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Topps 1972 Baseball Card Set - The Beginning of the End 

June 25, 2014

by William Szczepanek

Topps Baseball Card Checklist - 1972

1972 Topps Willie Mays #0491972 marked the beginning of much and the end of much more. In some senses it may have been the beginning of the end of the culture that formed this country into the most powerful nation in the world. In many respects 1972 could be considered the beginning of what has defined the world of today.

1972 in Baseball Cards – The Tombstone Territory

Topps provided us plenty in the 1972 baseball card set. Not only was it the largest set produced to date but it reflected the time with its colorful, psychedelic, tombstone design. It is one of the most written about and controversial sets that Topps has ever produced. The love it or hate it design combined intense colors and a graphic format that defied reason and made the uniqueness of players a secondary issue. In 1972 every player looked like a star on a card design that was reminiscent of the garish All Star cards of the prior decades. Take it or leave it, it does go down as one of the most memorable sets of all time.

At 787 cards it was the last of the big sets, which included many specialty cards and subsets. The team name is emboldened at the top in a three dimensional multi-colored font, while the player name is in a simple black font at the bottom. The all-important position information is missing. The backs of the cards thankfully returned to season by season statistics.

1972 Topps Batting Leaders #085Carlton Fisk (#79) is the only Hall of Fame rookie card, but the set is replete with future Hall of Famers, like Willie Mays (#49), Harmon Killebrew (#51), Hank Aaron (#299), Roberto Clemente (#309), Fergie Jenkins (#410, Reggie Jackson (#435), Tom Seaver (#445), Steve Carlton (#751), Joe Morgan (#752) and Frank Robinson (#754).

Several subsets are featured: League Leaders: #85-96, Playoff Highlights: #221-222, World Series Highlights: #223-230, Topps Traded: #751-757 along with Boyhood Photos of The Stars, In Action and Team Rookie Stars.

At #621 you come to six cards that are photos of trophies. The Commissioner Award, MVP Award, Cy Young Award, Minor League Player of the Year Award, Rookie of the Year Award and Babe Ruth Award. In the words of Arte Johnson pf Laugh-In, "Verrrry interesting, but stupid.”

1972 Topps Steve Carlton #7511972 Topps Roberto Clemente WS 4 #2261972 Topps Darrell Evans IA #172

Baseball 1972

For the first time a full season was spoiled by a players' strike. The first week and a half of the season was lost and it was decided to not make up the games. As a result, 6 to 9 games were not played by each team, which affected playoffs, and the Boston Red Sox falling a half a game short of the Detroit Tigers.

On August 1 Nate Colbert would tie Stan Musial’s record of hitting five home runs in a doubleheader.

On September 30 Roberto Clemente hit a double in the 4th inning to attain the 3,000 hit mark. It would be his final hit as Clemente would die in a plane crash near San Juan, Puerto Rico, on New Year's Eve while aiding earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

In the NL playoffs the Pittsburgh Pirates led in the bottom of the ninth of the final game. The Reds' Johnny Bench homered to tie the game. With Pirates' pitcher, Bob Moose, on the mound a wild pitch allowed the winning run to score. I remember feeling sorry for him.

The World Series was won by the Oakland Athletics over the Cincinnati Reds in seven games as Gene Tenace lead the A’s with 4 home runs.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Major League Baseball in the lawsuit brought on by Curt Flood protesting the league’s player reserve clause. The reserve clause would be thrown out in a few years and would mark the beginning of free agency, astronomical salaries and higher costs for fans and end baseball’s hold on the lives of players.

Awards and honors

Most Valuable Player
Dick Allen, Chicago White Sox, 1B (AL)
Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds, C (NL)

Cy Young Award
Gaylord Perry, Cleveland Indians (AL)
Steve Carlton, Philadelphia Phillies (NL)

Rookie of the Year
Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox, C (AL)
Jon Matlack, New York Mets, P (NL)

Statistical Leaders

Average (AL) Rod Carew MIN .318; (NL) Billy Williams CHC .333
Home Runs (AL) Dick Allen CHW 37; (NL) Johnny Bench CIN 40
Runs Batted In (AL) Dick Allen CHW 113; (NL) Johnny Bench CIN 125
Wins (AL) Wilbur Wood CHW Gaylord Perry CLE 24; (NL) Steve Carlton PHI 27
ERA (AL) Luis Tiant BOS 1.91 ; (NL)Steve Carlton PHI 1.97
Strike Outs (AL) Nolan Ryan CAL 329; (NL) Steve Carlton PHI 310
Saves (AL) Sparky Lyle NYY 35 ; (NL)Clay Carroll CIN 37
Stolen Bases (AL) Bert Campaneris OAK 52; (NL) Lou Brock STL 63

