The Greatest Topps Card of the 1960’s

Spoiler Alert: It is not a card of a Hall of Famer.

Back in April I wrote a blog post about the Ugliest Topps Set Ever. I thought I would double down on crazy and write a post about the single Greatest Topps card of the 1960’s.

I actively started collecting and trading cards as a kid in 1961 and stopped after the 1969 baseball season. My cards from the 1960’s are long gone, so for this post I reacquainted myself with the cards from this era by thumbing through the book titled – Baseball Cards of the Sixties – The Complete Topps Cards, which contains pictures of all of the individual cards that were issued from 1960 to 1969.

Front Cover – Baseball Cards of the Sixties – The Complete Topps Cards

My criteria for choosing the greatest card of the 1960’s was not only the image of the player on the front of the card, but also the card design and all aspects of the back of the card – number, layout of statistics, cartoon, and the player write up. For each of the areas I gave a weighting and a grade so I could come up with an overall grade for the card.

With so many great cards of the hall of famers from that era is was difficult not to choose a card of Clemente, Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Koufax, substitute your own Hall of Famer who played during the 60’s.

Considering all the factors that I listed above my pick for the greatest Topps card of the 1960’s is the 1962 Roger Maris card.

1962 Topps Roger Maris Card – Front

In 1961 Maris smashed 61 home runs, eclipsing the record that Ruth set in 1927. For most of the season Maris and Mantle were neck and neck in the race to set a new high for most home runs in a single season. Maris was under tremendous pressure throughout the season. The press generated fake news stories about him. The fans booed him and cheered for Mantle to break the record. Rogers Hornsby said – “It would be a shame if Ruth’s record got broken by a .270 hitter.” The pressure took a toll on him. Clumps of his hair fell out. But he persevered and broke the record with a home run off of Tracy Stallard on October 1, 1961.

I was 8 years in 1961 and closely followed the M&M boys run at Ruth’s record. Every morning I turned to the sports section of the daily paper and scanned the write ups and box scores to see if Maris or Mantle hit a home run the previous day. Even my father, who only had a slight interest in baseball (he was into Y.A. Tittle and the New York Giants), got caught up in the chase. He took me to Fenway Park for my first major league game on September 24, 1961. Maris had 59 home runs at the time, and all of 30,802 fans in attendance were on the edge of their seats every time he came to bat hoping he would wrap one around the Pesky pole in right field, but it did not happen.

Setting the new home record in 1961 stands as the greatest baseball achievement of the 1960’s and Topps came out with an outstanding card of Roger Maris in 1962 to honor the accomplishment.

1962 Topps Roger Maris Card – Back

Player Image

In the photo Roger has a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek and is finishing a swing that shows off his muscular arms.  The image conjures up cards of two other All Stars who played in the 1960’s – Ted Kluszewski and Nellie Fox.

This is the perfect photo to illustrate the term “baseball slugger”.

Grade A                       Weighting 35%

1957 Topps Card of Ted Kluszewski

1962 Topps Nellie Fox Card

Card Design

Many collectors hate the wood grain border design that Topps used for these cards. I am neutral on the design. I don’t think it is the worst design used during the 60’s and I don’t consider it the best either.

Grade C                       Weighting 15%

Card Number

Topps recognized Roger’s stellar 1961 season by designating it as the number 1 card in the 1962 set. It’s worth noting that the Maris card was the number 2 card in the 1961 set, as Topps gave the number 1 and number 2 cards to the MVPs in each league.

You can’t do better then being number 1.

Grade A                       Weighting 10%

1961 Topps cards of Dick Groat and Roger Maris

Layout of Statistics

Usually my preference is to see the complete minor and major league stats for a player on the back of a card, but in this case displaying only the 1961 season and lifetime stats works well since you can’t miss the 61 homers and 142 RBIs.

Grade A                       Weighting 10%

Cartoon

When I ripped open packs back in 1962 it was clear to me that the cartoons on the backs of the cards were done by one of artists that worked for that high-brow publication – Mad Magazine.

The cartoons for the 1962 set were done by Jack Davis, who I believe is the best cartoonist and illustrator of the 1960’s.  His work went far beyond Topps cards, Mad Magazine, and comic books. His illustrations can be found on album covers, movie posters, and magazine covers.

As you would expect, the card features an illustration of Roger smacking a home run.

