The World Series has always been fertile ground for baseball history … not surprising considering the Fall Classic and its statistics have always been treated as something apart from the rest of the baseball season.
Most strikeouts … in a World Series game.
Most home runs … in World Series play.
First no-hitter … in World Series history.
All accomplishments that would have been lauded in the regular season but ones that became downright legendary in the bright lights of October.
Given this doing-its-own-thing nature of the Series, it’s not surprising that you can find some sort of “first” or record-breaking performance just about every fall.
Those new things aren’t always tied directly to a specific player, either.
In the late 1960s, the Cincinnati Reds put a plan in motion that would start to pay off in 1970, and their newfound success in the new decade also set up yet another World Series first.
Find 1971 Topps World Series on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1971 Topps World Series on Amazon (affiliate link)
That summer, the young Reds tore through the National League to the tune of a 102-60 record on the backs of superstars (and budding superstars) like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Davey Concepcion, and Tony Perez.
Halfway through the season, the Reds also moved into their new stadium, abandoning the cozy confines of Crosley Field for the sprawling, ultra-modern, multipurpose spaceship of Riverfront Stadium.
Heck, just a couple weeks after Cincy played their first game in their shiny new ballpark, they even hosted the All-Star Game there!
But that high-profile July christening did foreshadow another splash of spotlight for the young stadium.
After the Reds took the NL West by 14.5 games, they swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series to set up a World Series showdown with the 108-win Baltimore Orioles (who had swept the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS).
As it turned out, the Reds weren’t quite ready to be The Big Red Machine, and the O’s took them out in five game … but not before a little history passed under their respective spikes.
Because, when Reds hurler Gary Nolan delivered the first pitch of Game 1 to Orioles leftfielder Don Buford, it marked the first time a World Series had been played on artificial turf.
And, of course, every first out, every hit, every strikeout in that game, became another first — the first World Series out on turf, for example.
Back in those days, of course, Topps chronicled every World Series game with a card in the next year’s base set, and the 1970 World Series was no exception.
And, so, we have the the famous “Brooks Robinson in the desert” card in the black-bordered 1971 Topps set commemorating Game 5, at #331. But the real history came four cards earlier, the one marking that Game 1 in Cincy (#327).
Because that’s the card that shows Boog Powell at the plate, ready to connect on an opposite-field home run in the fourth inning. Ah, but that was the second homer of the game — Reds first baseman Lee May had already connected in the third.
What the Powell card does show, though, is a swatch of the “grass” around Riverfront’s home plate, the first baseball card to feature artificial turf in a World Series.
And just like that, cardboard history was born.
Wow! Wax of the Day
Unopened wax packs from that black-bordered 1971 Topps set occasionally hit the market, and they bring big bucks when they do (and when they are judged to be authentic). More commonly seen and just as gorgeous are 1971 Topps wax wrappers, sans cards, like the one offered in this eBay lot (affiliate link).
Great 70s colors, even if there’s no cardboard inside! Check out the full listing here (affiliate link).