Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the first of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. This first installment focuses largely on the Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers in the set.
I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.
—Hunter S. Thompson
There was a fine crop of 51 Hall of Famers in the major leagues in 1972 (42 players and nine managers)—all the more impressive since through 2021 only 336 people have been elected to the Hall (including 266 MLB and Negro League players, 22 MLB managers, 38 pioneers/executives, and 10 umpires, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website).
For fun, here are all the 1972 Topps Baseball Hall of Fame players and managers, with card numbers, organized by team (from teams with most Hall of Famers to least):
St. Louis Cardinals: Red Schoendienst (#67, the prototype fine player/accomplished manager; inducted as a player in 1989), Bob Gibson (#130), Ted Simmons (#154), Lou Brock (#200), Steve Carlton (#420), Joe Torre (#500)
Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks (#192, HoF player, on the ’72 team card as a first base coach), Ferguson Jenkins (#410), Billy Williams (#439), Ron Santo (#555), Leo Durocher (#576, manager)
Minnesota Twins: Harmon Killebrew (#51), Tony Oliva (#400), Bert Blyleven (#515, on his 14th ballot!), Rod Carew (#695), Jim Kaat (#709)
Oakland Athletics: Dick Williams (#137, manager), Rollie Fingers (#241), Jim Hunter (#330), Reggie Jackson (#435)
Atlanta Braves: Orlando Cepeda (#195), Henry Aaron (#299), Tony LaRussa (#451, a bench player in 1972 but inducted in 2014 for his 35 years as a manager for the White Sox, A’s and Cardinals), Phil Niekro (#620)
Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson (#100), Jim Palmer (#270), Earl Weaver (#323, manager), Brooks Robinson (#550)
San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays (#49), Willie McCovey (#280), Juan Marichal (#567)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Don Sutton (#530), Walter Alston (#749, manager), Hoyt Wilhelm (#777, elected on his 8th ballot!)
Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente (#309), Willie Stargell (#447), Bill Mazeroski (#760)
Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski (#37), Carlton Fisk (#79), Luis Aparicio (#313)
Cincinnati Reds: Tony Perez (#80), Sparky Anderson (#358, manager), Johnny Bench (#433)
New York Mets: Tom Seaver (#445), Gil Hodges (#465) Finally! Nearly 50 years after his premature death at 47 from a heart attack on April 2, 1972 during spring training. Note: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra ended up being the manager of the Mets in 1972, but had no card that year.
Houston Astros: Joe Morgan (#132)
Cleveland Indians: Gaylord Perry (#285)
Kansas City Royals: Bob Lemon (#449, manager, on his 12th ballot!). Note: Lemon was a manager in 1972 (ending up with a career 430–403 record) but entered the Hall of Fame on his credentials as one of the better pitchers of the late 1940s and 1950s, winning at least 20 games seven times. A converted position player, he had a career batting average of .232 and won World Series titles as both a player with the Indians in 1948 and the manager of the Yankees in 1978.
Texas Rangers: Ted Williams (#510, manager). Note: Williams was a manager in 1972 but obviously made the Hall as of the best hitters of all time, with a .344 career average and all-time record .482 career OBP; he was less accomplished as a manager, with a lifetime record of 273–364.
California Angels: Nolan Ryan (#595)
Detroit Tigers: Al Kaline (#600)
For historical context, the 1972 class of Hall of Famers included Yogi Berra, Josh Gibson, Lefty Gomez, Will Harridge, Sandy Koufax, Buck Leonard, Early Wynn, and Ross Youngs.
At first, I had 52 Hall of Famers on the list, but then realized that somehow, despite all of his accolades and gaudy statistics, Pete Rose (#559) did not belong there. Being a lifelong Reds fan, all I can say is that we loved Pete, but only because he was on our team—otherwise we would have hated him. But having recently re-watched Game 7 of the 1975 World Series (Reds over the Red Sox in seven immortal games) I can say that Pete was the consummate professional player and is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, even if it has to happen after he expires.
He was/is a wonder to watch, barely channeling that beastly energy, completely immersed in the game and looking like he was built to play baseball forever. Playing third base that year, allowing the Reds to put George Foster (#256) in left field and attain the true Big Red Machine powerhouse lineup, he’s in constant motion… popping his mitt, bending down to swipe the grass to better his hand grip, working the umpires and messing with base runners, chatting with a young Carlton Fisk and hectoring the home plate umpire when he’s up to bat, following every taken pitch into Fisk’s mitt with those eagle eyes and then staring down the ump. Damn! He never let up.
