Thompson #368, both of whom succumbed to Leukemia in the mid-1970s; Bob Moose #647, who died in a car accident in 1976; and Danny Frisella #293 and #294, who perished in a dune buggy accident in 1977.

As if the collecting challenges posed by these numerous tragedies weren't enough, the untimely passing of other players and managers before Y2K has made their signed '72 Topps releases hard to find, including (in order by year of death): Carl Morton #134 (d.1983), Del Rice #718 (d.1983), Walter Alston #749 (d.1994), Norm Cash #90 and #150 (d.1986), Jim Brewer #151 (d.1987), Don McMahon #509 (d.1987), Billy Martin #33 and #34 (d.1989), Aurelio Monteagudo #458 (d.1990), Leo Durocher #576 (d.1991), Jim Hardin #287 (d.1991), Dick Kelley #412 (d.1991), Clay Kirby #173 and #174 (d.1991), Jim Magnuson #597 (d.1991), Chris Short #665 (d.1991), Deron Johnson #167, #168 (d.1992), Bob Miller #414 (d.1993), Billy Wilson #599 (d.1993), Joe Hague #546 (d.1994), Cesar Tovar #275 (d.1994), Vada Pinson #135 (d.1995), Cecil Upshaw #74 (d.1995), John Bateman #5 (d.1996), Roger Freed #69 (d.1996), Lum Harris #484 (d.1996), Joe Hoerner #482 (d.1996), Jerry May #109 (d.1996), Steve Hamilton #766 (d.1997), Duane Josephson #543 (d.1997), Mark Belanger #456 (d.1998), Jim "Catfish" Hunter (d.1999) and Harry Walker #249 (d.1999).

LOW VOLUME SIGNERS

Yet early death isn't the only roadblock with which the signed '72 Topps collector must contend. Dozens of '72 Topps subjects are hard to find in signed form due to certain players' scant participation in signing events, low (or zero) response rates to TTM autograph requests and/or high signing fees.

Some players moved abroad after their playing careers, to places like the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Venezuela that are not easily accessible in person or by mail. Other players weren't easy to locate in the U.S. Still others simply opted not to participate in as many signings or chose to charge exorbitant fees. In some cases, scarcity is exacerbated by the player's death or the issue of his card in tougher Series 6.

For whatever reason or combination of reasons, beyond the already mentioned players and managers who died pre-Y2K, low volume signers (in order by first appearance in the set) include, without limitation:

Series 1 - Series 4: Enzo Hernandez #7 (d.2013), Ted Ford #24, Rich Chiles #56, Mike Cuellar #70 (d.2010), Ron Woods #82, Gary Gentry #105, Cleo James #117A and #117B, Mike Kekich #138, Pat Dobson #140 (d.2006), Andy Messersmith #160, Dock Ellis #179 and #180 (d.2008), Dave McNally #223, #344 and #490 (d.2002), Rich Allen #240, Tommy Agee #245 (d.2001), Wes Parker #265, Don Hahn #269, Ike Brown #284 (d.2001), Johnny Jeter #288, Jose Pena #322, Roy Foster #329 (d.2008), Stan Swanson #331 (d.2017), Marty Martinez #336 (d.2007), Mike Kilkenny #337 (d.2018), Earl Williams #380 (d.2013), Charlie Williams #388 (d.2015), Willie Davis #390 (d.2010), Matty Alou #395, Frank Baker #409, Vicente Romo #499, Pete Hamm #501, Mike Marshall #505, Carlos May # 525.

Series 5 (Semi-High Numbers):  Fred Patek #531, Charlie Sands #538 (d.2016), Terry Forster #539, Ed Kirkpatrick #569 & #570 (d.2010), Nate Colbert #571 and #572, Doyle Alexander #579, Wade Blasingame #581, George Scott #585, Hal King #598, Jim Ray #603 (d.2005), Mike Corkins #608, Joe Decker #612 (d.2003), Chico Salmon #646 (d.2000), Marcelino Lopez #652 (d.2001), Horacio Pina #654.

