July 24, 2008
1948 - 1979 Countdown: #38. 1966 Topps
Topps has plundered and riffed on their own back catalogue since 1980, when they released a baseball set that looked eerily reminiscent of their set from 1974. 1980 also saw the release of Topps Basketball, itself a riff on the 1978 baseball design. (You could even make the case that the plundering and riffing began in 1966 with the color tv cards in Topps Hockey, harking back to the 1955 Bowman baseball design (by 1966, that and other Bowman designs belonged to Topps), and in 1977 baseball, with the team-name pennants, reminiscent of 1965 baseball.)
It's here at #38 that the set from '66 falls. I can count on one finger the design winks and nods that can trace their way back to this set: 1988 baseball's player-name banners, and even those didn't actually occur in the set from '66.
All of this makes you wonder about the opinion of the design at Topps HQ: Do they see it as weak? It worked on some of the cards in the original set, and if you sort through the cards long enough, you kind of begin to like it: Team-name banner in the upper left corner, large photo area (reminiscent of the 1961 set), and easy-to-read backs.
As for checklist, the 1960s is a complicated decade to assess. Naturally, it's our instinct to rate the checklist from each year higher than those of the succeeding decades, simply because the sets are regarded as classics with scores of Hall of Fame players. But every decade has one or two sets that aren't as good as the others. 1966 is one of those years.
Even if we tagged the design as 'likable enough,' this set is still weighed down by its relatively lousy checklist (for its era). With rookies of Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, and Don Sutton, and not to mention others of Lee May, Roy White, Tommy John, Bobby Murcer, and Boomer Scott, the rookie crop is decent. But not great, especially when we compare it to the rest of the decade.
Like other sets from its era, 1966 has team rookie cards, league leaders, team combo cards, and a slew of variations (there were errors in the text on the backs of four cards, and nearly every checklist had something wrong with it). There was also a creepy photo mix-up on card #447 that went uncorrected: Dick Ellsworth's photo was actually of Ken Hubbs (Hubbs died in a plane crash in 1964).
Best of the Set
So with a relatively weak rookie class (for the decade), and the Ghost of Ken Hubbs dancing around, whose is the best card of the set? The default answer is Mickey Mantle, but he's not mine. For me, the card that sums up 1966 Topps is Sandy Koufax (#100). Retiring after the Dodgers lost the 1966 World Series to the Orioles, Koufax went out as the most dominant pitcher in the game. You can almost feel his pain through the photo on this card.