Monday, November 16, 2009

1974 Topps and O-Pee-Chee Baseball #5, Hank Aaron Special

At the end of 1973, Hank Aaron stood on the cusp of breaking Ruth's signature record of 714 homers and it seemed a certainty the Hammer would pass Babe early the next year. Following a tradition of leading their set with a major achievement, 1974 Topps #1 proclaimed him The New All-Time Home Run King and led off a 9-card Hank Aaron Special subset. (Aaron himself confirmed their minor act of prognostication with homer 715 on April 8.)

1974 Topps card front

The front of each Special reprints Topps Aaron cards four at a time--a nice treat for younger collectors--and backs recount his considerable career achievements in 10-year chunks. The front of #5 covers 1966 - 1969 and its back summarizes each year from 1954 to 1963.

1974 Topps card back

Montreal-based candy maker O-Pee-Chee (OPC) continued to license Topps baseball sets for distribution in their Great White North, but did some extra legwork for the Hank Aaron Specials. Pursuant to Canadian law, card backs had to include both English and French. Two languages meant less room for commentary, so they chopped the specials down to 2 front images and backs listed bilingual 5-year highlights (instead of blocks of 10).

1974 OPC card front

Both sets cover the same ground at different "speeds," so OPC #5 gets Topps 1962 and 1963 on the front and 1954 to 1958 highlights on the back.

1974 OPC card back

Topps covered the Hammer's 20 years of service in five cards and then switched to "regular" players, so the first 9 cards include 3 other guys. (Checklists courtesy of OldBaseball.com.)
  1. Hank Aaron Home Run King
  2. Aaron Special 54-57
  3. Aaron Special 58-61
  4. Aaron Special 62-65
  5. Aaron Special 66-69
  6. Aaron Special 70-73
  7. Jim Hunter
  8. George Theodore
  9. Mickey Lolich
OPC's 2-images-per-card approach took 9 cards to cover fully, displacing Hunter, Theodore, and Lolich to later numbers in the set. Including those players, in turn, bumped other cards from the set entirely.
  1. Hank Aaron Home Run King
  2. Hank Aaron Special 54-57
  3. Hank Aaron Special 58-59
  4. Hank Aaron Special 60-61
  5. Hank Aaron Special 62-63
  6. Hank Aaron Special 64-65
  7. Hank Aaron Special 66-67
  8. Hank Aaron Special 68-69
  9. Hank Aaron Special 70-73

Short story, the loser in this game of musical chairs is Jim Fregosi, dropped from OPC in favor of HOFer Catfish Hunter. Sorry, Jim, you'll have to blame Canada!

These scans show all the 1974 OPC Aaron Specials, #1 at upper right. (Click them for the full-size images.)

OPC #1 - 9 card fronts
OPC #1 - 9 card backs
Value: Aaron cards from the 1970s remain affordable. I picked up each #5 on this page for less than $10.

Fakes / reprints: Hank Aaron cards turn up in plenty of Topps retro sets, but I haven't seen any fakes of his 1970s cards.

3 comments:

MattR said...

The Topps Aaron special #5 is the first card I remember ever getting from the 1974 set. I don't know if it was in the first pack I ever opened, but it was probably pretty close.

GOGOSOX60 said...

As a big time OPC collector, I don't remember if I have ever seen any if at all those 1974 OPC Aaron cards at card shows..

And they are rather pricey on E bay too....

Matthew Glidden said...

Agreed, those 1974 OPCs don't turn up very often. I think the whole 74-76 run went out in significantly smaller quantities than sets in the early or late 70s. :-/