At the start of the year, I figured there were two sets I stood a fairly good chance of finishing – 1963-64 Parkhurst hockey and 1974 OPC baseball. The first of those has fallen. This past week, the last five cards I needed for 1974 baseball arrived in the mail. There are still 30-odd that could use an upgrade, but this set can be put to bed.
I don’t understand why 1974 is this hard to finish. From what I’ve seen, outside of the 1971 high number, 1974 is the toughest of the OPC sets to build. My one thought is that this might be the first time they ever released a set as a single series (the last hockey release, 1973-74, was split into two series). Perhaps they had no idea how much to print and thus underproduced it.
(Note – it appears from the comments that 1973 OPC baseball was released as a single series as well. This is interesting on two fronts – it means that I now have no reason at all for 1974 to be so scarce, and it also means that even though 1973 Topps was released in multiple series, the whole set had to be ready at the start of the season, else how would OPC have it to translate and release? Interesting.)
Whatever the case, most times when there’s a shop or a show vendor with a bunch of old OPC ball, he’ll either have no 1974 at all or at most a few dozen, compared to hundreds and hundreds of every other set. It makes finding the remaining singles a pretty long-running process.
The most distinguishing feature of 1974 OPC (other than the yellow backs with the French text) is the Hank Aaron subset. Instead of the six cards Topps made to celebrate Hank becoming the all-time home run leader, OPC had nine. I’ll make this into it’s own post. They’re interesting and they forced a slight reshuffling of some other cards in the set. OPC had otherwise the same 660-card set as Topps, though with no Washington/San Diego variations (they were printed late enough that it was clear the Padres weren’t moving) and no “Now with Team X” variations or Traded cards.
The five cards that finished this thing off were:
#83 – Orlando Cepeda
Orlando, pictured with the Red Sox, actually spent 1974 in Kansas City. If not the first, he was one of the first players ever to sign a contract with the expectation he’d be a DH (his knees were too far gone to take the field). I haven’t looked to see how many other 1974 cards list anyone as a DH. I think it’s fairly uncommon.
He had a fairly good 1973 as a DH – 20 homers, 86 RBI and a .289 average. He placed 15th in MVP voting. He’d barely see action in 1974 and it was the end of his career.
#116 – Jerry Reuss
Reuss was airbrushed into a Pirates uniform, having been dealt to Pittsburgh in October of 1973 after spending the year with the Astros and not getting along with manager Leo Durocher. He’d go 16-11 for Pittsburgh in 1974 and would pitch in the bigs until 1990. He was a Dodger from the late 70s to the mid-80s, throwing a no-hitter and being the runner-up for the Cy Young in 1980. He beat Guidry in Game 5 of the 1981 World Series.
#206 – 1973 ERA Leaders
Probably the weakest of the lot in terms of condition, this moves from the “need it” list to the “upgrade me” list. Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver lead the AL and NL, respectively (both won their respective Cy Young Awards). I note that all the ERAs for the NL pitchers are better than their AL counterparts – the impact of the arrival of the DH in the AL in 1973? Better historians than me probably know the answer to this.
#482 – Bob Didier
Didier, shown with Detroit, spent the actual 1974 season in Boston – part of it, anyhow. The five games he’d appear in were the last five of his major league career. He’d play in the minors through 1976 and then began a very long career as a minor league manager.
#459 – Cincinnati Reds team card
This is out of sequence, but I wanted to finish with this card. In hockey, Stan Mikita is the bane of my collecting existence. He’s always either the card I need near the end of a set or a card I need to upgrade. In baseball, it’s always the Reds team card. I have no idea why. The last card I needed for 1976 was the Reds team card I had to get it twice because the first wasn’t actually OPC. In 1975, it was one of the last 3-4 cards I had to get, and then I needed two because the first one was checked. For 1971, of the last four cards I need that aren’t high numbers, one is the Reds team card. For 1974, this is the only Reds team card I’ve seen, and it has gunk on it. I’ll upgrade it someday, but I figured I’d better jump on this when I got the chance.
The 1974 Reds didn’t win the pennant. The Dodgers did. I had doubles of the Dodgers team card. Go figure.
It’ll be a long time before I finish another baseball set. I’ll probably just do the Jays from this year’s sets and no other vintage set is more than about 1/3 done. Nice to put this one to bed, though. It gives me a full run of OPC ball from 1972 through 1989.