60 years of Topps’ firsts to start 2011

When Topps’ baseball products hit shelves in about two months, the cardboard giant will be celebrating its 60th anniversary making baseball cards.

About two years ago I acquired what is considered the first baseball card produced by Topps for mainstream consumption — 1952 Topps Andy Pafko.

From a historical point, the Pafko is easily one of the most desirable cards of its era. This is one reason why the card costs a pretty penny.  Another factor is that its tough to find in good condition.

Being the first card in the set, the Pafko is real hard to find with sharp corners and edges, and a smooth surface.  For years collectors were stacking their cards in numerical order and then using a rubber band to keep them together.   Because of the lack of advanced card storage options, the card that was on top of the stack usually took the brunt of the damage.  Even in bad condition the Pafko card will set you back at least triple figures.

I digress.  After obtaining the Pafko I embarked on a project to obtain the first card in each of the mainstream base Topps baseball sets.  I am happy to report that just a week ago I received the very last card for the project … at least until the 2011 product hits shelves.

Throughout the life of the project, there was ample opportunity to acquire the best condition cards possible.  But I don’t operate that way.  Some of these cards literally would have costs me hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, in great condition.  Not only did I not have the money for that, but I also felt that there was an authentic feel to the well-loved cards.

Take for instance my 1954 Topps Ted Williams.  The card is graded PSA 1 but has great eye appeal.  The back however has some paper loss due to the fact that the card was glued to a binder page in its former life.

Or this 1962 Topps Roger Maris card that looks like it got run over by two Mack trucks and then was used as sandpaper.  Condition aside, one cannot forget that this is the first card on which Maris’ record-breaking season of 1961 is documented.

*  *  *

In recent years, the first card in the Topps set has been reserved for a star, most notably Alex Rodriguez who was placed in the first position in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009.  But many decades ago, the first card in the set was held for record breakers …

… statistical leaders …

… and even world champions.

*  *  *

While compiling the cards, here are a couple of observations I’ve made:

* Hank Aaron was featured on the first card four straight years, from 1973 through 1976.  He was shown on five Number Ones if you include his cameo on the 1964 League Leader card.

* Alex Rodriguez graced the front of five Number Ones from 2003-2009; interesting considering that A-Rod had not been featured on any basic Topps card until 1998.  He’s tied with Aaron for the most appearances.

* The oddest highlight featured? Tony Armas’ record setting 11 put outs in right field in one game.

*Former Commissioner Ford Frick makes more appearances (1) than Topps Poster Boy Mickey Mantle (0)

*Oddest player featured on a Number One? John Lackey, 2007.  He came within one out of a perfect game on July 7, but does that mean he’s worthy of the top spot? Meh …

It is without further adieu that I turn your attention to the “Topps Number Ones Gallery: 1952-2010.”

Which one is your favorite?

3 Responses to “60 years of Topps’ firsts to start 2011”

  1. Not sure which one is my favorite…I can say that my least favorite is the ’96 Gwynn, though. The 2009 and 2010 are both nice.

  2. I always chuckled when I saw the Gwynn “Star Power” card. Clutch hitter, damn good bat … but power? hmmmm

  3. Play at the Plate Says:

    I really like the ’53 Jackie Robinson. The Pafko is famous just for being #1 in the 1952 set, but that Jackie is great. There are a lot of nice cards though so it’s probably not fair to pick one. Nice collection.

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