Thurman Munson was a great catcher and is a popular figure among sports card collectors. Munson’s rookie card, the 1970 Topps #189, is popular, but his 1971 Topps card has become sort of legendary. So, in this article, I’ll take a closer look at Munson’s 1971 Topps and 1971 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) baseball cards. First, I’ll share a brief biography of Munson, and then, I’ll delve into the specifics of the 1971 Topps and 1971 OPC sets. Finally, I’ll compare Munson’s cards from both sets, sharing recent sales and highlighting what makes each card unique.
First, a bit of motivation for this article. I wrote the article from the other week about 13 Incredible O-Pee-Chee Uncut Sheets, within which there’s a 1971 OPC baseball sheet featuring Munson’s 1971 classic card. Then, MOReilly_58 tweeted about horizontal Yankees’ 1971 OPC cards, highlighting their fantastic backs. This prompted me to see how much I’ve written about Munson on the blog, and it turns out there are just three places where he shows up across the hundreds of articles and pages; twice in the oddball archive (1978 Big T, and 1978 Papa Gino’s Discs) and in a single article about 10 Key Baseball Rookie Cards of Players Not in the Hall of Fame. I had to add more Munson to my site!
Munson was born on June 7, 1947, in Akron, Ohio, and went on to play for the New York Yankees from 1969 to 1979, where he became the team’s captain and won three Gold Glove awards. Munson was a seven-time All-Star and the 1976 American League MVP. He died tragically in a plane crash on August 2, 1979, at the age of 32. Munson’s remembered as one of the greatest catchers in Yankees history who retired his uniform number, 15, and dedicated a plaque to him in Monument Park.
While Munson’s rookie card appeared in the 1970 Topps set, he shared it with Dave McDonald, and a lot of collectors now prefer the 1971 Topps All-Star Rookie instead. Plus, the 1971 Topps set is a lot more popular today due to its unique design and player selection. It includes a record-breaking 752 cards in the checklist, making it one of the largest sets of all time. Additionally, the set’s black border design makes it highly condition-sensitive, meaning that finding high-quality cards can be challenging for collectors. The set also features action shots of players, a departure from previous years when action photography was only used in subsets. The backs of the cards feature a green background with a photo of the player but lack season-by-season statistics due to space limitations.
The 1971 O-Pee-Chee set essentially mirrors Topps’ 752-card checklist, with the same easily chipped black bordered fronts. But they were rarely cut as neatly and are often found with a frayed border. The difference comes on the backs, which also have a black-and-white player headshot, a short biography, and basic vitals, but were printed with a yellow background rather than a green one and have a line that they were Printed in Canada. Also, the backs are printed in French and English; however, cards after number 524 only have English. The Canadian variant, as we will see in Munson’s PSA pop count, is far scarcer than the Topps cards.
Both sets’ most iconic card is Munson’s All-Star Rookie Card, which shows him making a play against an Oakland Athletics base runner in an iconic horizontal photograph.
While the card’s Topps and OPC versions share the same front with Munson’s facsimile autograph, the backs have slightly different formats, as I described previously. I prefer the OPC backs. Munson’s floating head centered on the sun-style white background pops a little better, and the symmetry of the back of the OPC card, brought about through the need to include both French and English, makes for a more appealing look when you flip the card over.
The 1971 Topps #5 Thurman Munson All-Star Rookie card has been graded over 4000 times by PSA, with 127 NM-MT 8s, four Mint 9s, and zero Gem Mint 10s.
Heritage Auctions has sold two PSA 9s in the past few years; this one with a newer flip sold for $150k in July 2021.
And this older flip copy sold for $199,999.20 in May 2022. Like I said, the card is pretty legendary.
Under 200 PSA-graded copies of the 1971 O-Pee-Chee #5 Thurman Munson All-Star Rookie exist; that’s less than 5% of the Topps population for the card and includes a single 9, four 8s, and 18 7s.
Mile High Card Company sold the PSA 9 for “just” $4633.86, but that was over a decade ago in 2011
And this 8 was sold on eBay in February 2018 for $2025.
Thurman Munson’s 1971 Topps and O-Pee-Chee baseball cards are highly sought after by collectors due to his popularity and the unique design of both sets. The black border design of the 1971 Topps set and the rarity of the 1971 O-Pee-Chee set make these cards valuable additions to any collection. Happy collecting, and don’t forget to check out The Post War Cards Newsletter.