With the NFL season kicking off and fantasy sports being as popular as they are, I thought it would be fun to draft sports card decades across the four major sports. I’m matching the four major sports (Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Hockey) with the four major post-war decades (the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s). With the caveat that I can only use each sport and each decade once. So here’s my prioritized sports card draft over the first four full, post-war decades.
First Pick: 1950s Baseball
It’s hard to argue against early 1950s baseball cards, and it’s my favorite post-war decade and sport. 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps are two of the most iconic sets ever produced. Topps and Bowman really didn’t swing and miss the entire decade (save for the 1955 Bowman design perhaps not standing the test of time – though some say that’s what makes it charming). Plus, 1950s Baseball is full of iconic players like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, and Roberto Clemente, among many others.
Second Pick: 1970s Basketball
I’ve talked a lot about how much I like this era of cards and how underappreciated I think they are. When it comes to 1970s Topps basketball, you have the balance of tallboys, iconic players, smaller set sizes, and low print numbers. Plus, the look of the cards and the player poses match the era so well. Many financially driven collectors might go with 1980s Basketball. While the 1980 and 1981 Topps basketball sets are interesting, and the Fleer sets later in the decade are popular today, the designs and print volumes don’t excite me like those from the 1970s. Plus, I think the argument about 1980s Basketball is a lot more about a single card, the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan.
Third Pick: 1960s Hockey
Next, I’m going with 1960s Hockey, and part of this reasoning is to avoid getting stuck with 1980s Hockey. That said, there are some iconic sets in this decade. The 56-card 1962 Parkhurst set is hard to find in top condition, the 1968 Topps/OPC “split” set the stage for the future of hockey sets, the 1964 Topps set is desirable and pre-dated tall boy football and basketball sets – and it features 11 short prints that are a fun challenge in the hobby. On top of that, as a fan of unopened material, 1960s Hockey is notoriously rare.
Additionally, I recently started collecting checklists pretty seriously, and the 1964 Topps Hockey checklists are a pair of the most iconic in that hobby niche.
Fourth Pick: 1980s Football
Honestly, I was pretty ambivalent about my football decade. And while vintage Football is probably the sport I know least about, I think 1980s football cards have many strengths. There are at least four pretty iconic sets, 1981, 1984, and 1986 Topps, and the 1989 Score football set was pretty game-changing for the hobby. It would be tough to go wrong having a collection with Montana, Elway, Marino, Rice, and Sanders rookie cards.
Technically there are 24 different ways to slice this exercise (assuming order matters), but 1950s Baseball, 1970s Basketball, 1960s Hockey, and 1980s Football is my favorite grouping. How would you match the four major sports and the four decades? Let me know down in the comments, and don’t forget to check out a new section of the website, the Unopened Archive, for what I’m slowly building into the ultimate source of unopened vintage sports card photos.