Grade A                       Weighting 15%

Player Write Up

There have been some excellent blog posts about baseball card prose recently that have been written by Kenneth Nichols. I am sure he will do a deep dive on prose of the 1962 set soon, so my analysis of Roger’s write up will be brief.

Since the 1962 cards only have two stat lines, there is ample room for information about the player.

Topps leads off by referring to Roger as – “The most talked about player of the decade,” – and it is only 1962! You have to love that intro.

Grade A                       Weighting 15%

Overall Grade for the 1962 Topps Roger Maris Card

Card ElementsGradeWeightingWeighted Score
Player ImageA (5)35%1.75
Card DesignC (3)15%.45
Card NumberA (5)10%.50
Layout of StatsA (5)10%.50
CartoonA (5)15%.75
Player Write UpA (5)15%.75
TotalA-/B+100%4.70

Do you agree or disagree with me on the 1962 Roger Maris card being the greatest Topps card of the 1960’s? Let me know by way of a comment. 

16 thoughts on “The Greatest Topps Card of the 1960’s”

  1. To me, it’s Maris also but the 1963 version. For the photo alone. I have no idea when the pic was taken, gotta be during the 62 campaign, he appears in his home jersey so Yankee Stadium is assumed. But the look, the look, just seems to say “let me tell you what you can do with those 61 homers”. Roger had an amazing stat line in 1962, 100 RBI’s, still clubbed 33 dingers and doubled his average output of doubles with 34. 34! You have to assume a number of those were drives off the walls of those American League parks. Many just short of falling a row or two into the stands. It was never enough for New York press, Roger wasn’t the giant personality they came to expect in their line of sluggers from Ruth to DiMaggio to Mantle. One of the most poignant images on all of Topps’ releases in my mind. But then again I’m partial to the underdogs.

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  2. Interesting that you also choose a Roger Maris card. There is an excellent case to made that he should be in the HOF.

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  3. Ah yes, a batting cage mesh card tops your list. I love batting cage mesh cards. Topps should do a retro issue of them. But I digress.

    Clearly you went to a lot of trouble and scientific method to arrive at your number 1. Forgive me for just winging it, but my number 1 is a tie between two Red Sox, the 1968 issues for Yaz and for Jim Lonborg.

    I am not a Sox fan, but a great card is a great card. First of all, I love the ’68 design which features large, minimally encumbered photos framed with faux leather after series one. I find this more attractive than the ’62 wood grain. The info on the card fronts is limited to name, position, and team. I also like the different colored circles assigned to each team. They just look nicer, in my opinion, than the peel back feature on the ’62s. For Boston Topps assigned some kind of magenta instead of red, but it still works for me.

    The Yaz card depicts his MVP season. As with your Maris and the fabulous ’57 Klu you presented, a brawny forearm is displayed in swinging motion. Yaz looks more focused than Maris or Klu, despite the shot being a pose. I love that you can actually see the grain on the bat. The Maris card only allows a glimpse of the handle. The image is perfectly centered against the backdrop of a blue baseball sky and Yaz emerges heroically out of the mundane activity occurring behind him, just as he did in September of ’67 when he carried the Sox into the World Series. Maris could be batting in a dungeon. Yaz is wearing the Boston road jersey, which lends a workmanlike aspect to the shot. And, of course, the shot is topped with his luminous cap displaying a B which compliments the magenta circle on the lower right.

    The back of the card lists his major and minor league stats and still leaves room for topical prose about his MVP and triple crown season. The triple crown numbers happen to be listed side by side, 44 121 .328. The cartoon features topical triple crown trivia. The card stock is super easy to read. Disappointing that such a fantastic season only earned him #250. The only blemish on an otherwise perfect card.

    What I love about the Lonborg card is the intimacy of the shot. Jimmy’s pose and the close up seem to give the impression that he is saying Hi to me, the 11 year old kid who just opened his pack. The shot is perfectly centered and features his Cy Young winning season of ’67. Once again, as with the Yaz shot, the red B on his cap perfectly compliments the magenta circle on the lower right, a superb marriage of style and substance. The image of the player is framed in almost equal parts by green grass giving way in the texture of the fence to a robin’s egg blue sky.

