THE WILLIES —Topps’ 1971 baseball set is known for being nearly impossible to find in perfect-10 condition. It’s a little easier to find 10-grade cards from the previous year, 1970—yet they’re not exactly plentiful. Kids of that era didn’t rush home and file newly bought cards into protective binders. We played with them, carrying them around and flipping and trading to our hearts’ content. It’s impossible to keep cards in Mint condition when you’re carrying them around in your back pocket.
As such, 10-graded cards from 1970 draw a premium, just as pristine 1971 cards do. Consider recent auctions of two Gem-Mint 1970 cards, both of them featuring Willies known for giving fits to opposing pitchers—Stargell and Horton.
The eBay seller, Probstein 123, had broken up a high-grade 1970 set, and among the top offerings were Stargell and Horton prizes graded PSA 10. Stargell commanded the higher price, $5,655, while Horton’s brought $2,938.
At the time, both players were well into their careers, so their 1970 cards typically don’t break the bank. We’ve seen 8-grade Stargell examples sell for $75 to $125, while 1970 Horton cards graded at 8 go for $25 to $50.
For baseball fans with a love for vintage times, both Willies are worth adding—at any grade. Their 1970 cards have a distinct charm owing partly to the photographs, partly to the design. The grey borders not only are more forgiving when it comes to condition, but they make ideal frames for the images, even with somewhat muted colors.
Stargell’s 1970 card is a real eye-catcher. The slugger is captured in a casual pose outside a batting cage, waiting for BP to begin. He’s holding the middle area of a bat with his right hand and giving us the look of a confident, in-his-prime star. The details reflect a long-ago time: Note Stargell’s flapless batting helmet (worn atop his baseball cap), and check out his No. 8 jersey—one of those beautiful old sleeveless, button-down Pirates vests.
Stargell was 29 at the time of the photo and already had 165 homers. Yet he was just getting warmed up: He would hit 31 homers in 1970, followed by seasons of 48, 33 and 44. “Pops” would play until he was 42, retiring in 1982 after 21 seasons, all with the Pirates. With 475 HRs and a .282 average, he was an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
As for Horton, his wide shoulders fill out his 1970 card completely from side to side. He’s offering a fairly serious look, no doubt thinking about how to match his 1968 and 1969 campaigns (36 and 28 homers, respectively). Just 26 years old at the time, Horton had already amassed 141 career homers.
How did Horton fare in 1970? He had his highest batting average up to that point—.305—but played in only 96 games due to injuries, so his power numbers were down (17 homers). In all, the beefy Horton would play 18 seasons, finishing with 325 career homers and a .273 average.
Horton is best remembered for his performance in the 1968 World Series, when he batted .304 to help his Tigers beat the Cardinals in seven games. Or… perhaps he’s best remembered for his heroic actions in saving the life of teammate Al Kaline.
During a game in 1970, Kaline collided with outfielder Jim Northrup, fell to the ground and was motionless, gasping for breath after having swallowed his tongue. Horton knew exactly what to do: He rushed over from left field and pried open Kaline’s jaw, pulling his tongue forward to clear his airway. In “Mr. Tiger: The Legend of Al Kaline,” Gene Myers quoted Horton as saying, “That was something I learned when I used to box. You put pressure on the nerves on the back of the jaw…and that makes the man relax enough to let you pry his mouth open.”
If you’re wondering about the rookie cards of these two stars, both are pictured with multiple other players.
• Stargell’s first appearance is on a 1963 Topps card that also gave us Brock Davis, Jim Gosger and John Herrnstein. A recent eBay auction saw a PSA 8.5-graded example of the card sell for $1,403 on 16 bids.
• Horton’s first Topps card came a year later. Also shown on his 1964 rookie is Joe Sparma. A PSA 9 example of the card sold in May for $232 on 26 bids.
