I’m old and I guess I have to admit it…I just got an e-mail the other day asking “why don’t you ever write about newer baseball stuff?” I responded that I would be happy to start writing about newer stuff…here is where the real disconnect came in. I went back saying that I would do a piece on baseball from the 1970s and what I got back was a… “thanks and I don’t mean to sound rude but that stuff is still over 30 years old.” This got me to thinking about what a person considers to be vintage and why. For me, vintage stuff has always been those items relating to the game before 1970. Why did I pick 1970? Well, that’s the first year I can really remember following baseball. “Jack’s Watterson Market” was at the top of hill and located strategically along the route to school, Cub Scouts etc… You guessed it…baseball cards.
1970 was a magical time to be a kid in Cincinnati. The Reds had a new ball park that would host both an All Star Game and the World Series that year. It was also my first year playing Little League or Knothole Baseball. The team sponsor was The Thomas Funeral Home. We received our pants, caps, and stirrups…but the jerseys had not come in yet. Even then I could not wait to get my hands on a flannel. For the first game, we were instructed to get a white t-shirt and write a number on the back in black marker…On that initial Saturday, on the “little diamond” behind Fairfax Elementary School, nine little boys all showed wearing either a “5” or a “14” on their backs… I had opted for “14” being a huge Rose fan.
Along the way and throughout the decade, I fell in love with baseball in what proved to be a time of significant history and transition for the game. Today I hear a lot of talk on aging and that 50 is the new 30 and stuff like that. I would suggest that the 1970s might be the new 1950s with respect to history and collectability.
The 1970s featured:
-The last of the flannels and the introduction of double knits.
-The opening of a number of new ball parks.
-The end of cards being issued in series, but before the explosion of multiple manufacturers that diluted and ruined the market.
-The introduction of a few new ball clubs.
-The play and dominance of a few select clubs.
-The introduction of the DH and free agency.
-The first full decade of divisional play and the League Championship Series.
-A number of historical and memorable moments.
Flannels and Double Knits: For uniform collectors, the 1970s offers some great collecting themes and sub-themes. For team collectors, you have the opportunity to own both first and last styles simply based on fabric let alone design. The color explosion seen in some of the knits was extraordinary. Throw in the White Sox “softball” uniforms and you have the makings of something special.
Ball Parks: I was looking at a great 1970s baseball reference while reflecting on this piece. It’s called “The Game & The Glory” and was published in 1976. The book features a number of high quality color images from the early 1970s. Each team has a section that gives some history as well a nice diagram of their stadium. Of the twenty-four (24) ball parks referenced, only six (7) remain in use today. Those being:
Fenway Park (Red Sox)
Wrigley Field (Cubs)
Kaufmann Stadium (Royals)
Dodger Stadium( Dodgers)
Shea Stadium (Mets)
Oakland Stadium (A’s)
The A’s and Yankees are both scheduled for new ball parks. Although currently not as collectable as seats from places like Crosley Field, The Polo Grounds, or Ebbets Field in today’s market, these “newer” items are readily available and often very affordable. The other thing to consider is as the ball parks of the 1970s came down, an increasing number of items besides seats were made available. The November 2005 Leland’s Busch Stadium Farewell Auction Catalog remains one of my all time favorites.
Baseball Cards: Yep, I still have mine. Card prices went through the roof in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The ones I sold off were multiples or doubles including a couple of sets from 1975, a set loaded with rookie Hall of Famers like Brett, Yount, Gary Carter. Complete sets are still available and so are any number of un-graded “raw cards”. I have never wanted a graded card as I hate the slabs. A 1970s decade collector can still afford to find and collect/build these sets.
New Ball Clubs: In 1970, Milwaukee got a ball club back. In 1971, The Washington Senators closed down again and the next year we got the Texas Rangers. In 1977, two new clubs were added; the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. Four new teams to collect in a span of seven years. With this comes all the things to find and collect. Of all of these, I have say that while I was not thrilled with expansion at the time, I did love the new Seattle (road) and Blue Jays (home) uniforms.
Dominate Ball Clubs: Like the 1950s, three clubs seemed to dominate the decade. Only this time they weren’t all in one city. As a matter of fact, they spanned the country and went coast to coast. Of the 10 World Series of the 1970s, seven out of ten were won by the A’s, Reds, and Yankees. The Pirates won two and the Oriels won the other. Contrast this with the following decade of the 1980s which featured only the Dodgers winning more than one. If you are looking to collect Dynasty Teams, then consider looking at the 1970s before traveling back to the 1950s.
The DH and Free Agency As much as I hate to include them in this listing, they are as much a part of the decade as anything else. The DH extended the playing careers of some current and future Hall of Famers and has placed players within collecting themes for those who go after 500 Home Run Hitters, 3000 Hit Club Members, 300 Win Pitchers and so on.
