The 1979 Topps Burger King Baseball promotion was one of the most unique and collectible minor league baseball card releases of all time. At a time when baseball card inserts and promotions were not very common, Topps partnered with the Burger King fast food restaurant chain to produce a special series of minor league baseball cards that could be redeemed with purchases at Burger King.
The idea behind the promotion was to help drive business to Burger King restaurants while also promoting minor league baseball. Topps produced over 300 different cardboard trading cards that featuredcurrent minor league players from across America. The cards came in wax paper packs similar to typical Topps card packages of the era, except they said “Burger King” across the top. Customers would receive one pack of cards with any purchase of $1 or more at their local Burger King.
The teams represented in the 1979 Topps Burger King set included numerous minor league affiliates of major league clubs like the Charleston Charlies (Houston Astros), Memphis Chicks (St. Louis Cardinals), Denver Bears (Cincinnati Reds), and Iowa Oaks (Oakland A’s). Other independent minor league teams in the set included the Jackson Mets, Wichita Aeros, and Syracuse Chiefs. Each player card featured a photo of the player in his team’s uniform along with his stats from the previous season.
In addition to the player cards, there were also 25 different manager or coach cards included in the promotion. These cards showed photos of coaches and managers from teams in the set alongside their name and some basic career stats. There was also a special “Burger King Grand Slam” checklist card distributed that listed out the various teams represented in the full issue.
While the exact print run is unknown, it is estimated that between 5-10 million packs of these promotional cards were distributed through Burger King restaurants across America from May through August of 1979. Due to the sheer number of packs given away, most of the cards are fairly common in the hands of today’s collectors. Still, getting a complete set with the elusive manager/coach cards makes for a very unique and historic baseball card collection from the 1970s.
Although marketed as a “baseball card” promotion, the 1979 Topps Burger King cards differ significantly from traditional baseball cards of the era in terms of design, production quality, and purpose. The cardboard stock used for the BK cards is much thinner and of lower quality than standard Topps flagship sets. Also, the photograph size is smaller and statistical information is more limited on the Burger King cards when compared to a typical baseball card.
Many analysts believe the primary goal of the Topps-Burger King partnership was to drive short-term business for Burger King by giving customers a small incentive. The cards likely cost next to nothing to produce in the quantities distrubited. While fans eagerly collected and traded the promotions at the time, the 1979 Topps Burger King issue is not regarded on the same level as the annual Topps Traded and Flagship sets by most collectors today.
Still, for its uniqueness and snapshot it provides of minor league rosters from 1979, the Burger King baseball card promotion remains a very interesting historical oddity over 40 years later. Any collector who has a complete set should feel proud to own such a one-of-a-kind time capsule reminding us of the days when a quick stop at BK could yield a pack of future big leaguers and minor league nobodies on cardboard. Though of lesser quality, the cultural significance of one of the first sportscard and fast food promotions makes the 1979 Topps Burger King baseball cards a fun chapter in card collecting history worth preserving.