1977 Topps Baltimore Orioles Team Card
The Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians by mashing a couple of home runs. Speaking of home runs, one of the game's premier sluggers once mashed long fly balls in Baltimore before he became a Yankees superstar. No, not Babe Ruth or Brian Roberts. I'm talking about Mr. October himself - Reggie Jackson.
Three things happened in 1976: the United States of America celebrated their bicentennial, I was born, and Reggie Jackson played for the Baltimore Orioles. It seems that Os fans are a bit divided about his brief tenure at Memorial Stadium (he only played in 134 games after holding out for the first month of the season). It was so short that Topps decided not to recognize it the next season and he was featured in an airbrushed Yankees uniform.
Jackson built his career in Oakland, mashing home runs and striking out with the Athletics starting as a 21-year-old in 1967 and continuing for nine years. In 1976, the reserve clause was finally dying it's much needed death and following the season players would be able to file for free agency. Jackson had hit a league leading 36 home runs in 1975 and driven in 104 runs. With just one more season to go he was licking his chops at the thought of all of the money he could make on the somewhat open market.
A's owner Charlie Finley was not going to pay him anything close to what he was worth. So he traded him to the Orioles on April 2nd, 1976 to the Orioles along with Ken Holtzman and Bill VanBommell in exchange for Don Baylor, Paul Mitchell and Mike Torrez.
Holtzman went to Baltimore, VanBommell went to Charlotte (the Orioles Southern League affiliate) and Jackson went to .... Hawaii? While he sat in the shadow of Diamond Head and pondered sitting out the season, his agent worked with the Orioles to secure his services for a pretty good Baltimore team. This was team during the height of the Orioles American League dynasty having finished first in the AL East 1973 and 1974 and second in 1975.
Their defense was impeccable, especially with Paul Blair in center, Mark Belanger at short and Bobby Grich at second. Jim Palmer was the ace of pitching staff that included fellow 20 game winner Wayne Garland and future aces Scott McGregor, Mike Flanigan and Denny Martinez. Jackson was seen as the final piece to the puzzle that would put them over the top and back into the World Series.
Which, if he had played an entire season, might have happened. Instead, he didn't join the team until May and they were already chasing the Yankees at that point. After a slow start he eventually caught fire (as did his house) and helped the Orioles stay in the pennant race. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and they finished 10.5 games behind the Yankees.
While he never ruled out re-signing with the Orioles, they didn't exactly fit the description of what he was looking for in his future club when he talked to Sports Illustrated in August of that year:
"When I talk about life-style, I mean I want to go to a place with a liberal attitude. I don't like sectarian living—I think that's the word. I don't necessarily mean segregated living, I mean certain people living among themselves: Jews here, Poles there, blacks over there. I'm not interested in playing in any town that has that. I know I'm not crazy about playing in the South, and the Midwest would be impractical for me because all of my business interests are either on the West Coast or in the East...But there are other considerations. I'm not sure I'd fit in with teams like the Mets or the Dodgers that emphasize organization over individual personality."
That wasn't Baltimore in the 1970s (at least that's what I'm told). So the season ended and in November he signed with the Yankees and went on to be the "straw that stirs the drink" in New York. Despite not having suited up in a Bronx Bombers uniform, Topps had time to whip up an airbrushed masterpiece in time for the release of their flagship product. That is why card number 10 in the 1977 Topps set looks like this:
Now, I told you all of this to get to my point. While the "official" 1977 Topps card featured him in a a "Yankees" hat, Topps did produce a card of him in his Orioles uniform. In fact, it is one of the rarest and most expensive Orioles cards ever to see the light of day. Here it is:
Look at the big ol' Reggie smile! Yes, that is an actual card made by Topps, not some custom card made with a laptop and a laser printer. What it is, is a proof card that Topps made before printing the set. A proof card lets them check the design and see how it looks in real life. If they like the design features they fire up the printers and start churning out the real cards.
According to Keith Obermann, Topps had three proof cards generated following the 1976 season: Jackson, Jerry Grote and Danny Thompson. These cards are never meant to see the light of day (or the collecting public) yet, according to Obermann, there are eight copies of the Reggie Jackson card floating around . The pictured above sold in auction for $60,000 in 2016. That's not a bad chunk of change for a card that is only 42 years old.
It's understandable that Topps would want to capitalize on Jackson's move to the Yankees, and New York fans were probably excited to see the new superstar in the hometown colors when they ripped their packs open, but it didn't help the Orioles fans who were looking for a little piece of proof that he had played for their favorite team.
Orioles fans did have one small token of proof that he was with the team. The card that is featured at the top is the 1977 Orioles team card. On the far right of the second row is Mr. Jackson wearing the number 9 jersey he made famous during his short stint in Baltimore. See he was part of the team even if he isn't featured on the checklist on the back of the card.
It would be a long time until a mainstream manufacturer released another card with Jackson in an Orioles uniform. I remember seeing this 1988 Score Reggie Jackson card back when I was a young collector and thinking "Huh, I didn't know he played for the Os".