Divisional Play and the League Championship Series. Although this has become a fall mainstay and has been expanded upon, it really came into it’s own in the 1970s. For collectors this means a whole new theme of programs and ticket stubs to collect. This was a best 3 of 5 series. The thing I have always like about the programs is they were truly team different and specific as compared to the World Series Programs that largely the same only done as “team editions.”
Historical and Memorable Moments. This is actually a theme I have been playing around with for some time as I think it has the potential for fantastic visual appeal and could be done without spending a fortune. You need not have the actual items (blinding flash of the obvious there), but a representative sampling of items and collectables dealing with or related to:
1970: Rose/Fosse Collision at Home Plate or Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series: Super 8 or 8mm film boxes of featuring these events. Throw in some programs, ticket stubs and maybe a nice Brooks Robinson store model glove.
1971: Flannel Fade Away: Any team will do, but my favorite “fair well styles” include the Astros, White Sox, A’s.
1972: Clemente’s 3000 hit and last game. A cap, store model glove, a Clemente game used bat, NLCS Program and ticket stub…maybe a Clemente card or two.
1973: Middle of the A’s Dynasty: Would want to pick up each style of double knit or associated color cap. An orange “Charlie Finley” baseball and couple of pennants would look nice.
1974: Hank Aaron’s #715. Sports Illustrated Cover, jersey, jacket, and cap sample and any number of special or promotional items like the Magnavox bat.
1975: Fisk’s Home Run in Game 6 of the World Series. A Red Sox home jersey, a World Series Program, a game six ticket stub and maybe a modern figurine. Maybe a Fred Lynn Rookie card as the he became the first player to win both the Rookie of Year and League MVPs awards in the same season.
1976: Reds Sweep Their Way Through the NLCS and World Series. A Red Cincinnati Reds Season ticket holder bat (cheaper and more attractive than the black ones), a jersey with the NL Centennial Patch and any number of 580 Gift Shop items.
1977: Reggie Jackson’s Three World Series Home Runs in Three Consecutive At Bats. A Yankees home knit (nice that there are no numbers on the front from a display perspective) and a 1970s Reggie Jackson Adirondack bat. Maybe throw in a World Series pennant and a nice wire photo or two.
1978: Bucky “Bleepin” Dent. Yankees Road jersey with a Mickey Rivers bat (yes, he used Mickey Rivers bat). Wire photo of Dent Crossing the plate.
1979: First time co-league MVP’s (Stargell & Hernandez) Not sure on this one, but it does offer an excuse to get in any number of colorful Pirate kints and powder blue Cardinals road jersey. Bats of both of these guys are still available and affordable. The bats would also still feature the Hillerich and Bradsby Center brand (always preferred that to the Louisville Slugger).
You could really pick anything you wanted as if you continue to pick this decade apart, you will find countless other sub-themes and collectables. I highlight the 1970s for a few reasons. First, I really still consider this era as “new stuff” and it is still priced accordingly in my book. Next is the issue of availability for all facets of collectables. The 1970s also represents the last decade before the mass commercialization of the game used line of products. The 1970s are also richly preserved today in both moving and still images making researching your items from this time period actually very easy and affordable.
Lastly, you may be your way to some very cool collecting themes and may not even realize it. For bat collectors, how close are you right now to say having a gamer from every batting and home run champion of the decade? Sound daunting…maybe not as you only need 13 bats for each.
1970s BATTING CHAMPIONS
Alex Johnson (1970)
Tony Oliva (1971)
Rod Carew (1972,73,74,75,77,78)
George Brett (1976)
Fred Lynn (1979)
Rico Carty (1970)
Joe Torre (1971)
Billy Williams (1972)
Pete Rose (1973)
Ralph Garr (1974)
Bill Madlock (1975,76)
Dave Parker (1977,78)
Keith Hernandez (1979)
1970s HOME RUN CHAMPIONS
Frank Howard (1970)
Bill Melton (1971)
Dick Allen (1972,74)
Reggie Jackson (1973,75)
George Scott (1975)
Graig Nettles (1976)
Jim Rice (1977,78)
Gorman Thomas (1979)
Johnny Bench (1970,72)
Willie Stargell (1971,73)
Mike Schmidt (1974,75,76)
George Foster (1977,78)
Dave Kingman (1979)
A great complement to these themes for display purposes are the Hillerich and Bradsby advertisements that appeared in magazines like Street & Smith or even some of their Famous Slugger Yearbooks.
Am sure there are many other themes for the 1970s. If you have such a collection or collecting them, I would love to hear about and I am sure others would as well.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.