Looking at it now, the 1976 Topps Gary Carter card seems just right, doesn’t it? Maybe even a peek at destiny?
I mean, there we see The Kid, one of the greatest catchers of all-time, both at and behind the plate, swinging a big stick into the camera.
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By the time the card came out that Bicentennial spring, the metaphor was already on its way to becoming literal — a .270 batting average with 17 home runs and 68 RBI in 1975 had garnered Carter second place in National League Rookie of the Year voting (behind San Francisco Giants starter John Montefusco).
That effort also landed Carter a slot on Topps’ All-Star Rookie squad, and the concomitant golden-bowl trophy on his ‘76 card.
And, in the lower left-hand corner of the card — Carter’s first solo cardboard — his position is laid out for the world to see, in text (CATCHER) and in that little crouching figurine that feels so Topps-y and authentic and vintage and … perfect … as we near five decades on.
This is Gary Carter, catcher for the Montreal Expos. He swings big lumber and wins trophies.
That’s pretty much how Carter’s career played out, too, isn’t it? Allowing for the fact that you’d have to substitute in “New York Mets” for the Expos some years, and that he’s spend seasons with the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers late in his big league run.
Otherwise, the 1976 Topps Carter got it just right and is as much a Hall of Fame baseball card as the man himself is a Hall of Fame receiver.
It was all destiny.
Except … it almost didn’t play out that way.
Consider all the uncertainty that surrounded the whole setup in 1976:
- The Expos drafted Carter as a shortstop in 1972.
- Carter spent more time in the outfield than behind the dish in 1975, his rookie season.
- Carter broke his thumb early in 1976, appeared in just 91 games, and hit .219 — he again split time between the outfield and catcher.
Things could have gone any number of ways for Carter and the Expos from that point forward.
They actually went the way Topps called it, though, by dint of Carter’s hard work and talent, and of the Expos’ belief in him.
As Carter racked up the accolades throughout the 1970s and 1980s, that second-year card of his became a hobby favorite, and his election to the Hall of Fame in 2003 only strengthened that standing.
Today, the 1976 Topps Carter sells for around $75 in PSA 8 condition, more than $200 as a “9”, and $400 or more for a perfect “10.”
Not bad for a light-hitting shortstop with a broken digit, huh?