Pete would play wherever gave his team the best chance to win—he started his career in 1963 at second base, then went to the outfield before moving in to third and back and forth until eventually finishing his career at first base. For all his faults, and there were a ton, he epitomizes what it takes to play baseball the right way—full bore, with unbridled optimism. On that note, it’s interesting to learn how he got his well-deserved nickname “Charlie Hustle” (from his Wikipedia page):
During another spring training game against the New York Yankees, Whitey Ford gave him the derisive nickname “Charlie Hustle” after Rose sprinted to first base after drawing a walk. Despite (or perhaps because of) the manner in which Ford intended it, Rose adopted that nickname as a badge of honor. In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, Ford’s teammate (and best friend) Mickey Mantle claimed that Ford gave Rose the nickname after Rose, playing in left field, made an effort to climb the fence to catch a Mantle home run that was about a hundred feet over his head, according to Mantle. According to Mantle, when he returned to the dugout, Ford said “Hey, Mick, did you see ole Charlie Hustle out there trying to catch that ball?”
So that’s my plug for Pete. Surely, he’s no worse a person than Cap Anson and some others who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame but placing bets on your team while you are the manager is problematic, to say the least. Enough said.
Interestingly, in 1972 there were no future Hall of Famers on the Yankees, White Sox, Expos, Padres, Brewers or Phillies. Nowadays that seems a little off somehow—couldn’t the White Sox or Phillies have had one? (Sure—you can say that Steve Carlton’s “Traded” Philly card #751 counts). And the Yankees should have had at least two or three, right? Well, not really. Looking back fifty years later, it’s easy to believe—these teams were some of the worst at the time. Here’s how they finished in their respective divisions in ’72: (at the time all four divisions were composed of six teams): White Sox (2nd in AL West, a miracle, led by MVP Dick Allen), Yankees (4th in AL East), Expos (5th in NL East), Padres (6th in NL West), Brewers (6th in AL East) and Phillies (6th in NL East).
Seeing the Yankees on a bottom rung of the standings is unnatural, but manager Ralph Houk (#533) had lousy roster that year, saddled with players like Fritz Peterson (#573) and Mike Kekich (#138) who had been distracted since 1969 with their wife-swapping project. Leave it to a couple of left-handed pitchers.
These guys infamously went a step further and swapped their entire nuclear families in the spring of 1973, though the clubhouse drama ended later that year when Kekich was traded away to the Cleveland Indians. For anyone out there keeping score, the arrangement worked out astoundingly well for Peterson. He and the former Mrs. Kekich are still happily married today (as late as 2013 Peterson was quoted as saying “I could not be happier with anybody in the world. My girl and I go out and party every night. We’re still on the honeymoon and it has been a real blessing.”), while Kekich’s relationship with the former Mrs. Peterson fell apart almost immediately. Welcome to the early ’70s, folks.
It’s a miracle the Rangers had even one Hall of Famer (54-year-old Manager Ted Williams at that)—they finished 54–100 and 38½ games out of first in the AL West, with divided and disgruntled players (a worn-out Denny McClain (#210) among them), who turned on Williams, probably because of his exacting ways. Not difficult to imagine—how else could one possibly accumulate those career numbers and serve in two wars with honor?
Nowadays it’s a given that statistics have always been, and always will be a key part of baseball—volumes will always be written about those numbers and of course they’re critical to gaining entrance to the Hall. As such, it’s interesting that players are judged so objectively using those numbers, almost more by them than by their creative play and personal style.
All that said, one gets the feeling that we will not see another player or manager from the 1972 series elected to the Hall. The last were Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva who all got in on the Golden Days Era ballot in December, 2021. Unless voters go back and become newly enamored of these guys, it looks like 51 will be it:
- Vada Pinson (#135) – 2757 hits, 1365 runs scored, 1169 RBI, 127 triples, 305 stolen bases, a 4-time All-Star, WAR of 54.2 over 18 years.
- Darrell Evans (#171) – 2223 hits, 1344 runs scored, 1354 RBI, 414 home runs, a 2-time All-Star, WAR of 58.8 over 21 years.
- Dick Allen (#240) – 1878 hits, 1099 runs scored, 1119 RBI, 351 home runs, .292 career batting average, Rookie of the Year (1964), a league MVP (1972) and 7-time All-Star, WAR of 58.7 over 15 years.
- Tommy John (#264) – 288 career wins, 2245 strikeouts, 3.34 ERA, 2nd in Cy Young voting twice, a 4-time All-Star, named a career-extending arm surgery after him, WAR of 61.6 over 26 years.
- Dave Concepcion (#267) – 2326 hits, 321 stolen bases, a 9-time All-Star and 5-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 40.2 over 19 years.
