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The Topps Home Run Books and the 1981 and 1985 Topps Games that Won Them

I’ve been consistently adding to my hobby library for the past 18 months, so from time to time, I will search eBay with keywords like ‘Topps,’ ‘book,’ ‘catalog,’ and ‘guide.’ In doing so, I ran across a book called “The Home Run Book” with a Topps logo in the top left corner.

The Home Run Book – 1981

Not knowing what it was, but presuming it was relevant to my collecting goals, I ordered a copy. After it showed up, I shared a photo of the cover on Twitter, and a collector responded that it was a prize from the 1981 Topps baseball set. After looking into the set a little further, I noticed that Topps ran a similar promotion in 1985 (so I picked that version up too).

The Home Run Book – 1985

First, let’s talk about the 1981 book. Zander Hollander edited it; he was incredibly important to sports fans, before the internet, as an editor and publisher of sports books. He was often called the unofficial kind of sports paperbacks and ran Associated Features Inc. out of New York City. The book’s introduction closes with the following paragraph:

Baseball has known dramatic home runs like the one Bobby Thomson hit for the New York Giants in 1951 and the one which, correctly or not, has gone down in history as having been “called” by Ruth just before he hit it. There have been long homers and short ones, lucky ones, funny ones, foul balls that became homers only because the umpire is always right, homers inside the park, even homers that climbed over the wall. Put them all together and they spell THE HOME RUN BOOK.

Zander Hollander

Over the following 90ish pages are words about the home run pioneers, short biographies of players who hit a lot of homers, the best home run teams, and a whole lot more, all related to the home run, of course. I particularly like that the last page is a giant photo of Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese pro who retired in 1980 with 868 homers. Hollander updated the 1985 copy, but the theme was the same. A nice touch was that the 1985 book included players’ baseball cards instead of regular photographs, as the 1981 book used.

In 1981 and 1985, collectors won the game through game cards that Topps inserted in packs of cards.

The 1981 game was called “Hit to Win.”

1981 Topps Baseball Wrapper

The wrappers stated that one game card was inside every specially marked pack of Topps baseball cards and instructed collectors to “Rub off each batter.” If you got a hit, you won the displayed prize.

I think it’s funny (but I’m sure folks think my hobby library is funny, too!) that someone graded an unscratched Hit to Win Scratch game card, so here is an example of the front and back.

1981 Topps Hit to Win Game Card – Front
1981 Topps Hit to Win Game Card – Reverse

On the back, you can see that Topps had 2k Gloves, 12k bats, 25k balls, 500k books, and 2,473,050 photos available, meaning that the odds of hitting a prize was 1 in 17. Specifically, for the Home Run Book, the odds were 1 in 100.

Winners got the following congratulations card from Topps with their win.

1981 Topps Hit to Win Game Congratulations Card

Unfortunately, the Topps Hit to Win game expired in September 1981, so you’ll have to buy your own copy of the book today.

I suspect the promotion was successful because Topps mimicked it in 1985 with the Winning Pitch Game, where fans could win a trip for 4 to the 1986 All-Star Game, along with instant win prizes like 2k gloves and 150k Home Run Books.

1985 Topps Winning Pitch Game Card – Front
1985 Topps Winning Pitch Game Card – Reverse

Like in 1981, the 1985 Topps baseball wrappers advertised the Winning Pitch Baseball Game. It was a lot harder to win a Home Run Book in 1985 at just 1 in 134, but Topps extended the game until December in 1985, compared to September in 1981.

1985 Topps Baseball Wrapper

A pretty cool collectible, the art productions for the 1985 book have been for sale on eBay for a little while.

1985 Topps The Home Run Book Art Production – Example 1
1985 Topps The Home Run Book Art Production – Example 2

There are loads of these Home Run books available on eBay and Amazon, so it seems that Topps fulfilled their promotions, which I heard is a little less of a guarantee with today’s pack redemptions. Anyway, it was fun to learn a little something more about early 80s Topps giveaways. The 1981 and 1985 Topps Home Run books are great items for a bit of baseball nostalgia; I highly recommend picking both up. Happy Collecting!

PS: it’s interesting that in 1981 Topps printed 500k copies of the book and advertised 1 in 100 odds of winning and that in 1985, Topps printed 150k copies of the book with 1 in 134 odds of winning. I wonder how close the advertised odds are to the actual sports card print runs?

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