1972 in the World

The Viet Nam War was winding down as some of the biggest battles ensued. The lighthearted comedies of the 50s and 60s gave way to HBO (Home Box Office) where violence, nudity and obscenity could be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. The last mission to the moon was viewed with little angst, while no one really thought we would never return. Color television sets were very common and the dress of the day changed to give the audience eye candy whenever it could. The Watergate investigation began and Deep Throat, the movie, gave the term a whole new meaning. The first video game, Pong, debuted and TVs became interactive, allowing us to eventually revel in killing as many objects as we can, in the bloodiest possible way. President Nixon visited China and the relationship of the two nations changed. Nixon dubbed it, "the week that changed the world." I wonder if he really knew what he was doing.

Pacific Southwest Airlines StewsWe flew to our destinations on planes that were kept meticulously clean. We dined in the air on real plates with real silverware, including knives, with no thought of being stabbed. The experience was a pleasure. We accepted the adventure by getting dressed up for the occasion. The pleasure kept our minds from the possibility of accident and we trusted the crew. The flight crew was composed of almost 100% male pilots, most of whom had flown in the military and could land in extreme weather without computer guidance. The cabin crew was composed of almost 100% female stewardesses. Occasionally, an airline would market the attractiveness of their stews, like Pacific Southwest or Southwest Airlines.

Today, many would find these approaches offensive. We dine on bad food; we are herded onto and off of the planes; and the entire experience is one of dread. We’ve come a long way toward making the flying experience safe, but have lost many of the pleasures that made it fun. No offense to today’s stewards and stewardesses. Their jobs today are even harder and I’m pretty sure they don’t enjoy them as much as those pioneers of the past. How many other walks of life that began as such have now ended? The young wouldn’t even know.

At the same time Gloria Steinem, a second wave feminist, founded Ms. Magazine. Steinem became nationally recognized as a media spokeswoman for the women's liberation movement, and as she stated, the revolution began.

Gloria SteinemThis is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.Gloria Steinem

It was a time when opening a door for a woman could result in a verbal backlash and men would forever more have to get their own coffee. With this movement we saw the ongoing fight for equal rights for women and the blurring of long established roles in our culture.

For me it meant the end of military life and the beginning of the rest of my life — a very easy transition.

I ordered a full set of the 1972 Topps set, but was disappointed. The thrill was gone, but here was life after baseball cards.

The Godfather1972 in Movies

“I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.” Mario Puzo, The Godfather

  1. The Godfather
  2. The Poseidon Adventure
  3. What's Up, Doc?
  4. Behind the Green Door
  5. Deliverance
  6. Deep Throat
  7. Jeremiah Johnson
  8. Cabaret
  9. The Getaway
  10. Fritz the Cat

1972 in Music

ElvisIt was the beginning of Elvis on tour and the end of Elvis in the movies and with Priscilla. While many people saw him on tour, he did not record much and tended to be alone more. It ultimately was his demise.

  1. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face Roberta Flack
  2. Alone Again (Naturally) Gilbert O’Sullivan
  3. American Pie Don McLean
  4. Without You Harry Nilsson
  5. The Candy Man Sammy Davis, Jr.
  6. I Gotcha Joe Tex
  7. Lean on Me Bill Withers
  8. Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me Mac Davis
  9. Brand New Key Melanie
  10. Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast Wayne Newton

1972 on TV

All in the FamilyComedy was king on TV as westerns headed into the sunset.

  1. All in the Family CBS
  2. Hawaii Five-O CBS
  3. Sanford & Son NBC
  4. Marcus Welby, M.D. ABC
  5. Medical Center CBS
  6. The Flip Wilson Show NBC
  7. Cannon CBS
  8. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour CBS
  9. Ironside NBC
  10. Maude CBS

The End of Collecting Cards as We Know It

In 1972 it was possible to buy complete sets of cards for the entire year. Advertisements in the back of baseball magazines enticed you with good prices and delivered the complete set in numerical order. Most collectors could not resist this temptation.

In succumbing to the opportunity we gave up a lot. We gave up the anticipation of watching for player cards we desired. We passed on the chance to slowly review cards as we opened the packs. Sure we could still buy cards by the pack as the series’ became available, but we no longer had to. It was like ordering Christmas by mail order in March and having it arrive in our mailbox all at once with no cookies under the tree, no wrapped presents, no sharing and no celebration.

Yes, it was the beginning of a new way of doing things and an end to the reason for doing them.


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