Series 6 (High Numbers): Fran Healy #663, Ray Newman #667, Willie Crawford #669 (d.2004), Don Clendenon #671 (d.2005), Ivan Murrell #677 (d.2006), Steve Hovley #683, Willie Montanez #690, Curt Blefary #691 and #692 (d.2001), Bobby Murcer #699 and #700 (d.2008), Jose Pagan #701 and #702 (d.2011), Doug Griffin #703 and 704 (d.2016), Bobby Bonds #711 and #712 (d.2003), Gene Michael #713 and #714 (d.2017), Jesus Alou #716, Bruce Dal Canton #717 (d.2008), Cesar Geronimo #719, Bill Sudakis #722, Dick Selma #726 (d.2001), Rick Monday #730, Jim Ray Hart #733 (d.2016), Len Randle #737, Jim Merritt #738, Don Mason #739 (d.2018), Rico Carty #740, Jim Slaton #744, Julian Javier #745, Lowell Palmer #746, Jim Stewart #747 (d.2012), Phil Hennigan #748 (d.2016), Wayne Simpson #762, Luis Alvarado #774 (d.2001), Tony Cloninger #779 (d.2018) and Les Cain #783.

Setting aside the highly coveted signed Clemente and Munson cards, uncertified examples of the challenging signed '72 Topps subjects listed above command anywhere from $10 to $250 in today's market, depending on the subject and the condition of the autograph and card. Taking a recent example near the high end of this range, an uncertified copy of World Series Game 1 #223 bearing the autograph of tough signer Dave McNally sold in a September 2019 eBay auction for $227.

Given these stakes, taking advantage of the PSA QuickOpinion™ service before purchasing uncertified, high value, signed specimens from this set on eBay, or elsewhere, makes good sense. Also, submission of mid-to-high value '72 Topps signed examples to PSA can pay dividends, as PSA authenticated and/or graded versions carry a substantial premium over their uncertified counterparts.

HALL OF FAMERS

The list of low volume signers provided above omits Hall of Famers since they are a special breed. There are over 80 Hall of Fame subjects after accounting for League Leader cards as well as In Action and Boyhood parallels. While almost all the featured Cooperstown legends in the 1972 Topps set at some point signed TTM or participated in signing events where their autographs could be acquired for a fee or charitable donation, fresh specimens are becoming harder (and more expensive) to obtain as these stars enter their twilight years. In many cases, the present robust demand for signed '72 Topps cards of Hall of Famers outstrips supply. Here is a rundown of the signing habits and availability of Hall of Famers found in this set (in alphabetical order by last name):

KillebrewMays

"Hammerin' Hank" Aaron appears on N.L. R.B.I. Leaders #87, N.L. Home Run Leaders #89, his base card #299 and his In Action card #300. He occasionally participates in signing events; at a recent event his signing fee was $325 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year. Forgeries are common, however, so beware of examples not certified by a reputable third-party company such as PSA.

Walter Alston, who died in 1984, is featured on his base card #749. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply is constrained due Alston's death taking place only a few years after the set's release and because the card is a high number.

Sparky Anderson appears on his base card #358. He was a generous "no fee" TTM signer before his passing in 2010. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Luis Aparicio is featured on his base card #313 and his In Action card #314. He appeared at the 2013 National and signed for $49 per card, but he otherwise rarely participates in signing events. A few of his signed 1972 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Johnny Bench appears on his base card #433 and his In Action card #434. His signing fee through his website is $70 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Lou Brock is featured on his base card #200. He occasionally participates in signing events, and in one recent event his signing fee was $69 per card. A few of his signed 1972 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Bert Blyleven appears on his base card #515. He signs TTM for $20 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Rod Carew is featured on his base card #695 and his In Action card #696. He occasionally participates in signing events, and at a recent event his signing fee was $99 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply is constrained in part because these cards are high numbers.