    The card back is disappointing. It seems the writer wanted to say everything but the fact that Jimmy won the ’67 Cy Young Award in the AL. His accomplishment is further diminished with reference to Lyle having the lower ERA in the cartoon. The back does tell me, interestingly, that at 6’5″ and 220 pounds Lonborg towered over his mighty teammate, Yaz. He is also the only ballplayer I know of from San Luis Obis(po), Cal.

    So there you have it. Sorry about the length, but you did ask.

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    1. I am a Red Sox fan and and you make a good case for the Yaz and Lonborg cards. Have you seen the 2016 Topps Archives card of Yaz? The photo used for that card was defiantly taken during the same session as the photo for the 1967 card. I also really like the photo of Yaz with the 3 bats on his shoulder that Topps used for the 1962 card.

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  4. The 1962 Topps Maris was featured in Star Trek The Next Generation episode called the Most Toys (1990). It was a sought after prize in the 24th Century.

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  5. I really like this blog, because as I was reading it and looking at the cards, especially Maris’ 1962 and Fox’s 1962 cards, I thought to myself “I’ve got those!”. Sure enough, when I got home this evening and checked my baseball cards, I did have them! I thought I might have the 1961 Groat and Maris cards, since they looked really familiar. But, alas, I didn’t. I did have Groat’s 1962 card. In looking through my cards, I have a lot of the 1962 cards, so that must have been when I got fairly interested in collecting baseball cards. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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  6. #1. 69 Bench. Hands down. This photo was taken during the spring training of 1967. The photo may have been taken before the actual 68 rookie card.
    2. 69 Nolan Ryan
    3. 60 Mantle
    4. 60 McCovey
    5. 68 Seaver
    6. 68 Carew
    7. 65 Mantle

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    1. Hi Daniel – Steve also replied that the ’69 Bench card was one of his favorites – see below. It is also one of my favorite cards from the 60’s.

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  7. I’ll go with my own lucky 7 cards:
    – 1960 Eddie Sawyer (as a Phillies fan, this is a personal favorite, very patriotic in its red, white and blue; Sawyer resigned after Opening Day 1960, famously saying “I am 49 years old and want to live to be 50.”)
    – 1965 Mickey Mantle (my favorite card design of the 1960s–I always feel they copied the 1960 manager cards–and it’s a great photo)
    – 1965 Dick Allen (great framing, with the Rookie Cup perfectly placed in front of his sleeve)
    – 1965 Pete Rose (another great photo, this one showing the Reds vest jersey of the early 1960s)
    – 1968 Ernie Banks (nothing says “Let’s Play Two” like this photo in another classic card design)
    – 1968 Tom Seaver (excellent photo, plus Rookie Cup)
    – 1969 Johnny Bench (classic with the Rookie Cup in all its glory)

    Bonus pick that doesn’t meet the criteria:
    – 1962 Fleer Sandy Koufax (I think it’s Koufax’s best card)

    P.S. Why does the “Baseball Cards of the 60s: The Complete Topps Cards, 1960-69” cover include a 1957 Richie Ashburn card???

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had to look up the Eddie Sawyer card. I was not familiar with that card. Nice pick up on the ’65 card design debuting in 1960 on the manager cards. I agree with you – that is a great photo of Mantle on the ’65 card. Nice to see that Dick Allen’s number was retired last week by the Phillies. Totally missed that the ’57 Richie Ashburn card made its way on to the book cover. The photographer must have been Phillies fan and didn’t feel it was right for Richie to be on a Cubs or Mets card.

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    1. Thanks. Great post, by the way—I forgot to say that! I have the big Topps book (1952-85 or -89, I believe) and also the 1950s book, which I bought because it included Bowman cards (which the big book doesn’t have). If you have both, does the 1960s book have anything the big book doesn’t have?

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  9. Hi Steve – I only have the 1960’s book. I did recently purchase – Baseball and Bubble Gum The 1952 Topps Collection. As you would expect, it has nice photos of each of ’52 cards plus short bios and career stats for each player. If you don’t already own it, I highly recommend the The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum book.

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    1. Thanks. I will look for that 1952 Topps book. I do have the Great American… book–that’s probably the best baseball card book out there, and certainly the funniest!

      By the way, Topps’s Throwback Thursday set starting today for a week is one done in the style of the 1960 managers cards–maybe they were reading this blog….

      https://www.topps.com/cards-collectibles/online-brands/throwback-thursday-set-37-1960-topps-managers.html

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