The 1980 Topps Unissued Billy Martin Yankees Team Card

A few rare cards have managed to trickle into the hobby despite Topps intention not to release them. These cards were usually caught and updated or removed from production in the proof phase of the printing process. Topps had to make set modifications because of player rights (like the 1974 Topps Joe Namath card), trades (like the 1977 Topps Reggie Jackson and 1967 Topps Roger Maris cards), or printing errors. But in the case of the 1980 Topps Yankees Team Card, it was because of another reason entirely.

Billy Martin played 11 seasons of Major League Baseball, winning five World Series championships with the Yankees and finishing his career as a .257 hitter with 64 home runs and 333 RBIs.

1952 Topps #175 Billy Martin

But, it was Martin’s behavior as a manager who was often fired amid a scandal that led to the 1980 Topps Yankees Team Card proof.

You see, Martin’s first stint as Yankees Manager (after having already been the manager of the Twins, Tigers, and Rangers) was from 1975-1978. He resigned for health reasons in July of 1978, but he was probably going to be fired for cause if he hadn’t. After a lot more drama (which you can read about on Martin’s Wikipedia page), Steinbrenner brought Martin back as manager in June of 1979 to finish out that year after the Yankees’ slow start under manager Bob Lemon. Martin closed out the 1979 season with a 55-40 record. However, he was fired again in October 1979 for punching out a marshmallow salesman, which you can read about in a Lodi News-Sentinel article from October 31, 1979.

Lodi News-Sentinel Article About the Billy Martin Fight

Unfortunately for Topps, in October of 1979, they were already in the middle of the 1980 set’s production. However, they were probably only in the proofing phase because all of the known examples of the Yankees Team card with Billy Martin on it have blank backs.

1980 Topps Yankees Team Billy Martin Proof – Front
1980 Topps Yankees Team Billy Martin Proof – Reverse

By the time Topps issued the 1980 set, Martin had already been replaced on the card by rookie manager Dick Howser. 

1980 Topps #424 Yankees Team with Dick Howser – Front
1980 Topps #424 Yankees Team with Dick Howser – Reverse

Now, there have only been a handful of public sales of Billy Martin’s 1980 Topps Yankees Team card.

In December 2003, Lelands auctioned off an uncut proof sheet with the Billy Martin variation. Bidders didn’t meet the reserve on this auction, but the description said the sheet was stamped “August 1989 Topps Auction NYC” on the back, referring to the famous Guernsey’s auction full of items from the Topps Archives; I’ve included a photo from that catalog showing the 1980 Topps baseball uncut sheets that were up for auction below.

1980 Topps Proof Sheet – Lelands
Guernsey’s Topps Auction – Baseball Production Material

In that same Lelands auction, they sold a lot of 78 1980-1983 Topps Archives uncut sheets for $926, including nine 1980 Topps progressives with the Billy Martin card.

A few years later, Robert Edward Auctions sold what appears to be a different 1980 Topps uncut proof sheet with the unissued Martin card for $406 in the spring of 2005 (you can see a corner is missing on Leland’s sheet but not on this one).

1980 Topps Proof Sheet – REA

Finally, the last public sale of a 1980 Topps Yankees Team card with Billy Martin listed as the manager was from a 2016 REA auction lot of eight 1980-1984 Topps proof cards. The lot included a black-only and blackless progressive proof and sold for $1080.

1980 Topps Yankees Team Billy Martin Proof – Black Only
1980 Topps Yankees Team Billy Martin Proof – Blackless

You can find a few more examples shared on vintage sports card forums, and as far as we know, the card only exists as a blank-backed proof and never made it into packs. So it’s not a variation that I would say is needed for a complete set; it’s just an unpublished proof. But that’s not to say the card doesn’t have a great story and isn’t a great card to own. Happy collecting!

PS: Martin went on to manage the Athletics from 1980-1982 and returned to manage the Yankees in 1983, 1985, and 1988.

Leave a Reply