Steve Carlton appears on N.L. Pitching Leaders #93, his base card #420 and his Traded card #751. He signs TTM for a $35 per card donation to his charity. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply of his Traded card #751 is constrained since it is a high number.

Orlando Cepeda is featured on his base card #195. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $39 per card. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Roberto Clemente appears on World Series Game 4 #226, his base card #309 and his In Action card #310. His signed base and In Action cards are rare; they are offered for sale once every several years. A PSA/DNA Authentic example of his base card (#309) sold in a November 2011 Heritage Auction for $2988. Card #226 (World Series Game 4) has never been confirmed with an authentic Clemente signature. Examples that have not been certified by a reputable company, such as PSA, should be approached with caution.

Leo Durocher is featured on his base card #576. One can assume he was a generous signer before his passing in 1991 as a few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Rollie Fingers appears on his base card #241. He signs TTM for $15 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Carlton Fisk is featured on Red Sox Rookie Stars #79 along with Cecil Cooper (a star in his own right) and Mike Garman. Fisk signs TTM for $40 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

McCoveyMorgan

Bob Gibson appears on his base card #130. He occasionally participates in signing events, and his signing fee at a recent event was $49 per card. A few of his signed 1972 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Jim "Catfish" Hunter is featured on his base card #330. He died in 1999, but as with Durocher, the current availability of '72 Topps cards signed by Hunter is suggestive of him being a generous signer before his passing.

Reggie Jackson, a.k.a. "Mr. October," appears on A.L. Home Run Leaders #90, his base card #435 and his In Action card #436. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $79 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Fergie Jenkins is featured on N.L. Pitching Leaders #93, N.L. Strikeout Leaders #95 and his base card #410. He signs TTM for $25 to $40 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Al Kaline appears on his base card #600. He signs TTM for $10 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Harmon Killebrew is featured on his base card #51, his In Action card #52 and A.L. RBI Leaders #88. He was a generous "no fee" TTM signer for many years, but he began requesting a charitable donation of $65 per card a few years before his passing in 2011. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Tony La Russa appears on his base card #451. He signs TTM for $5 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Bob Lemon is featured on his base card #449. As with Durocher and Hunter, the availability of his '72 Topps card signed suggests he was a generous signer prior to his passing in 2000.

Juan Marichal appears on his base card #567 and his In Action card #568. He signs TTM for $10 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Willie Mays, a.k.a. "The Say Hey Kid," is featured on his base card #49 and his In Action card #50. He rarely participates in signing events. His signing fee at an event many years ago was $100 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year. However, Mays' wife signed and returned cards sent to him TTM for many years, putting countless non-malicious forgeries into circulation that continue to plague today's market. Beware of examples not certified by a reputable company such as PSA.

Bill "Maz" Mazeroski appears on his base card #760. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $35 per card. He has been known to sign TTM, although his response rate is low. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply is constrained by the fact that it is a high number.

Willie "Stretch" McCovey is featured on his base card #280. He occasionally participated in signing events before his passing in 2018, and his last signing fee was reportedly $85 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Joe Morgan appears on his base card #132 and his Traded card #752. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $79 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply of his Traded card #752 is constrained by the fact that it is a high number.

RoseRyan

Phil Niekro is featured on his base card #620. He signs TTM for $20 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Jim Palmer appears on A.L. E.R.A. Leaders #92 and his base card #270. He recently started signing TTM for $10 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Tony Perez is featured on his base card #40. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $45 per card. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Gaylord Perry appears on his base card #285. For many years Perry signed TTM for $10 to $15 per card, but recent TTM failures suggest that may no longer be the case. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Brooks Robinson is featured on A.L. Playoffs #222, his Boyhood card #498 and his base card #550. He signed TTM for $5 per card for many years, but he stopped signing TTM a few months ago and now directs autograph seekers to his website through which he signs for $60 per card. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Frank Robinson appears on A.L. R.B.I. Leaders #88, his base card #100, World Series Game 6 #228 and his Traded card #754. He occasionally participated in signing events before his passing in 2019, and his last signing fee was reportedly $99 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply of his Traded card #754 is constrained by the fact that it is a high number.