TOP 10 CHART
1. $168,700 on 99 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection LeBron James Number Pieces, #16/23, auto patch (BGS 9)
2. $72,100 on 48 bids:1986-87 Fleer Basketball sealed wax box (BBCE authenticated)
3. $71,400 on 138 bids:1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
4. $70,101 on 116 bids:1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
5. $65,600 on 99 bids:1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
6. $57,099 on 23 bids:2009-10 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Refractor, #/500, auto (BGS 10)
7. $51,037 on 33 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
8. $50,600 on 36 bids:1966-67 Topps USA Test Bobby Orr (PSA 8.5)
9. $42,000 on 55 bids:2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor (PSA 10)
T10. $40,200 on 45 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
T10. $40,200 on 44 bids:2019 Panini Flawless Platinum Patrick Mahomes II and Tom Brady, #1/1, dual autographs (ungraded)
MORE WILLIES —Stargell and Horton weren’t the only Willies terrorizing pitchers in 1970. We can’t forget about Giants teammates Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, two other key veterans in Topps’ 1970 set.
We haven’t seen Gem-Mint, 10-grade individual cards of Mays or McCovey among eBay’s listings the past six months, but both did show up recently on PSA 9-graded 1970 cards. The Mays example brought $725, the McCovey $237. Drop down to an 8 grade, and you’ll find 1970s Mays cards for $100 to $200 and McCovey cards for $50 to $100.
That said, we did spot one vintage Mays item graded PSA 10: a 1964 Topps Giants card. It drew 48 bids and sold for $6,600. Besides the perfect condition, it’s also a short-print card, adding to its appeal.
We also spotted a PSA 10 McCovey card: a 1976 Topps that sold for $287 on six bids. This latter-day McCovey issue pictures the slugger as a member of the San Diego Padres, for whom he played from 1974 through early 1976.
Mays and McCovey, both Hall of Famers, are among the most prodigious sluggers the game has known. Mays hit 660 homers, McCovey 521—all during an era when the 500-HR club was far more exclusive.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN — Last month in this space, we noted a drastic spike in the price of Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 Fleer card, with two Gem-Mint examples soaring past $85,000. This time out, we find four more PSA 10 examples of that card in our Top 10 chart, though at lower prices. Overall, though, Jordan is dominating our chart just the way he dominated the hardwood.
MJ represented on half the items on our Top 10 list, including a sealed 1986-87 Fleer Basketball wax box—an item driven by Jordan’s card. He also accounts for six more slots out of the next 15 items we tracked. That includes an unopened 1986-87 Fleer pack that sold for $23,000—a single pack! Why? Because it has a Jordan card showing through the back of the wrapper—meaning the winning bidder knew he was getting the exact pull he wanted.
The only mystery: the card’s condition. Maybe it’s a perfect 10, in which case the buyer may be able to double, or even triple, his investment. On the other hand, what if he opens the pack and finds printing hiccups, or an off-center image, or some other defect that would prevent a 10 grade? Well, it’ll still be a good pull: PSA 9 specimens of that card have climbed past $20,000.
The next 15 items after our Top 10:
• $37,780 on 45 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 4)
• $36,100 on 55 bids: 1984-85 Star Michael Jordan (BGS 9)
• $31,800 on 28 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Michael Jordan Scripted, #/25, auto patch (BGS 9)
• $27,921 on 43 bids: 1951 Parkhurst Gordie Howe (SGC 9)
• $26,625 on 37 bids: 2000 Playoff Contenders Tom Brady Rookie Ticket, auto (PSA 8)
• $26,000 on 132 bids:2003-04 Topps LeBron James black border (PSA 9)
• $25,101 on 45 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 3)
• $25,077 on 54 bids: 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan (PSA 9)
• $25,100 on 55 bids:2017 Panini Encased Diamond Patrick Mahomes II, 1/1, auto (BGS 9.5)
• $25,000 on 118 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Sticker Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
• $24,400 on 72 bids: 2005-06 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Limited Michael Jordan, #43/50, auto (BGS 9.5)
• $24,000 on 63 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)
• $23,101 on 39 bids: 2013-14 Panini Prizm Giannis Antetokounmpo (PSA 10)
• $23,100 on 36 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (SGC 9.5)
• $23,000 on 85 bids:1986-87 Fleer Basketball unopened pack with Michael Jordan showing (PSA 8)