Card of the Day: 1976 Topps Ed Ott

Today’s Card of the Day comes from the 1976 Topps set. It features Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Ed Ott, along with three other prospects. I want to get right into the card for a better visual explanation, so let’s cut short the usual intro for today.

Here’s the front of the card:

I’m a huge fan of these multi-player rookie cards from the 1960s through early 1980s Topps cards. This is the rookie card of Ed Ott. What’s really interesting here is the group of players. Topps threw catchers and outfielders on the same card instead of breaking them up by position. That makes this the perfect card for Ott at the time because he came up as an outfielder, before switching to catcher in 1975. He actually only played outfielder seven times after this card came up, so he was a full-time catcher by the time people were getting this card in packs. This really is just a random group of players here, as Topps would at times group players by league or by team. You’ve got two American League and two National League players here, two catchers (sort of) and two outfielders (sort of).

Let’s go to the back now to see how Topps did with the player selections here.

I got to the back quicker than usual because I wanted to see the limited info on the players and try to figure out what Topps saw here before including them in the set.

The first thing I notice is that they didn’t go with anyone young. They also didn’t go with any high draft picks. The best was a tenth round pick. Without seeing any stats, this card has a feel of a prospect card that was doomed from the start.

We begin with Ott, who had cups of coffee with the Pirates in 1975 and 1976. He was the lowest draft pick of the group. He put up solid stats coming up through the minors. Nothing amazing, but you can see why he was in the majors. The Pirates gave him a third-string catcher role behind Manny Sanguillen and Duffy Dyer in 1976, so this choice took some time to look better. Ott would end up putting in four solid seasons with the Pirates as their starting catcher. He’s obviously best known for his role with the 1979 World Series champs. The Pirates traded him away on this date in 1981, which is how he ended up here today. He put up 5.9 career WAR.

Andy Merchant had two hits and a walk in his Major League debut for the 1975 Boston Red Sox. That was his only game of the season. If you know anything about baseball from then, you know that Carlton Fisk was an All-Star catcher for the Red Sox, putting Merchant in a bad spot. He ended up playing two more big league games for the 1976 Red Sox, and that’s it. That doesn’t necessarily make this a bad choice by Topps, so let’s go deeper. A look at his minor league stats show that he hit for a nice average each year, while drawing more walks than his strikeout totals. He also didn’t commit many errors. I can see why he was picked. He actually had a really nice minor league season in 1976, then completely fell off during his final three years, all spent with Triple-A Pawtucket. He had 0.1 WAR, thanks to his debut game.

Royle Stillman really makes sense for this card. He hit .429 over 13 games during his first big league trial in 1975. That was after putting up a .313 average and power numbers in Triple-A. I don’t see anything wrong with this choice either, but he didn’t pan out, just like Merchant. Stillman ended up playing a total of 89 big league games over three seasons, finishing with a .213 average. He played his final four seasons of pro ball in the minors. He had -0.3 career WAR

If you know the 1970s-80s, you probably already know Jerry White. I saved him for last because the other two are virtual unknowns as far as big league players go. White lasted 11 years in the majors, mostly spent with the Montreal Expos. He was mainly a bench player, topping out at 309 plate appearances for a season. He played 646 games and pinch-hit 239 times. Playing 11 years makes him a solid pick by Topps, but what drew them here? He actually had a ton of big league experience for someone on a prospect card. He played nine games in 1974, then hit .299 over 39 games in 1975, getting 107 plate appearances during that second year. He also hit for average and some power in Triple-A during the 1975 season. He finished with 2.6 WAR in his career.

Four player choices all seem legit to me. Usually you will find an odd choice, especially on a card like this with four players who combined for 8.3 career WAR, but I don’t have a problem with any of them being selected.

If you’re interested in this card, there are plenty of options. As I write this up, there’s a PSA 9 for $150, with a best offer option. There’s a PSA 8 for $35, also with a best offer. There’s a PSA 9 ending soon and it’s only at $22 right now, so that top price seems way out of line, unless this card ended up getting late action. Someone also just listed a PSA 10 (I’ll update it if I think about it). There are numerous autographed options, with one seller having one that Stillman didn’t sign, but everyone else did. Two sellers have examples that only White didn’t sign. There are many examples that only Ott signed. With his short name, he doesn’t take up much room, though I have to point out something to those people who still think he had the shortest name in baseball. His real name is Nathan Edward Ott. His full name has 15 letters. He does not have the shortest name in baseball, he just shortened his middle name. Heck, my full name only has ten letters, so his name is long to me. Depending on how many players signed it, the prices range from $10 to $45. You can just get a regular card with no grading or autographs for $3 delivered from multiple sellers. Some sellers also have lots with other rookie cards similar to this one, so you might want to check that out.