#CardCorner: 1978 Topps Rico Carty
Before OPS, fWAR and algorithms that would have made a high school calculus teacher toss her protractor across the classroom, there was the basic arithmetic of hits divided by at-bats. And if that math resulted in a number of .300 or greater, that hitter was a star – no questions asked.
Which brings us to Rico Carty and his wonderful 1978 Topps card.
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First, let’s get to the only issue with this offering… really, the only complaint about the ’78 Topps set: The border/team name color combos.
Some, like red border/purple team names and the gold border/brown team names were brilliant – especially when paired with a team that had a matching color. But the pink and green combo, which was featured on the Indians cards (and other teams like the Astros), made no sense at all.
Carty, depicted in the Indians’ dark blue top and white pants of the time, looked like he should have been pictured on a side of an ice cream truck. Great photo, but a strange color scheme.
Ah, but what a photo. The photographer captures Carty – who appears to be facing the home-plate backstop at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum – in the follow-through of his powerful right-handed swing. Also clearly visible are Carty’s huge hands, which landed him a job as a catcher when he signed with the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in the fall of 1959.
By the time the photo was taken, Carty was playing with his fifth big league team. And when this card found its way to my hands in the spring of 1978, Carty was no longer on the Indians – having been traded to the Blue Jays on March 15, 1978.
He was taken by the Blue Jays in the Expansion Draft following the season but was traded back to the Indians a month later in a deal that sent Rick Cerone and John Lowenstein to Toronto.
Carty drove in 80 runs and hit .280 in 1977, then went back to the Blue Jays on March 15, 1978, in a deal for pitcher Dennis DeBarr. Oakland then acquired Carty on Aug. 15, and he finished the season with 31 home runs, 99 RBI and a .282 batting average.
At that point, Carty’s .303 batting average over 14 seasons earned him acclaim as one of only a handful of career-.300 hitters active in the game. He signed a five-year free agent deal with the Blue Jays prior to the 1979 season, but a .256 average over 132 knocked him down to .2991 for his career.
And after being released just days before the start of the 1980 season, Carty’s career came to an end. But a mere two hits – which would have resulted in Carty finishing with a .300 career average – hardly diminished his reputation.
In the years from 1963 to 1979 – when Carty was active and a historically difficult period for batters – only five players posted a better batting average. And of those five batters, only one – Tony Oliva – had more home runs in that time than Carty’s 204.
His was a picture-perfect swing on a picture-perfect card… even if the green border and pink lettering still look a little out of place.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum