(Check out complete guide to Mickey Mantle baseball cards here.)

In many ways, the 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card was a product of its times.

Consider …

If there was one word to describe the American cultural atmosphere in the spring of 1968, it was “change.”

On March 31, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election in that November’s election, sending the political world into a tizzy and helping thrust Robert F. Kennedy even further into the national spotlight.

In June, RFK would be assassinated, cutting short a promising political career and Presidential run that likely opened the White House for Richard Nixon.

All across the nation, young people — male and female — were growing their hair long, smoking funny things, and generally rejecting the stodgy mores of their parents and grandparents.

1968 Topps Mickey Mantle

On the baseball diamond, the New York Yankees were coming off their third losing season in a row, an unthinkable atrocity that had not befallen the Bombers since the 1912 Highlanders bled into the 1913 and 1914 Yanks. It wouldn’t happen again until the early 1990s, just before the latest dynasty began.

A large part of the blame for New York’s poor fortunes during that stretch from 1965 through 1967 could be hefted on the creaky knees of Mantle, their legendary center-fielder-turned-left-fielder-turned-first-baseman.

The effects of an early-career injury, compounded by years of pounding the outfield and the basepaths, not to mention the beers (and other things) after work, left Mantle hobbled and a shadow of the man who might have been the greatest ever.

In 1965, Mantle was just 33 years old but managed only 19 home runs to go with a bleh .255 average in 122 games. The next year saw a rebound in his numbers — 23 dingers and a .288 BA, but he played in only 108 games.

Then, in 1967, the 35-year-old Mick managed to stay mostly in one piece and on the field thanks to a move to first. In 144 games, he connected for 22 home runs although with an anemic .245 batting average. His discerning did helpoffset that deficiency with 107 walks.

And it was in that state that collectors found Mantle when they pulled his 1968 Topps card from wax packs as the season loomed that spring.

For the first time ever, The Mick was listed at “1st BASE” on the front of his Topps pasteboard.

The numbers on the back of the card looked all wrong– so few games and homers, such a small batting average. And a trivia question about pitchers? On Mickey Mantle‘s baseball card?

Blasphemy!

When the shock of the shifting Mantle wore off, collectors were left to ponder the card itself as a representative of the changing times from which it sprang.

While the Yankees were busy falling apart in the mid-1960s, Topps was doing its best to represent the staid establishment.

From the rah-rah pennants of the 1965 set to the muted color-coded 1966s, to the full-bleed images of 1967, Topps was steady and conservative.

But those 1968 cards … um … burlap borders? Was that really the look that T.C.G. was going for?

Who knows for sure, but it’s the look they got.

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear collectors who say they love the 1968 design, but those folks …

1) started collecting that year and are blinded by nostalgia

2) also love black olives

OR

3) are lying.

1968 Topps Mickey Mantle (back)

Regardless of what you think of the 1968 Topps design, though, you have to admit a few things …

They’re very different than what came before them, which might have been refreshing at the time.

They were a harbinger of the psychedelic choices Topps made during the 1970s.

Old man Mickey Mantle looks pretty darn good wrapped in burlap there on card #280.

He’s in his left-handed stance, steely gaze focused on something — beer seller? girl? ghost of Babe Ruth? — way off to his right. A gorgeous blue sky is punctuated by a pennant flapping in the breeze and using Mantle’s bat as its pole.

Mantle is ready to unload on a pitch, and it all looks powerful and dignified and right. And you think, maybe, The Mick has a few more years left in him.

He didn’t.

Although Mantle made it into another 144 games in 1968 and hit his final 18 home runs to help the Yankees climb back into the winners bracket, he announced his retirement a month before the 1969 season began.

That late decision led Topps to go ahead and issue a Mantle card in its 1969 set and also bestowed a special designation on the 1968 version.

Because, that 1968 Topps card was the last one collectors could pull from packs in the afternoon while Mantle would be in the Yanks’ lineup that night, even if they didn’t know it at the time.

And, all things considered — the funky borders, the anemic numbers, the alien position listing — the card did its business in style.

Burlap never looked so good.

(Check out complete guide to Mickey Mantle baseball cards here.)

1968 Topps MICKEY MANTLE Baseball Card #280 Very Nice

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1968 Topps Mickey Mantle Baseball Card, New York Yankees, #280, PSA 2

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1968 Topps Mickey Mantle New York Yankees #280 Baseball Card

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1968 Topps #280 Mickey Mantle New York Yankees HOF PSA 2 GOOD

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