Nolan Ryan is featured on his base card #595. He signs through his website for a donation of $60 per card to his charitable foundation. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Ron Santo appears on his base card #555 and his In Action card #556. He signed TTM for a charitable donation of $5 per card before his passing in 2010. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Red Schoendienst is featured on his base card #67. He occasionally participated in signing events before his passing in 2018, and his signing fee was $20 to $30 per card. He also signed TTM, although his response rate was somewhat low. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

"Tom Terrific" Seaver appears on N.L. E.R.A. Leaders #91, N.L. Strikeout Leaders #95, his Boyhood card #347, his base card #445 and his In Action card #446. His family recently announced that he is suffering from dementia and will not make any more public appearances. Even before that announcement, however, he rarely participated in signing events. His signing fee at one event many years ago was $149 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Willie "Pops" Stargell is featured on N.L. R.B.I. Leaders #87, N.L. Home Run Leaders #89, N.L. Playoffs #221, his Boyhood card #343, his base card #447 and his In Action card #448. He was a regular participant in an annual show held at Robert Morris University before his passing in 2001. His signing fee at one of those shows (back in the late 1990s) was $18 per card. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year; however, forgeries are very common. Beware of specimens that have not been certified by a reputable company such as PSA.

SeaverWilliams

Don Sutton appears on his base card #530. He signs TTM for $10 per card, and many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Joe Torre is featured on N.L. Batting Leaders #85, N.L. R.B.I. Leaders #87, his Boyhood card #341 and his base card #500. He occasionally participates in signing events, and his signing fee at a recent event was $175 per card. He also signs TTM, but his response time is very slow (between one and three years). A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Earl Weaver appears on his base card #323. He signed TTM for a charitable donation of $20 per card before his passing in 2013. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Hoyt Wilhelm is featured on his base card #777. A few of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year, but supply is constrained by his death several years ago in 2002 and the fact that it is a high number.

Billy Williams appears on his base card #439 and his In Action card #440. He occasionally participates in signing events; his signing fee at a recent event was $39 per card. He also signs TTM for $20 to $25 per card, although his response rate is somewhat low. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Dick Williams is featured on his base card #137. He signed TTM for a charitable donation of $25 per card before his passing in 2011. Many of his signed '72 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Ted Williams, a.k.a. "The Splendid Splinter," appears on his base card #510. Author Ron Keurajian recently wrote that in the 1980s and 1990s, "Williams was the definition of a signing machine. He signed at private signings, card shows, for corporate sponsors and so on." And a March 1989 article in the Chicago Tribute revealed that his signing fee was a moderate $15 to $20 at the time. So, despite his death several years ago, in 2002, there is still a small number of his signed '72 Topps cards being offered for sale every year. Forgeries are common, however, so beware of examples not certified by a reputable company such as PSA.

Carl Yastrzemski, the man called "Yaz," appears on his base card #37 and his In Action card #38. He occasionally participates in signing events. His signing fee at an upcoming event is $100 per card. A few of his signed 1972 Topps cards are offered for sale every year.

Now three years into my signed '72 Topps quest, I have managed to land 735 different signed cards bearing 757 different signatures. The fact that I obtained several dozens of those signatures directly from players and managers through the mail has been particularly gratifying. I owe a special acknowledgment to PSA whose QuickOpinion™ service has helped me steer clear of counterfeits.

If you are looking to start a signed Topps collection, I highly recommend this psychedelic monster. You will likely never tame the beast, but that only adds to the fun.

For more information on the 1972 Topps baseball set and the players' autographs, please visit PSA CollectibleFacts.


Scot A. Reader is a noted baseball card author and researcher and a longtime PSA member. The SMR staff would like to thank Mr. Reader for his contribution to this month's issue and for the images provided to go along with this article.