Quick hobby quiz: which Sandy Koufax baseball card was the last to show him as an active player?
If you know your baseball history, then you’ll remember that Koufax retired at the age of the 30 after the 1966 season, which might prompt you to answer, “1967 Topps.”
And that’s correct, sort of.
Had Koufax played today, his elbow woes likely wouldn’t have ended his career so early. But if he did somehow end up on the shelf after a half-decade of dominance, you can bet that card makers would scramble to pay tribute to the man who went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA and 1713 strikeouts in 1632 innings over a six year span.
He probably would land on Topps’ #1 card and might even warrant his own set (see Nolan Ryan for a modern example).
And that’s exactly what happened in 1967 … again, “sort of.”
Back in those days, Topps strove to present the group of players that collectors would be watching everyday in the upcoming season. So, unless a retiree waited until Spring Training to make his announcement, chances are he would be shut out of the set issued the year after his final game.
For more seasoned vets who were riding out the string, that meant collectors might not even get a whiff of their cardboard heroes the next year, except for maybe a team card.
Koufax did get that treatment, courtesy of card #503 of the Dodgers.
But Koufax had been darn near unhittable in 1966, turning in perhaps his finest season en route to a third Cy Young award in four seasons. As a consequence, he appeared on 1967 Topps League Leaders cards as the top NL man for wins (27), strikeouts (317), and ERA (1.73) — the pitcher’s Triple Crown!
So cards 234, 236, and 238 were a Koufax tribute in a sense, but even his historic final campaign and his utter mastery on the mound during the 1960s weren’t enough for the Old Gum Company to flout their own unwritten rules.
Sandy did appear in cartoon form — complete with Groucho Marx getup — within a separate goofy Topps set called “Who Am I” that year.
But there was no dedicated 1967 Topps Sandy Koufax card.
Or was there?
El Zurdo Fabuloso
Perhaps recognizing the burgeoning baseball talent in Latin America, Topps ventured into the Venezuelan market from 1959-68 to produce parallels to its base American sets.
In 1967, that effort included three separate issues: a Venezuelan League series, showcasing Winter League players; a Retirado series, featuring retired stars; and a third series that included active Major Leaguers.
That middle series contained 50 cards of retired Latin standouts and some of the biggest stars from the game’s past, including Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams … and Sandy Koufax.
The basic design of the Koufax card — and the others — is similar in its simplicity to Topps’ 1967 base set: player name in small black letters at the top and “RETIRADO” in large pink block letters at the bottom, where you might have expected to find “DODGERS” had Koufax been included in the American Topps set.
Photos in the Retirado set are distinctive, though, and impart a different feel than other cards in the set. Sepia images set off by a bold blue background give the pasteboards the feel of a modern art project built on the shoulders of vintage newspapers. Unusual camera angles add to the effect, as can be seen on Koufax’s card, where Sandy’s serious visage looms in the background as he gives us a closeup look at his grip on the baseball.
Card backs are printed horizontally with black Spanish text on a gray/beige background, all set off by thick green borders.
The cards are numbered sequentially throughout the the three Venezuelan series, and Koufax’s #162 is one of the more popular among collectors, having been submitted for grading to PSA more than any other card except Lou Gehrig (#141) and Mickey Mantle (#192). Even so, only 16 of the Koufax cards have been slabbed and none have graded out better than NM.
If you’re putting together a complete run of Koufax cards, that scarcity will add to your challenge, as the ’67 Venezuelan appears in the lefty’s “master set” listing in the PSA Card Set Registry. According to the company’s “Card Facts” page, a NM specimen would set you back around $3000, but the truth is that it comes to market so infrequently — in any condition — that there
are no true parameters for judging the cards’ value.
What we do know for sure is that if you want a single, dedicated 1967 Sandy Koufax baseball card, the Topps Venezuelan Retirado is really the only game in town.