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
- Hank Aaron Home Run King
- Aaron Special 54-57
- Aaron Special 58-61
- Aaron Special 62-65
- Aaron Special 66-69
- Aaron Special 70-73
- Jim Hunter
- George Theodore
- 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.
- Hank Aaron Home Run King
- Hank Aaron Special 54-57
- Hank Aaron Special 58-59
- Hank Aaron Special 60-61
- Hank Aaron Special 62-63
- Hank Aaron Special 64-65
- Hank Aaron Special 66-67
- Hank Aaron Special 68-69
- 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|
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.