Beginning in 1962 and running through 1982, Topps regaled collectors with multi-player rookie cards that greatly increased the odds of at least one of those dudes hitting it big in the Major Leagues.

Sometimes, two or more of those “prospects” or “rookie stars” would break out to make a single card really sing.

Think Alan Trammell and Paul Molitor in 1978, or Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman in 1968.

Or … Mike Schmidt and Ron Cey in 1973.

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Of course, that “Rookie Third Basemen” card was actually Cey’s second issue, as he had appeared on a similar offering in the 1972 Topps set.

And, also of course, Schmidt went on to become maybe the greatest all-around third baseman of all time.

But what of the third guy on the card?

The San Diego Padres made John Hilton the first overall pick in the January phase of the 1971 MLB Draft, and he cracked the big league roster for the first time late in 1972 after a couple seasons of minor league seasoning.

His .213 batting average in 51 plate appearances for the Friars that September was enough to get him a more extended look in 1973, and also enough to score the center slot on that now-famous rookie card.

Alas, three more rough seasons split between the Majors and the minors left Hilton stranded at Triple-A Hawaii all season in 1976 (yeah, tough place to be “stranded”!).

That October, though, the Toronto Blue Jays were trying frantically to build out their franchise, on the brink of their first-ever season, and the expansion team purchased Hilton’s rights (along with those of catcher Dave Roberts and John Scott) from San Diego.

By that point, folks around the game knew Hilton enough to know that he preferred “Dave” to “John,” and he’d also mostly ditched the horn-rimmed glasses that defined his appearance on early cards.

Also by that point, Topps was scrambling to put together their own Blue Jays lineup, scraping in and processing all the information they could gather.

So …

Here you had a former #1 pick who had appeared on one of their own cards with two great third basemen, heading to a brand new team.

Probably seemed like a slam dunk that Hilton would make the Jays cut, and so he made the 1977 Topps cut:

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And all that stuff we just talked about jumps out at you here, right?

The specs are gone.

John is Dave.

And the Topps airbrushers went to town mocking up a uniform AND cap — though, by the airbrushing standards of the day, this deal wasn’t so hideous.

And, lest you think this can’t be the same dude as the one on the Mike Schmidt rookie card, all you have to do is flip it over, and you can see that four-year Padres run in all its glory.

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But not everyone can stick, not even with an expansion team, and Hilton was gone to the Cleveland Indians by the time the season began. A season at Triple-A Toledo would be followed by two more in Japan.

Then he came back to the States, catching on with the Triple-A Portland Beavers (Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1980 and 1981 before finishing his pro career with the Mexico City Reds in at age 31 in 1982.

He never did score another MLB appearance, or another card … unless of course you count a Senior League issue or two in the early 1990s.

But John Hilton will forever be a part of hobby history, thanks to his front-and-center treatment on a great 1970s rookie card.

And … Dave Hilton will forever be part of hobby history thanks to a gamble that Topps took, and lost.

Wow! Wax of the Day

If you’ve been around the hobby for awhile, you might remember being slightly dumbfounded when you came across some 1977 Topps cards that looked a little … uh .. different.

They *might* have been 1977 Burger King Yankees cards, which featured different photos than the base Topps set in at least some case (Reggie Jackson, for example).

Or they might have been even more exotic … 1977 Topps Cloth Stickers! Those babies look ethereally bright, though orange-ish-yellow, compared to the base set. And, of course, you can see the “threads” on these stickers because … well, they’re cloth.

But the really cool thing is you can occasionally find unopened wax packs of this test issue, like this full box available on eBay.

If you like to see what $1300 or so can buy you in old, unopened oddball baseball cards, check out the full listing (affiliate link).