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1974 Topps Baseball

By Patrick Mondout

The 1974 Topps baseball card set was an improvement over the '73 disaster, but the action photography was still problematic with too many players barely recognizable. The set broke the Topps record for the most subsets. There were the All-Stars, league leaders, managers (once again with the heads of their coaches), playoffs, rookies (by position, four to a card) and World Series. There was also a special subset of Hank Aaron cards, which each featured the fronts of four of his standard-issue Topps cards (see below).


One card that appeared to be part of a subset was the "regular" card for Hank Aaron, which also commemorated his 715th home run.


The cards were distributed in 15 wax packs containing 10 cards - the first time Topps cards sold for more than 1 each in retail. Packs from the middle of the season mention that a team checklist is inside each pack while traded cards were in the last shipment of wax packs. Twenty-five cent cello packs containing around 18 cards (they did not state how many on the outside) and 39 rack packs containing 42 cards were also produced. The first "vending" boxes of approximately 500 cards were also produced for hobby dealers. These are often the most desired method of putting old sets together since none of the cards have gum or wax stains and the boxes contain nothing but random cards.

This was the first large Topps baseball set to be released all at once instead of in series, although even that is not strictly speaking true since a 44 card "traded" set was distributed with late-season wax packs and should be either a second series or a set of inserts (it actually isn't considered either by collectors). Topps sent out a brochure to candy wholesalers explaining how this change would increase sales of the packs. In it, Topps proclaimed:

"By eliminating multiple series, your inventory is always current... With every card available at once, kids will get less duplicate cards. Therefore, they have a better incentive to collect a complete set. So you know they will keep buying all season long!"

One reason why each successive series of Topps cards from 1952 on was more scarce than the first (with rare exceptions) was because the initial excitement of the new cards wore off as the season progressed towards football (card) season. Another is that retailers would often not even stock the later series as it got closer to football season - especially if they still had stock of the current or a previous series. It makes completing sets of pre-1974 cards much more difficult.

The complete set was also made available in complete sets in the 1974 Sears Wishbook (Christmas catalogue). That and the fact that there are no hard-to-find "high numbers" makes the set easier to complete than those that precede it. However, those Sears sets are now quite rare and, as the only "factory sets" of the era, desirable and are much more valuable than a "hand-collated" set (one put together by hand by a collector or dealer).

Washington Padres

Prior to the season, when Topps was finalizing the set, it became clear that the San Diego Padres were going to move to Washington for the 1974 season. Topps decided to list Padres as playing for "Washington, Nat'l League." This proved somewhat problematic when the Padres stayed put in San Diego. Topps quickly revised the cards, and the earlier D.C. versions of the cards are much more valuable. The animated Dave Winfield card on the top right was devised by yours truly. Apparently Topps did not originally change all the cards to D.C. because Winfield can only be found as a San Diego Padre!

Other known variations include #654 Jesus Alou, which can be found in the scarcer version without his position (outfield) printed on the front and #608, which can be found with Bob Apodaca's named misspelled Apodaco. The error card is worth more. Lastly, there are three versions of #599, Rookie Pitchers: The first shows Dave Freisleben with "Washington, Nat'l League." The second corrects that to read "San Diego Padres", but in a font that is too large compared to the other three players. The last corrects this.

Rookie cards in this set include Dave Winfield, Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Ken Griffey Sr., and Gorman Thomas. There was a time when the first three seemed destined for Cooperstown, but only Winfield made it and that keeps this set reasonably priced.

A checklist for all 660 cards is available here.

1974 Topps at a Glance
Back Checklist Wax Pack
Manager/Coaches Rookies League Leaders
World Series Aaron Special All-Stars


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Year: 1974

Manufacturer: Topps

# of Cards: 660 (Checklist)

Value/Price: Check eBay (see links below)

Size: 2 x 3

Image courtesy of Topps

'74 Topps Sets!
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'74 Topps Unopened Packs!
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'74 Topps Cases!

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