Drab, ordinary, jurassic are terms that come to mind when describing the Hostess Baseball Cards of the the mid-late ‘70s. The sets were nothing more than marketing ploys to sell more Twinkies, HoHos, Suzy-Q’s and King Dons (Ding Dons if you lived on the West Coast). Big on errors and small on creativity, the Hostess sets featured the game’s biggest stars with simple head shots displayed against uninspired spring training backdrops and white borders.
Yes, the Hostess sets were dull, almost cheerless, but just about every 40-something to 50-something baseball fan/collector (like the guy I see in the mirror every morning) has fond memories of Hostess’s lame attempt at manufacturing baseball cards. After all, this is the set that we assembled piece by piece while Mom rummaged through the produce isle at the local grocery store. This is also the set that got us hooked on The Sporting News, which played a huge role in the development of our baseball fandom.
Back in the day, Topps dominated the baseball card hobby. If the single Topps set — there were no premium, platinum or chrome releases — didn’t satisfy your collecting needs, the Hostess sets produced from 1975-1979 gave you another option. Dealers and collectors couldn’t buy Hostess cards directly from the company. Everyone they had to work and spend to complete these sets.
Beginning in 1975 Hostess cards were produced in three-card panels on the back of each multi-pack Hostess box. The best part of this new wave of collecting was seeing what you were buying, which encouraged set building. Hostess panels — complete with an offer for a free issue of The Sporting News — kept in tact are more valuable and coveted today that cards cut from the box. Some cards were printed on not-so-tasty products and are more difficult to find today. Cards printed on the back of the smaller HoHos multi-pack boxes are often creased at the corners from handling.
Proofreading, editing and reading the daily box scores were not priorities for Hostess baseball card editors. The initial set was loaded with mistakes. Slugger Bill Madlock was listed as a pitcher, Rangers catcher Jim Sandberg was named Mike and outfielder George Hendrick became George Hendricks. Robin Yount, a teenage phenom at the time, is one of the more popular players in the set. Unfortunately, Hostess did not include a rookie card of future Hall of Famer George Brett.
Despite the quality-control issues, the debut Hostess set remains popular today with over 3,000 listings, including a handful of graded panels, currently on eBay. The 1975 panel set is worth as much as $400 depending on the condition. The value of single card sets vary widely because of stain issues — creamy cake fillings sometimes seeped through the packages — and cards being miscut.
Celebrating the nation’s bicentennial, the Hostess 1976 set includes red, white and blue stripes surrounding the player’s name, team and position. Collectors familiar with the 1976 Topps set will recognize some of the same photos in the Hostess series. The set is loaded with stars, including Brett, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, a Dennis Eckersley rookie and one of Hank Aaron’s final cards.
The 1977 Hostess set includes Hall-of-Famers-to-be Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Thurman Munson and Johnny Bench. By this time, collectors learned to save the cards as complete panels. The complete panel sets are valued as much as $300 with the single set selling for nearly three times as much due to scarcity.
Although Eddie Murray was considered just another player at the time, his rookie card in the 1978 Hostess sets remains highly coveted. For the first time, a few action shots were used to liven up the product. Unfortunately the cost of producing baseball cards out-weighed the marketing advantages. As a result, the 1979 edition was the final Hostess set. Hostess went out with a bang, featuring an Ozzie Smith rookie card on the same panel as Nolan Ryan as well as Willie Montanez.