As an eight-year old collector it was a thrill to pull this card (or any Record Breaker) from a pack.
Trivia question: Who were the two American Leaguers referenced in the card back’s final sentence?
An obvious thing the card had going for it was that it was of Brooks Robinson, who I’d already read about as the greatest fielding third baseman ever. A more subtle thing it had going for it was that Robinson had no other card in the 1978 Topps set.
“Can they do this?” I wondered once I’d figured that out. I checked all my other Record Breakers, and sure enough they all had base cards. Weird. The concept of an error card hadn’t yet entered my consciousness, but I tended to treat my Brooks Robinson card as something very special and prized, maybe even the one thing even better than a baseball card of a superstar: a mistake made by a grown-up somewhere.
My whole universe of baseball cards consisting of a thousand or so 1978 Topps cards, a rubber-banded stack of 43 cards from 1974 that I bought at a carnival for 50 cents, and the lone pack I bought at the end of the 1977 season, I was unaware that this Brooks Robinson Record Breaker card had precedent.
For example, the 1977 Nate Colbert “Turn Back the Clock” card doubled as a “career capper,” with Colbert’s final base card coming the previous season.
The 1977 set even featured a player whose previous Topps card (outside of Venezuela) came in 1964!
And just two years before that there was half the answer to my earlier trivia question.
Aside from a single card, Topps had no Highlights/Record Breaker cards in the 1974 set, but thanks to its World Series subset we hadn’t yet seen the last of the Say Hey Kid.
Though I’ve looked only backward in this article so far, the Brooks Robinson card was hardly the last of its kind. Two years later, Lou Brock’s entry into the 3000 hit club would earn him a bonus card in the 1980 set.
Then came the flood. Gaylord Perry received two bonus cards, one of which doubled as a bonus card for fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.
I’ll take a quick detour here just to acknowledge what a terrific job Topps did with the final base cards of each of these three players.
After 1984 players who lacked base cards but earned last hurrahs practically disappeared. Committee co-chair Nick reminded me of one more from 1988 (the Phil half), and I hope you’ll let me know of others in the comments.
As for the very modern, I wondered if maybe Ichiro could be a 2019 example thanks to his #ToppsNow cards from the Japan series, but then I saw he managed 700+ other cards this year, just as he may well have 700+ cards next year and every year after.
Though I initially considered my Brooks Robinson card a fluke, if not a mistake, you can see here that at least for the 1974-1984 stretch it was practically a feature of the Topps sets to include bonus cards of players who had otherwise reached cardboard retirement.
Bonus cards like the Brooksie and Brock will always carry something bittersweet about them. On one hand, we get one last cardboard look at a legend of the game. On the other hand, we are staring at a ghost. The player’s main card has vanished from the set, and this specter is all that remains, as if to remind us of another season gone, another career in the books, and a fate that will eventually reach us all.
P.S. The other answer to the trivia question? Definitely not Gaylord Perry! It was Brooks Robinson! 🤦 Pretty tricky, Topps!
Extras from our readers
I’ll use this space to acknowledge all the additions to the list supplied by readers, either here or on our Twitter/Facebook sites.
1967 Topps Sandy Koufax – No base card but three League Leader cards as the winner of the Triple Crown for pitchers.
Author’s note: A few days after publishing this piece I stumbled upon a very similar article on the terrific Wax Pack Gods site. Had I seen it earlier I probably wouldn’t have bothered with my article. Still, I think mine does enough that’s different to keep it here. Either way, all credit goes to Adam at Wax Pack Gods for doing it not only sooner but better.