How I Finished My 1972 Topps Baseball Set
I consider myself a set-collector first and foremost and have completed dozens and dozens of sets over the years.
But since my collecting journey began in the 1970s, I haven’t dealt with the additional challenge of tackling high-number series until the last decade or so. Topps ended its practice of breaking sets up into five, six or even seven series after 1973.
My first experience was while completing the 1971 Topps set. I usually have some standards for cards, and I figured I’d spend the rest of my life trying to finish that set. It didn’t take that long, fortunately. Still, it was my first experience with spending between $5-$10 bucks for a common card just because the number on the back was in the 600s.
The ‘71 experience did not dissuade me and I jumped immediately into trying to finish the 1972 Topps set, whose high-number reputation is even more daunting than the ‘71 set (those who are condition conscious would possibly argue that the ‘71 set causes more consternation).
These are the two “old sets” that I saw as a kid all the time. The older kids I knew, older brothers of friends or classmates, had these cards in their collections, especially the 1972 Topps cards. The ‘72 design was everywhere, even two and three years after that set came out, and it’s the reason that to this day the ‘72 design is the template in my mind for “what a baseball card should look like.”
So attempting to complete that set has been one of the greatest labors of love in 45 years of collecting.
I have been able to document my pursuit of the ‘72 set through my blog, Night Owl Cards. The first 1972 Topps cards I owned were the Bill Buckner and Bobby Valentine Dodgers cards. I also recall possessing the Willie McCovey card back when I was a young teen.
During one of the first card shows I attended, I purchased the second-year Steve Garvey card, also a high-number, for $15, if I remember correctly. I was in high school at the time and it’s one of the first signs that I was serious about the hobby.
Early in my blog’s history, in the spring of 2009, I mentioned I owned about one-third of the ‘72 set and it was around that time I began to collect it with earnest, spurred on by like-minded card bloggers who appreciated the ‘72 Topps set’s groovy Peter Maxx-poster style.
The blog became a timeline for collecting the set as I tunneled deeper and
deeper into the high numbers.
On Nov. 10, 2009, I wrote about receiving the rookie card of my all-time favorite player Ron Cey. He shared that card with Ben Oglivie and Bernie Williams (no, not the Yankee Bernie Williams). The card is a high-number, #761.
In 2010 and 2011 my dedication to the set became more concrete. I had continued to waffle, wondering whether tackling such a difficult set was worth my time and money. But on Feb. 13, 2011, I posted a want list for ‘72 Topps on my blog. There was no going back. My pursuit was official.
Into a Binder
In July of 2011, I found a binder for the ‘72 set and placed what I had in a binder. A day later, on Baseball Hall of Fame weekend, I picked up cards of Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins and Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Famers all. Two days after that, the high-number Walter Alston card (#749) arrived at my door, the last Dodger card I needed for the ‘72 set.
I continued to set new highs for the high numbers in my set. Les Cain, No. 783, became the highest of the ‘72 highs in my collection when I landed it on June 5, 2012. A month later, I found the Steve Hamilton and Rick Wise Traded cards, both high numbers, in a bargain bin at a card show.
Near the end of February 2013, I landed the Willie Mays card from the set. It’s not a high number, but, heck, it’s Willie Mays. A month later, I conducted a recount and realized I had completed 72.8 percent of the set.
In the middle of March of that year I traded a 2013 Heritage insert for the ‘72 Jerry Reuss card, which is #775 in the set. I’ll take that kind of trade any day. The following month I acquired cards of arguably the two top catchers of
the ‘70s, Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson.
Three months later I picked up the other catcher that belongs in that ‘70s conversation, the Rookie Card for Carlton Fisk.
In October of 2013 I attended a card show on no sleep (I needed to get there early in the morning and I had worked until 2 a.m. the previous night), but it didn’t prevent me from grabbing the Rod Carew In Action card, #696, and a well-known pesky high number.
The quest had lasted years by now, decades if you counted the days of my youth when I acquired maybe one ‘72 card a year. It was April of 2015 now and I attended another card show, focusing solely on high numbers. There’s nothing like ‘72 highs to absorb all of your hobby cash and I managed maybe 20 cards, but one of them was Ken Aspromonte, with the house in the background. It was card #784 and well worth the cash. The thrill I got crossing those numbers off the list.
In May of 2015, I won a blog contest and my prize was a gift card for an online card purchase. I bought the coveted Nolan Ryan card from the set. It arrived graded, but since I don’t collect graded cards, I removed it from its shell.
Oct. 4, 2015 would be a memorable day in my ‘72 pursuit. I drove the two hours to a card show and added several high numbers plus the memorable Roberto Clemente card from the set. That night, while picking up my kid from her job, a deer ran into our car in the middle of town. Everyone was OK, except the deer and the car, and that includes the Clemente card, which was safe at home during the ruckus.
More milestones as 2016 began. I finished the strange-and-wonderful awards subset. On Feb. 10, I received the Rod Carew card and the final card in the set, #787, Ron Reed. Hank Aaron’s card came my way that month, and the following month I acquired the Steve Carlton Traded card and the Tom Seaver card.
Now it was the end of May. While vacationing in Vermont, I spotted a card show at a mall in Burlington. One dealer was selling early ‘70s cards cheap. That’s the day I bought ‘72 highs of Jerry Koosman, Jim Kaat, Fritz Peterson and the In Action cards for José Pagán and Doug Griffin.
On Aug. 15, I acquired the Joe Morgan In Action card and announced I was 20 cards from finishing the set.
The next month, I attended a card show with a friend and fellow card blogger. I found high numbers. Bobby Bonds and Jim Kaat In Action and the Twins Rookie Stars. Ten cards left.
The cards came slower now – a Hector Torres here and Bill Virdon there during the fall. Just before Christmas, I received the Bobby Murcer card in the mail, much to my relief, as a veteran dealer that I knew who almost always had all of my vintage needs announced to me that he had all of the ‘72 highs for sale “except Bobby Murcer.” Oh, crap, I thought, that’s going to be the last card I need! But it wasn’t.
All that was left were two Pete Rose cards, the base card and his In Action card, and, the Tim Foli In Action card, a high number, of course. I ordered the Rose In Action card in February 2017. Then I went to a show in April, determined to grab those last two cards.
I found the Rose. Success! Emboldened, I turned the binder pages to the 700s for Foli In Action, card #708. But the cards in the pages skipped from 706 to 712. There was no Foli!! Foiled by Foli! One card left!
Fortunately, the blog offers me a connection to collectors all over the country and the world. I’ve wondered if I would ever be able to finish this set if I had pursued it on my own, without the internet.
A collector I knew named Scott offered to find the Foli In Action for me as part of a trade we were making. I took him up on it and it arrived on April 20, 2017. My set was complete (Interestingly, someone else had sent the Foli card unannounced and the two Folis each arrived the same day).
The journey had taken eight years from the time that I first seriously pursued the idea of finishing the ‘72 set. But there were signs much earlier that I would finish it. I remember how years ago I had spotted the ‘72 card of Carl Yastrzemski at a new thrift store where my parents lived. My mom bought me that card for my birthday that year. I was an adult by then and Yaz joined probably the less than 100 cards that I owned from that set.
But I was on my way. High numbers, watch out.
I completely understand the challenge!! I’m down to 9 of them to complete my set. 8 of them are High Numbers, all of them common. But, man do they elude me!