These days, collectors have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to the mixing of eras in their (not) wax packs.

I mean, one day, you might find a 1985 Donruss card (or facsimile thereof) of Sandy Koufax, and the next, you might uncover Juan Soto doing his best Mario Soto rookie card impression, blasting out from a 1978 Topps design.

And when you add in all the “cards that never were” you can find online, and the art cards, and the super-limited-edition cards … well, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s real and what’s not.

That must have been the sort of feeling that welled up in kids when they were shuffling through their fresh-from-the-pack 1976 Topps cards in that now-long-ago Bicentennial summer, too.

There you were, marveling at that gritty Johnny Bench card, or foaming at the mouth thinking about the gaudy future that lay ahead of “1976 ROOKIE PITCHERS” like Don Aase, or shoving that AL home run leaders card in your friend’s face — “TOLD you George Scott was going to be the next Reggie Jackson.”

There you were doing all that when — BOOM! — an ancient, and probably priceless, black-and-white relic from baseball’s prehistoric days slapped you across the face.

A relic like card #342, featuring Rogers Hornsby:

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Was the card real? A joke? Some sort of ruse to swindle collectors somehow?

And just who was Rogers Hornsby, anyway?

When you flipped the card over, you got at least some hint of the answers you sought:

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The card back had the 1976 Topps color scheme, and the “TOPPS CHEWING GUM” copyright line, and a real card number (the aforementioned #342).

It seemed real … but what were the The Sporting News All-Time All-Stars?

Neither the card back nor the red, white, and blue front gave any real indication of that, other than to lay out Hornsby’s full statistical claim to the honor the way only Topps could: .358 lifetime average, 2930 hits, 541 doubles, seven batting titles, including three times over .400.

Plus, election to the Hall of Fame in 1942.

So, even if you didn’t know anything about Hornsby before stumbling across that card, it was easy to see why he might be considered an All-Time All-Star.

Of course, these days, it’s easy enough to look up the full checklist (and maybe you were “lucky” enough to pull one from a wax pack back then) and see the full lineup:

  • 1B – Lou Gehrig (#341)
  • 2B – Roger Hornsby (#342)
  • 3B – Pie Traynor (#343)
  • SS – Honus Wagner (#344)
  • RF – Babe Ruth (#345)
  • CF – Ty Cobb (#346)
  • LF – Ted Williams (#347)
  • C – Mickey Cochrane (#348)
  • RHP – Walter Johnson (#349)
  • LHP – Lefty Grove (#350)

Even if Hornsby was an unknown to you, chances are you knew something about Gehrig and Ruth and Cobb and Williams, and maybe some others.

So, yes, this really did look like an All-Time All-Star team, huh?

And, though we’d probably make some pretty different choices if we were picking our top ten today, this team would still make a pretty good showing against whoever we could throw out there.

Manning the keystone would be good old Rogers, whose 1976 Topps card checks in around $15 in PSA 8 these days, jumping up to the $60 range in PSA 9, and more than $300 for a perfect 10.

Not too bad for a card that wasn’t even real, huh?

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