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Vintage Baseball Card Blog

Why Nostalgic About Baseball Card Numbers?

June 10, 2013

by William Szczepanek

1954 Topps Ted Williams #001Topps, since the beginning has assigned numbers to players based on their ability. The better players get better numbers such as those that end in 00 or 0 or 5 and sometimes the number one card is of particular prominence. This of course doesn't happen until a player has a successful season or two or more. Why did Topps go to this trouble of awarding special numbers to special players. And why now are some people upset that they are going away from this tradition?

Actually it has not been since the beginning. In 1953 and 1954 stars were pretty well mixed up in the fray and common players had some 00 assignments.

1954 Topps Ted Williams #250Some might say it started in 1954 when Ted Williams had the distinction of having two cards, the first and last, numbers 1 and 250. #50 went to Yogi Berra, #100 went to Bob Keegan, #150 to Dick Kryhoski... uh, wait that blows this whole thing open.

1955 is no better with Ted Williams at #2 behind Dusty Rhodes and no semblance of order after that with Willie Mays at #194.

1956

1956 Topps Ernie Banks #015The first real meaning to card numbers appears in 1956 where we see some relationships.

#5 Ted Williams
#10 Warren Spahn
#15 Ernie Banks
#20 Al Kaline
#25 Ted Kluszewski
#30 Jackie Robinson
#35 Al Rosen (precious year MVP)
#40 Bob Turley

But wait, #45 is Gus Zernial and Hank Sauer is #41. #50 is Dusty Rhodes and #60 a manager card of Mayo Smith and #100 is a Baltimore Orioles Team card, while #200 goes to Bob Feller. A trend is beginning to occur, but in no way has it yet been established.

1957

Let's look at 1957

#1 Ted Williams
#5 Sal Maglie
#10 Willie Mays
#15 Robin Roberts
#20 Hank Aaron
#25 Whitey Ford
#30 Pee Wee Reese
#35 Frank Robinson
#40 Early Wynn
#45 Carl Furillo
#50 Herb Score
#55 Ernie Banks
#60 Billy Hoeft (twenty game winner previous year)

looking good so far.

#76 Roberto Clemente (not yet a star)
#95 Mickey Mantle (Triple Crown winner the previous year)
#100 The Presidents William Harridge and Warren Giles (need to butter up the big men)
#175 Don Larson (World Series perfect game previous year)
#200 Gil McDougald (good, but not as good as some others)
#225 Harry Simpson (career year in the previous year)
#250 Eddie Mathews

things tend to fall apart from this point on except for #300 Mike Garcia, but overall we are seeing a distinct trend for numbering, particularly in the early and middle production series's.

1958

#1 Ted Williams
#5 Willie Mays
#10 Lew Burdette
#65 Von McDaniel RC (lots of hype on this player at the time)
#100 Early Wynn
#150 Mickey Mantle
#200 Bob Keegan
#300 The Presidents
#400 Nellie Fox

quite a bit of inconsistency until again we begin to see discrepancies.

#450 Preston Ward. (Sorry Preston)

Now we see something interesting,

1954 Topps Bob Keegan #100Historically:
1953 Keegan #196
1954 Keegan #100
1955 Keegan #10
1956 Keegan #54
1957 Keegan #99
1958 Keegan #200

Bob Keegan was a good, but not great player for the White Sox, yet in two years he had prominent numbered cards. It could just be that Sy Berger, Topps Executive, was good friends with Bob Keegan and he assigned particular numbers to players who were his favorites. Not quite scientific, but very possible.

In 1959 we see the same tendencies but with many inconsistencies.
Jackie Jensen, an excellent player who never seemed to live up to the hype of being the best even though he was AL MVP in 1958.
1952 #122
1953 #265
1954 #80
1955 #200 (following excellent year, but many had better)
1956 #115
1957 #220
1958 #130
1959 #400 (following MVP)
1960 no card did not play
1961 no card

1959 Topps Jackie Jensen #400In any event Jackie Jensen retired from baseball because he was scared to death of flying, and with expansion and trips to the West Coast, it was too difficult for him. He also wanted to spend more time with his family for which I salute him.

Some say Topps is going away from the last bit of nostalgia of collecting cards. Certainly no one collects cards for the money anymore. Maybe, that's a good thing. Or, haven't you heard that cards produced in the last forty years haven't maintained their value.

Some say that they are going with numbers that match the number of the player's uniform. Does anyone know that in 1969 Willie McCovey (big number 44 on his uniform) was number 440. Coincidence? Maybe.

It's kind of like the stock market. It used to be that stocks were valued based on the viability and success of the company. Now, only those in the upper echelons know what is going on. And the uppers are getting fewer and fewer in number and richer and richer.

Does it really matter how cards are numbered? I think it was something that allowed Topps to add a little interest, but was entirely subjective and the focus was in early production within a year and later series's did not receive the same attention, both in accuracy, looks and yes, numbers. People didn't collect cards according to the number on the back early in the history of cards and they didn't collect them for the money based on the numbers on the back after that.

Does it really matter?  It probably matters a lot less than many other things.

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