With the Royals deeply mired in “The process, Part II” and front office apathy in full bloom, it’s kind of taken the fun out of writing about baseball. The Stanley Cup playoffs are going on and while hockey, especially playoff hockey, is the best of all playoff sports to watch, I can’t write about it.
How about baseball cards? Every fan loves baseball cards, right? Let’s look at the greatest Royal cards of all-time. Understand, this is a subjective list. What I like might not appeal to another. Over the past 53 years there have been a lot of good, strange, and funny Royals cards, nearly all of which are affordable for the average collector. For the sake of brevity, I had to leave a few classics off this list. This is what I consider the must-have cards and the most unusual, plus a couple of my personal favorites. If you’ve got another favorite, throw it in the comments and let us know why.
1. George Brett 1975 Topps Rookie
The holy grail of Royal cards. The ‘75 set had colorful borders and also featured the rookie card of Brett’s HOF classmate, Robin Yount. The picture of a young George was taken during spring training, most likely during the 1974 camp. The card features a nice pose and clean autograph. It remains the most valuable of all Royal cards and one of the key cards in the 1975 set. Topps also issued a mini-set this year.
2. 1973 Topps Fred Patek
How can you not like this card? A sweet in-action shot of Freddie turning the double play, as he did so many times. Bill Sharp of the White Sox has been retired and the umpire lurks on the right side of the card. You can almost feel the heat from the stadium turf.
3. Bo Jackson 1987 Topps
Bo’s rookie card. Bo, all business, tracking a fly ball. Sun in his eyes, no glasses. A nice, clean relatively inexpensive card with a sweet wood grain border.
4. George Brett-Al Cowens 1976 SSPC
SSPC was an off-brand that put out some smaller, cool sets in the 1970s. This card is a classic: Cowens, whose name is misspelled on the card, has a look on his face like he’s a little apprehensive about taking his eyes off George. Brett looks like a wild man, crazy eyes and hair plus the early makings of something resembling a fu manchu? It’s a fun card.
5. Dennis Leonard and Dan Quisenberry 1981 Topps
Technically, this is two cards, but it should have been posed as one. Both players are sitting in the dugout, possibly at the same time. Quiz, who was one of the funniest guys in baseball, has a look on his face that says, “wait till he smells it.” Leonard has a look like, “You have got to be kidding me”.
6. Bo Jackson 1990 Score
Bo was the epitome of late 1980’s alpha male, and this card has it all. Bare-chested, serious look on his face holding a bat draped across his shoulder pads. No name on the front. None needed.
7. George Brett-Gaylord Perry 1984 Fleer
An inside joke card by Fleer shows the two Hall of Famers holding a pine rag to a bat, a clear callout of Brett’s pine tar home run. While Brett was losing his mind with umpire Tim McClelland, Perry, ever the jokester, tried to leave the scene of the crime with the questionable bat.
8. Bob Hamelin 1996 Pinnacle
The Hammer had been in the league for parts of three seasons already when Pinnacle did him dirty by taking his picture with the Hammer holding a piece of paper with his name on it. His name’s also on the bottom of the card. And the bill of his cap. There’s a reflection off his glasses. It’s quite possibly one of the worst baseball cards of all time. The Hammer’s expression says it all.
9. Steve Hovley 1972 Topps
This is a surprisingly expensive card because of its high number. It was harder to get high numbers in those days. By the time the fifth or sixth series of cards would come out, most stores had already made the switch to football cards. Even though It’s Hovley’s second card as a Royal, his 1971 card had him in Royals uniform, Topps evidently couldn’t be bothered to take a current picture of him, so they used their considerable airbrush talents to paint on a Kansas City cap. The 1972 set also had a great art-deco design.
10. The George Spriggs collection
Spriggs, the only former Negro League player to play for the Royals, played parts of two seasons with Kansas City. He’d previously been featured on two different rookie cards in the 1968 and 1969 sets before the Royals did him right with this sweet in-action shot from the 1971 set.
Rich Gale 1981 Topps
The big ’80s hair. The transition glasses. The mustache. That look alone is worth about 14 wins.
George Brett 1980 7-Up
An obscure oversized card. George had the world by the tail in 1980....or is that Woody Harrelson posing as George?
Hal McRae 1976 Topps
You can almost hear Hal’s laughter. Who was the photographer? George Carlin?
Joe Foy 1969 Topps
First year of Royal cards features Foy obviously in a Red Sox uniform with an airbrushed hat. But what’s that in the background? The sun? A UFO?
Cookie Rojas 1971 Topps
Great action photo shows a surprisingly buff-looking Cookie turning two against Ron Woods and the Yankees. The scoreboard in the background shows that the game not going well.