Hank Aaron. The name itself inspires impressive thoughts. It may trigger a personal memory of the night he hit home run number 715, overtaking the Babe and forever altering the landscape of professional baseball. The name might make you think of the quite dignity he displayed during the home run chase despite burning inside from the torture and abuse handed out by the most ignorant among us. If you’ve been around long enough, you might remember his three home runs against the New York Yankees leading the Braves to victory in the 1957 World Series. Maybe hearing the name sends you into a fit of anger as you think of Barry Bonds and the other roided-up freaks who attacked the record books. Hearing the name might make a younger fan wish he had been born twenty years earlier, just so he could have watched the Hammer play.
For someone who collects team sets of the Atlanta Braves, Hank Aaron is the challenge. He is often the last card to acquire. Aaron rates among the greatest of the greatest and as such, his cards are expensive. While they may seem affordable when compared to his contemporaries Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, they are still the most expensive card to acquire for every Braves team set in which he appears. This often leads to some rather unusual looking team sets. You buy many of the common player cards in excellent condition. The cards are well centered and the edges show only some wear. Then, to complete the team set, you buy a Hank Aaron in awful condition. For most vintage Braves team sets, the common players are in decent shape, the Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn cards are in slightly worse shape, and the Hank Aaron looks like it was carried around in your back pocket.
If the Hank Aaron card is thew single most difficult card to acquire, then it follows that owning his card might inspire you to collect that year’s Braves team set. The thinking here goes, “Hey, I already have the Hank Aaron. I might as well get the rest.” As I continue to build on my own collection of vintage Braves team sets, owning an Aaron already is as good a reason as any to pick a year.
The Atlanta Braves had only played in the state of Georgia for three years before the wild and exciting 1969 season. For the first time, Major League Baseball created divisions and would play a five game championship series between the two division champions in each league. The Braves found themselves playing in the National League West for reasons that, obviously, had nothing to do with geography. For most of the season, the Braves found themselves in a dogfight with the Reds, the Dodgers, the Giants and the Astros. At no point during the season were the Braves ever more than four games out of first. On September 8, they were in fourth place and two games out of first. A six game winning streak pushed the team into first. Three losses in four games would drop the team back to second place, but just a half game out of the lead, tied with the Dodgers. This looked to be one of the first great pennant races.
The Giants would play 7–5 baseball over the season’s final 12 games. Not bad at all. Over the same stretch, the Braves would play eleven games. They lost the last game of the season, but that didn’t matter because, thanks to a ten game winning streak, the Braves had already clinched their division. Phil Niekro, the staff ace, started every third game and won all three, including a defeat over his brother and the Padres. The team would win blowouts by scores of 12–3 and 10–2, but they would also see Pat Jarvis throw a complete game against the Astros and Tom Griffin for a 2–1 victory. The Atlanta Braves were heading to the first National League Championship Series.
Heading into the 8th, the Braves looked ready to take the New York Mets in game 1. The Braves had already touched up Tom Seaver for five runs, and had a 5–4 lead going into the 8th with Niekro on the mound. The game unravelled quickly. The Mets would touch home five times off Niekro that inning. Thanks to errors by the great Orlando Cepeda and Hank Aaron, four of those runs were unearned, but that was of little comfort the Knucksie. Game 2 was a blowout with the Mets plating eleven runs off four different Braves pitchers. Starter Ron Reed didn’t even make it out of the second inning. The only real highlights of the series in the first two games were home runs by Hank Aaron, including a three run shot in the fifth inning of game two. The Braves headed to New York knowing they had to win three straight, or go home.
The Braves took the lead immediately in game three when Hank Aaron followed a Tony Gonzales single with a home run. The Mets wouldn’t stay down for long and touched up Pat Jarvis for a run in the third and two in the fourth. The Braves would retake the lead when Orlando Cepeda blasted a two run homer off of Nolan Ryan, who had entered the game for the Mets in the fifth. The lead would be short lived though as Jarvis couldn’t keep the Mets in check in the bottom of the inning. The Mets wouldn’t lose the lead again. The Braves headed home to Atlanta and the Miracle Mets headed to their first World Series.
