The cards here aren’t perfect. Numbers 1, 2 and 9 are kind of bashy and need upgrading, while a number of others aren’t particularly well-centered. In this, it probably looks a lot like the first page of most everyone’s 1971 binder.
Where this page differs is when you turn it over:
Instead of dull green hard-to-read Topps backs, there are garish yellow painful-to-look-at-for-too-long OPC backs. This was the first season that OPC went for a much brighter card stock than Topps did, most likely to make the smaller type they had to use easier on the eyes. The requirement OPC faced to make its products bilingual (starting in 1970) meant that all OPC cards feature twice the amount of text in the same basic space Topps used, so the font had to get a lot smaller. Prior to 1971, OPC backs were dimmer than their Topps counterparts. It would never be that way again.
1971 also represents one of the few sets where (almost) every Topps card has an OPC twin. Every other year between 1965 and 1972, OPC would give up on baseball prior to the release of the last series (or two or three) of the Topps set. I imagine this was because hockey season was approaching and they wanted to get cracking on that rather than releasing a baseball series well into November. This meant that there are typically no nasty high numbers to chase, which is a benefit given that you normally pay a premium to get OPC in these years. It also means certain stars are simply missing from the set. If you wanted a card of Willie Mays in 1967, for instance, sorry about your luck.
In 1971, however, they’re all there. Those awful high numbers that Topps collectors curse are here as well, and they’re really, really nasty to find. In three solid years of building this set, I have 11 of them (out of 229 – this really isn’t progress). Part of that is being picky on condition, and part of that is being unwilling to spend several hundred dollars on a Yaz or Clemente.
The funnny thing about this set is that I had no intention of going after it. What I wanted to collect was this:
Upper Deck had made a fantastic retro set in 2008-09 that mimicked the 1979-80 hockey set. It is probably my second-favourite Upper Deck hockey set of all time. The logic, apparently, was that by licensing the old OPC name, UD could make use of old OPC designs, as well. The result was one of the smash hits of the season. Now, OPC hadn’t actually created that design – that would have been Topps – but who would quibble over a little thing like that?
It seems that Topps would.
When UD announced the new OPC retro set based on 1971, Topps quickly said, “Nuh-uh,” and after a lawsuit the design was quashed. UD went with a black-bordered clone of their regular set and called that “retro.” I was underwhelmed and didn’t bother with it.
I liked the original, though. That retro set was going to be the first baseball set I’d put together since about 1991. I thought that maybe since UD wasn’t going to give me a 1971 OPC set, I’d just have to go out and build my own. So I did.
I’ll probably never finish it, which is kind of hard for a set builder to say, but I’m happy to have started it. It got me back into baseball, back into OPC (which is nice because I ran out of OPC in hockey) and opened the door to a bunch of other OPC sets that were somewhat easier to finish.
It also offers the opportunity to do something I rarely get to do in hockey anymore – pick up a card of a player I’ve never heard of and learn something new. This is always fun and to me is one of the real pleasures of collecting vintage. It’s the chance to find out something you didn’t already know, the opportunity to see what they were saying about a player at the time.
I don’t really have the time to document everyone who is part of this set, which is why I’m so glad someone else is taking on this project. I’m guessing this will soon be one of my first stops every day.