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Baseball Immortals Are Still Popular Sets

by Paul Angilly
December 28, 2004

One of the most popular collector’s issues ever released was the "Baseball Immortals" set originally issued in 1980 and later updated in 1984, 1986 and 1987.

Although many baseball card sets -- collector’s issue or otherwise -- have featured top players from the past, the Baseball Immortals set was the first to depict every member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The cards themselves do not mention a manufacturer, but it has been commonly referred to as an SSPC issue, although it was distributed mainly by TCMA and another top card dealer of the era, Renata Galasso.

The original 1980 issue had a 173-card checklist that included every Hall of Fame member from the original 1936 class of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Honus Wagner through 1980 inductees Duke Snider, Al Kaline, Chuck Klein and former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.

The cards are reminiscent of the 1975 Topps design on the front -- borders that came in various colors, with a different border color for the top and bottom halves. An inner gold border surrounds either a color photo or color artwork. The gold frame passes through a gold box with the words "Baseball Immortals" at the top of the card and a flag with that player’s year of induction at the bottom, next to his name and position.

The card backs bear a strong resemblance to 1954 Bowman, with the player’s name within a white bat inside a yellow box at the top, the card number in a white circle to the right of that, basic height/weight/birth data inside the yellow box and a short biography below. Underneath the bio is a Hall of Fame-related trivia question, with the answer printed upside-down inside a smaller yellow box.

In addition to such popular baseball card subjects as Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, the set includes many Hall-of-Famers not commonly seen on cards.

Among those depicted are executives such as Morgan Bulkeley (the first president of the National League and also president of the Hartford team in that league), Ban Johnson, Warren Giles, Larry MacPhail, commissioner Judge Landis and Yankees executive Ed Barrow (who was previously the Red Sox’ manager in 1918); early sportswriter and statistician Henry Chadwick; umpires including Jocko Conlan, Bill Klem and Cal Hubbard; and managers such as Connie Mack, John McGraw and Casey Stengel.

Also included are former Negro league stars John Henry Lloyd, Martin DiHigo, Oscar Charleston and James "Cool Papa" Bell, among others; and 19th century stars such as George Wright, Cap Anson, Candy Cummings (a member of Hartford’s National League team in 1876), Albert Spalding and Dan Brouthers.

There’s even some 20th century Hall-of-Famers that only the most ardent fans may have heard of: Stan Coveleski, Max Carey, Harry Heilmann, Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey and Ross Youngs, among others.

The set was first updated in 1984, with all the members inducted into the Hall of Fame from 1981 through 1984. The design of the cards is the same, but the type fonts used are noticeably different on the update cards, which are numbered 174-189. Among the top players featured in the 1984 update are Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Pee Wee Reese.

A second update came in 1986, with the fonts much closer to their original look, but still slightly different. Unlike the original set and the 1984 update, there is no trivia question on the back of the cards and the words "1st Printing" which appear beneath the card number on the first 189 cards in the set are absent. Numbered 190-196, the depicted members of the 1985 and 1986 Hall of Fame classes were Arky Vaughn, Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock, Hoyt Wilhelm, Willie McCovey, Ernie Lombardi and Bobby Doerr.

The final update came in 1987, with Billy Williams, Catfish Hunter and Ray Dandridge included on cards numbered 197-199. The type fonts are again noticeably different and while previous updates had followed the original pattern of various-colored borders, the 1987 inductees’ cards all have bright red borders on top with yellow on the bottom. The trivia questions and "1st Printing" notations are again absent.

Most cards from the original set of 173 are identical throughout all the updated printings of the set, but there were a few that changed border colors or artwork, or which had corrections made. Unfortunately, a list of these variations is not available.

The design of the Baseball Immortals set was also used in a set called "Home Run Legends" issued with Big League Chew bubble gum in 1986. The 12-card set includes the 11 Hall-of-Famers through that time that had hit more than 500 home runs in their career, plus a checklist/header card. The cards were available one per package of Big League Chew, or as a complete set through a mail-in offer.

Topps offers 2004 Barry Bonds card: On the heels of signing a deal with Barry Bonds to bring the 700-HR slugger back its sets, Topps is issuing a special card of him via an in-store promotion, beginning today.

Collectors can go to any Topps Home Team Advantage Store and receive the Barry Bonds 2004 Topps Traded card for free when purchasing a pack of 2005 Topps. It will reportedly be numbered as the last card in the previously-released 2004 Topps Traded set (card number T221).

This issue extends his string of Topps baseball card appearances to 19 consecutive years.

"It’s important to Topps, fans and collectors that we issue this card in 2004," reported Topps Vice President Warren Friss in a press release. "We want to be there every step of the way for Barry’s amazing career."

Collectors can call 1-888-GO-TOPPS or visit www.topps.com for a list of the nearest Home Team Advantage store. The offer is good while supplies last, and limited to one per customer.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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