It would take thirteen seasons for the Braves to appear in the post-season again.
If you want to start building Braves team sets, you can take several different approaches. For those sets released from the mid 1970s through today, you might be better off just buying the team set complete. You will usually find these team sets at a slight discount when compared to buying each card individually. There are many sellers that sell team sets on eBay, and you can often find a great deal this way. If you don’t want to waste your time following auctions hoping for the best deal, you can also purchase a team set from a retailer who specializes in team sets. I highly recommend Team Sets 4 U. They have some older team sets, but you can find almost any team set you need from the mid 70s on here.
Of course, if you already have 14 cards towards the 1982 Topps Atlanta Braves set, I wouldn’t recommend buying the set. When you are looking to complete a team set of more recent vintage, let’s say from 1980 on, I also don’t recommend buying the cards individually. Here, you will spend a major chuck of money. Either buy a large lot of cards you need at once, or look for someone to trade with. Trading on the internet is not hard. Sign up with one the free blogging services and post your trade lists and your want lists. Search for other traders and never hesitate to make an offer. When you are an unknown quantity, some may wait to receive cards from you before sending yours out, but it’s still worth it. Once established, you may have more trade offers than you have time to finish them.
For vintage Braves team sets, I recommend the cheap boxes at card shows. You can get yourself a stack of vintage Braves for very little money. As for which vintage team set to complete, I have no recommendation. If you have a vintage Aaron, Mathews or Spahn, then you have the perfect card to start building a team set around. If there’s a year that’s simply special to you, rather for a baseball reason or not, that still might be a good year to collect the Braves team set. There are no hard and fast rules here, just go with what will give you the most pleasure.
When you are looking to fill out and complete your team sets, I recommend card shows rather than eBay, unless you can find multiple cards from the same seller. Two internet retailers, Sportlots and Check Out My Cards, are great places to find multiple vintage cards. Plus, if you are looking for a jump start on a specific year’s team set, check out Dean’s Cards. They sell starter set lots of many old Braves cards. It’s a great and affordable way to start building to that team set.
Are there any vintage Braves team sets you are looking to complete? Are there any you’ve already completed? Let me know in the comments. Include pictures if you’ve got them!
The 1969 Braves team set illustrates two of the more frustrating things about older Topps cards. In the shots from the team set below, check out the strip of cards with Wayne Causey, Bob Tillman and Milt Pappas. No hat! Topps often took pictures of players without their hats in case they were traded. I don’t think we can be sure that any of these guys is wearing a Braves jersey. What did Topps do if they didn’t have a hatless photo of a player? Check out the strip of cards with Bob Johnson, Lum Harris and Sonny Jackson. These are prime example of the bad airbrushing for which Topps was known. The goal was simply to rid the player of their hat. The color used was often associated with the player’s new team, but even that was never a guarantee. They’ve certainly gotten better at airbrushing over the years.
1969 Topps Atlanta Braves Checklist
- 33 Wayne Causey
- 53 Sonny Jackson
- 79 Milt Pappas
- 100 Hank Aaron
- 128 Tommie Aaron
- 154 Jim Britton
- 177 Ron Reed
- 196 Lum Harris
- 210 Felix Millan
- 238 Ken Johnson
- 261 Bob Johnson
- 282 Pat Jarvis
- 300 Felipe Alou
- 331 Rookie Stars - Gil Garrido / Tom House
- 355 Phil Niekro
- 374 Bob Tillman
- 385 Orlando Cepeda
- 398 Tito Francona
- 446 Claude Raymond
- 489 Clete Boyer
- 514 Mike Lum
- 542 Bob Aspromonte
- 568 Cecil Upshaw
- 590 Rico Carty
- 611 Rookie Stars - Bob Didier / Walt Hriniak / Gary Neibauer
- 627 George Stone