- Willie Davis (#390) – 2561 career hits, 1217 runs scored, 1053 RBI, 398 stolen bases, a 2-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 60.7 over 18 years.
- Maury Wills (#437) – 2134 hits, .281 career average, 586 stolen bases, NL MVP (1962), a 7-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 39.6 over 14 years.
- Thurman Munson (#441) – 1558 (clutch) hits, .292 career average, Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1976), a 7-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 46.1 over 11 years.
- Mickey Lolich (#450) – 217 career wins, 2832 career strikeouts (4th all-time for lefthanders), 3.44 ERA, 3-time All-Star, hero/MVP of the 1968 World Series with three complete-game wins, WAR of 48.0 over 16 years.
- Pete Rose (#559) – career hits leader (4,256), second all-time doubles hitter (746), 135 triples, 2165 runs scored, 1314 RBI, career .303 batting average, 3-time batting champion, Rookie of the Year (1963), MVP (1973), a 17-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 79.6 over 24 years.
- Al Oliver (#575) – 2743 hits, 1189 runs scored, 1326 RBI, 529 doubles, .303 career average, a 7-time All-Star who won a batting title (1982), WAR of 43.7 over 18 years.
- Lou Pinella (#580) – 1705 hits, .291 career average, Rookie of the Year (1969), All-Star (1972), WAR of 12.4 over 18 years, World Series Champion as a both a player (Yankees, 1977–78) and manager (Reds, 1990), 3-time Manager of the Year (including Seattle Mariners’ record-tying 116 regular season wins in 2001), 16th most career managerial wins (1835–1713).
- Graig Nettles (#590) – 2225 hits, 1193 runs scored, 1314 RBI, 390 home runs, a 6-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner, WAR of 68.0 over 22 years.
- Steve Garvey (#686) – 2599 career hits, 1143 runs scored, 1308 RBI, .294 career batting average, league MVP (1974; top 10 in MVP voting five times), a 10-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glove winner; still holds the NL record for consecutive games played (1,207), WAR of 38.0 over 19 years.
- Dusty Baker (#764) – 1981 career hits, 242 home runs, a 2-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, WAR of 37.0 over 19 years, 9th all-time in managerial wins (still active with a 2059-1775 record), a 3-time Manager of the Year.
The spirited Hall-of Fame arguments can be all kinds of fun…depending on whom you’re talking to…
What about Dick Allen (#240), the 7-time all-star and league MVP, about whom no less an authority than Willie Mays said: “he hit a ball harder than any player I’ve ever seen.”
Or Al Oliver, also a 7-time All-Star who batted .300 or better 11 times and was in the top 10 in batting average nine times? He’s still ranked 58th in career hits and 43rd in career doubles, with more of those than Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams.
There’s NL ironman Steve Garvey (#686), a 10-time all-star, league MVP and four-time Gold Glove winner with 2599 career hits and six seasons with at least 200 hits. Isn’t that enough?
Thurman Munson was arguably the best catcher in the AL for most of the 1970’s and the best in all of baseball for a stretch in the mid-to-late ’70’s. And it’s not just me saying that – many of his peers, including Carlton Fisk, have agreed over the years. Rookie of the Year in 1970, AL MVP in 1976, World Series champion in 1977 and 1978…his case is a matter of longevity, not excellence.
Requirements for the enshrinement of managers are even more nebulous. Managers manage—they don’t play the games, so there is a bit of luck in what roster they have to put out there. Stellar managers may get stuck with a thin team while mediocre managers may be lucky enough to have so many star players that anyone could manage them to a Series win. Pennant and World Series wins seem to be the most crucial parameters, but do total wins matter? There seem to be some discrepancies, to say the least.
What about “Sweet” Lou Piniella—not in the Hall for managing, even though he has many more career wins than Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda (1599–1439, 2-time World Series champion, 2-time Manager of the Year), Dick Williams (1571–1451, 2-time World Series champion), Earl Weaver (1480–1060, World Series champion), and Whitey Herzog (1281–1125, World Series champion). Lou only won one pennant, but got his one World Series title, same as Herzog and Weaver.
By the same token Ralph Houk also has more wins than those four Hall of Famers (1619–1531) and he won three pennants and two World Series titles…but somehow, he has not been seriously considered. Just look at poor bemused Ralph—deep down this is a man who knows he’s going to get screwed by the Veterans Committee.
