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Baseball card collectors and Brooks Robinson fans must have been excited as they started to skim through the 1978 Topps checklist.  The legendary Baltimore Orioles third baseman checked in with a Record Breaker card at #4, which had to bode well for the number of B. Robby cards in the set … right?

After all, Robinson, a surefire future Hall of Famer, had put the finishing touches on one of the most storied careers of the last half of the 20th century in 1977.

That was the 23rd summer in a row that Robinson pulled on his Birds jersey and took his place at the hot corner, which established a new record for consecutive seasons with one team.

It was a feat of longevity that Topps just had to recognize in their the following spring, in that aforementioned RB card. Here, see for yourself:

1978 Topps Brooks Robinson Record Breaker

Of course, by that point, Topps and Robinson had a long history together, stretching all the way back to his 1957 rookie card:


1957 Topps Brooks Robinson


Robinson had played a few games in Baltimore during both 1955 and 1956, but it wasn’t until ’57 that he logged enough time in the Majors to exhaust his rookie eligibility. By the end of that summer, he had made his way into 71 games and hit a paltry .218 with just three home runs.

It was a shaky start, for sure, but the kid was just 20 years old and he flashed some wicked leather in the field. Even then, folks were talking about his iron-trap glove and Jeep-inspired range.

If only he could get his bat going!

Things still weren’t looking too good at the plate for Robinson after a full 1958 season in Baltimore produced a .237 average and three more dingers. And things especially weren’t looking good in 1959 when the O’s sent him down to the Triple-A Vancouver Mounties for 42 games.

But whether it was the fear of losing his MLB dream or the tutelage of Mounties coaches, Robinson found his stroke down on the farm.

That summer, he hit .331 in the minors and .284 with four homers in 88 games back with Baltimore.

Robinson was still just 22 years old … and ready to rock and roll.

In 1960, he started 152 games at the hot corner and pulled his average up to .294 while adding in 14 bombs.

He also made his first All-Star team,

And finished third in the American League MVP voting.

And won his first Gold Glove award.


1960 Topps Brooks Robinson


Over the next 17 seasons, the man who would become known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” would become one of the brightest stars in the baseball firmament as his Orioles grew into perennial winners.

Consider just some of the developments from 1961 through 1977…

The Orioles won four American League pennants and two World Series titles.

Robinson picked up 15 more Gold Gloves, for a total of 16, most among third basemen.

Robinson won the 1964 AL MVP award even though the Orioles finished third in the American League standings.

Even with a few lean years in the middle and the predictable decline at the end of his career, Robinson collected 2848 hits and batted .267 in nearly 11,000 career plate appearances.

Robinson maintained his power stroke in good enough shape to connect for 268 long balls over his 23 seasons in the Bigs.

And if you’re more Sabermetrically inclined, you’ll be happy to learn that Mr. Impossible knew how to draw a walk, finishing with a .322 OBP and a 104 OPS+.

Robinson also backed up that sterling defensive reputation of his with cold, hard numbers — he was worth something like 35 wins above a replacement player (WAR) with the glove during his career, which contributed mightily to his roughly 78 overall WAR .

Not surprisingly, fans and collectors fell in love with Robinson over the years.

And Topps was happy to oblige that fandom with several iconic cards of Brooks over the years, including that 1957 rookie card, the 1967 high number that still carries huge premiums today, and the unforgettable “desert crawl” card from the 1971 Topps World Series subset:


1971 Topps World Series Brooks Robinson


But for most of their history, Topps maintained an implicit policy regarding player in sets — specifically, if T.C.G. knew that a player would not be in the Majors during a given year, they wouldn’t issue a card for said player.

And that put a severe damper on career-capper cards for some of the game’s all-time greats.

Sandy Koufax, for instance, didn’t get a final card in 1967 that showed all of his Major League stats because he announced his retirement after the 1966 season.

Hank Aaron didn’t get a career-capper card, either.

Willie Mays didn’t get one.

And, as it turned out, neither did Brooks Robinson.

Because, while Topps was happy to fill in the front of their set with the Robinson Record Breaker card, he had made the mistake of retiring after the 1977 season. And telling people about it.

So, instead of a career-capper with full stats, we are left with this compelling prose from the back of Robinson’s RB card:


1977 Topps Brooks Robinson Record Breaker (back)


It’s anticlimactic at best, and maybe even insulting. You get the feeling, reading to the bottom of this card, that the text was originally much longer and simply truncated when Topps ran out of room.


Now, collectors with a keen eye did find a bit of consolation later in the 1978 Topps set, on card #96 of the full Orioles team:


1978 Topps Baltimore Orioles


In case you missed him, Robinson is there on the right-hand side of the front row in his familiar #5 jersey.  And this would be his last active-player card, even though he doesn’t appear on the card back:


1978 Topps Baltimore Orioles (back)


So, while we didn’t get to see a final full-blown Brooks Robinson baseball card, at least we got a nifty Larry Harlow.

Awesome trade!


(Check out our other player card posts here.)




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