Each week I look back through my baseball card collection for a deep dive on beloved Bombers and past seasons.
Player: Chris Chambliss
Set: 1976 Topps
Card #: 65
Topps’ 1976 set is an often overlooked one in a decade full of iconic Topps offerings, for several reasons. The clean, crisp ’70 set, bold, black-bordered ’71, art deco-framed ’72, and psychedelic ’75 are all instantly recognizable to collectors, moreso than the ’76 set’s more subdued design. The lack of rookies in the set also pushes it down the ’70s depth chart with only Dennis Eckersley, Ron Guidry (Gator!), and Willie Randolph (Pirates) of note in the class.
But the 660-card collection and its classic understated design remains a set worthy of chasing.
Best from the Back: Gehrig’s Prowess
In customary Topps fashion, the backs of the ’76 set feature cartoons and trivia. The back of Chambliss’ cardboard includes the fact that Lou Gehrig recorded 150 or more RBIs seven times in his career. That’s an absurd number–the most of any player in history. Ruth had five seasons. Jimmie Foxx had four. Ted Williams two. Gehrig has three of the top six season totals ever. Seven of the top 40. His production was peerless and what makes it all the more astounding is that he was still near the height of his powers when the disease cut him down. In 1937 he notched 158 RBIs. The next year he pushed across 114. In 1939, he played in just 8 games. By 1941 he was gone.
Chambliss in 1976
In ’76 Chambliss enjoyed his most productive season of the seven he spent in pinstripes, earning the only all-star distinction of his career. His .293/.323/.441 slash line coupled with career bests in hits (188), doubles (32), triples (8), and RBIs (96) helped lead the Yanks to a 97-62 mark and the division crown, setting up the first match-up of an ALCS trilogy with Kansas City. In the deciding fifth game at the Stadium, the Bombers led 6-3 in the 8th when George Brett knotted the game with a 3-run home run off Grant Jackson.
The score remained deadlocked as the game move to the last of the ninth, setting the stage for one of the Yanks’ most memorable October moments. With 56,821 holding their breath, the hulking lefty sent Mark Littell’s first pitch over the right field wall to unleash bedlam in the Bronx and send the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 1964.
The Bombers would have to wait another year to reclaim the title, courtesy of a Big Red buzz saw, but that result has faded into a mere footnote to Chambliss’ dramatic drive. In much the same way, our selective memories have willingly shoved aside memories of the ’03 Series in favor of Boone’s magic.
The ALCS MVP Award did not come around until 1980, but Chambliss surely would have collected those laurels. The 9th inning home run was merely the exclamation point to a sensational series in which he went 11-for-21 at the plate (.524) with a double, a triple, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs and just 1 strikeout in 22 plate appearances. Though the Yanks were swept by the Reds in the Fall Classic, Chambliss continued his hot hitting with a .313 average.
Since January, the card in raw form has sold between $0.60 and $2.95. A graded PSA 8 sold for $6.95 earlier this month.
A factory set is a complete set released directly from the card manufacturer. Topps was the first to offer this style of product as far back as the ’70s. Factory sets are typically inexpensive as they do not feature any inserts, variations, or short prints, unless specifically included as an enticing bonus. The allure of factory sets for some collectors, especially older sets, is the possibility of finding mint cards worthy of high grades and corresponding high value.