July 29, 2008

1948 - 1979 Countdown: #36. 1976 Topps

I don't know how many people share my views, but I feel that the trio of sets Topps released from 1976 to 1978 are three of the most underrated sets the company has ever produced.

The multitude of stars found in these sets is astounding. The year under review, 1976, featured second-year Brett, Yount, Rice, Carter, Hernandez, and Lynn, plus a third-year Winfield and a bevy of others not yet waist-deep in their respective All-Star careers. Guys like Mike Schmidt, Dwight Evans, Carlton Fisk, George Foster, David Concepcion, Greg Luzinski, JR Richard--each was getting really just their first true taste of success.

I haven't even mentioned the mid-to-late career stars like Jim Hunter, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, or Gaylord Perry. Or Hank Aaron, whose importance to the 1976 set is unmatched (though I'll never understand why Topps didn't checklist Aaron on card #660 in 1976, as he was in 1975).

Yet despite the concentration of established and nearly-established stars within the set, there are relatively few worthwhile rookies. I think you can even count them on one hand: Dennis Eckersley, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Chet Lemon, and Mike Flanagan. That's not too many, especially for a decade that developed the great stars of the following decade.

The other reason I've listed this set this low is because of the photo quality and design. A lot of collectors are endeared towards the 1976 design, but it feels homemade and a little cheap to me, especially on those particular cards that feature airbrushing. And while we're talking about airbrushing (a truly lost art), were this a countdown of the greatest airbrushed sets, 1976 would come in at or near the top of the heap.

Best of the Set
With so many great stars from which to choose, I'm going to go with an obvious choice (at least it should be obvious if you my taste in cards): 1975 Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing Champ Kurt Bevacqua (#564). This card has got it all: a ridiculously large bubble gum bubble, a ridiculously terrible baseball player who saved his best performance for the World Series, top billing for Joe Garagiola, and something that looks like a bubble protractor or forceps. What's not to love?

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