Also, does it matter how good a player the manager was? For the record Lou was a better player than Williams, Lasorda, and Weaver combined (and much better than Houk and Herzog too), which should count for something. Perspective: Williams had a 13-year journeyman career, a .260 hitter with 768 career hits; Lasorda was 0–4 during his three-year, 58-1/3 inning pitching experiment; Weaver made just AA ball as a slick-fielding/no-hit second baseman before he turned to coaching and then managing. Sure, all these guys won more pennants than Pinella, and Lasorda and Williams won more World Series titles (two vs. one), but still…
Now consider that Dusty Baker was arguably a better player than Pinella, with over 200 more managerial wins, but he has not even gotten a whiff of the Hall yet. The problem with Dusty is that he hasn’t won the big one. He’s lost a lot in the playoffs and is now 0–2 in the World Series after the Braves beat his Astros in 2021; he’s mishandled pitchers, blown all kinds of leads, and offended more than a few people with his old-school ways.
But he’s still active at 73, managing Houston well so far in 2022. He snuck past Leo Durocher with his 2009th career win early in the season and on July 7, 2022 eclipsed Walter Alston’s 2,040 to get to 9th place on the all-time list. Next up is Joe McCarthy (with 2,125) and it’s worth noting that all eight managers ahead of Dusty (and four of the six behind him) are Hall of Famers. So maybe he can get it done eventually—we’ll see.
Confidentially, I was rooting for Dusty last fall, over every other story. And I’m still wistful for his six years with the Reds (2008–2013)…somehow he guided them to a 509–463 record and two divisional titles. Like Cincy was going to find someone better.
Not that anyone cares, but for the record I’m aghast that Messrs. Garvey and Pinella aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame already and that Baker, Houk and Oliver haven’t been considered more seriously. Bottom line: it’s always interesting to see where they draw that line between the greats and the near greats and how they evaluate that longevity and those degrees of dominance.
Maybe even more interesting are the discussions of the players who shouldn’t be in the Hall but are. How did Bert Blyleven make it in? He won 20 games in a season once, was never even a runner-up in the Cy Young Award voting and made just two all-star teams. Feh. Ron Santo? He had 2254 career hits and a .277 batting average…though he was a nine-time all-star and won five Gold Gloves. Bill Mazeroski? He had 2016 career hits and a career average of .260, though he was a 10-time all-star, won eight Gold Gloves and was the Game 7 hero of the 1960 World Series. Harmon Killebrew? He batted .256 for his career (and never hit .300 for a season), had just 2086 hits (including ‘only’ 290 doubles and 24 triples; his 573 homers got him in), and struck out 1699 times. Hmm.
Sure, I know—who am I, of all people, to disparage and critique any of these great pros? It’s true. But let’s face it—that’s what stats-obsessed baseball fanatics do for fun. The more you look into it, critics seem preoccupied with thinking that Phil Rizzuto (1588 career hits, .273 batting average), may not be worthy, nor Jim Bunning (a 224–184 career record and winner of 20 games only once, though he did win 19 games four times and had 2855 career strikeouts), nor Bruce Sutter (68–71 record, 300 saves, 2.83 ERA, won a Cy Young Award (1979)), or Rollie Fingers (#241, 114–118 record, 341 saves, 2.90 ERA, won both a Cy Young Award and MVP award in 1981). And let’s refrain from piling on poor Rube Marquard for his 201-177 record and 3.08 ERA, compiled during a career (1908-25) mostly within the dead ball era (1900-1919). It’s old news.
Relief pitchers in general used to get little respect. Hoyt Wilhelm (#777) was the first reliever to get elected, and deservedly so—he was winner of a MLB record 124 games in relief, with a 2.52 ERA and 1610 strikeouts over 2254.1 innings. Nowadays no one questions Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and (finally) Lee Smith’s credentials. Dennis Eckersley and Rich Gossage are solid.
Could John Franco ever get in with his 90–87 record, 424 saves (5th all-time) and 2.89 ERA? Maybe he should, especially when compared objectively with some of the guys mentioned here, but probably not. Maybe he wasn’t “dominant” enough. And honestly, despite Sutter’s relatively short (12 years) career and his never having started a major league game, he and Fingers probably did have enough to get in there.
You just wonder where that line is. Apparently, that line’s not only about the numbers, as important as they are—Sutter and Fingers had losing records. There’s also that certain je ne sais quoi, or quality that can’t exactly be described. Call it “the eye test”—you can’t define it, but you know when you see it. Like Sutter’s live split-fingered fastball, Steve Garvey’s sweet compact swing and Popeye forearms, and Lou Pinella arguing a call like world peace depended on it. Inexorably, times keep changing and along with them perspectives keep changing too. Maybe we’ll come around to some of these guys eventually.
Part of an ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness here, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.
Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Larry Biittner, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.
Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Baseballhall.org, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.
Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.
Much Gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.