Monday, October 19, 2009

The 500 Club.

When I first started collecting Topps cards in 1988, I noticed something very interesting about the way the cards were numbered. This was during the time of the 792-card sets, and I think you know where I am going with this, so bare with me.

I noticed that most of the cards that had numbers that ended in "0" were cards of baseball's superstars. Whether they were that particular team's most recognizable player, or a player who appeared at the All-Star Game the year before, it was a name that many fans should already recognize. I also noticed that cards that ended in "5" were also of star players, but they would be the "lesser known" stars. They were very good players, many of them All-Star as well, but they just appeared to be on a lower tier than those players who had their cards end in "0." Now I'm not saying one player is better than the other, and this totally isn't the case in EVERY set and circumstance, but growing up, that's just how I thought.

As I got older, I started to understand the reasoning behind this way of numbering. As a set collector, I needed to have the cards organized so that I could put them in an album. I first thought of sorting the cards by teams, but then I'd have extra cards where there was more than one player, or it wouldn't fit with just one team. So the best option for me was so sort them by number. I believed that the reason why Topps didn't just randomly assign numbers for the cards was so that the product would evenly seed the "star" players within the set. Sure, every player on a team is important, but if the more known "name" players were interspersed every five cards or so between the managers, unproven rookies, and "common" players, that there wouldn't be a lack of interest in going over a page when looking through an album or flipping through numerically sorted cards in a box. There was always something to look forward to on every page, or at least a card that would jump out at you if quickly running through cards in a pile.

Back to the point.

So the cards that end numerically with a zero were of star players, the subject of the cards that had a number ending in "00," was usually was one of the most elite players in the game. The rare six players who were the "best of the best" that year. In 1988, the cards that ended in "00" (not including the #400 AS card of Kirby Puckett) were of players who either made a huge impact during the 1987 season, or were legendary players:

  • 100 Jack Clark (an All-Star, was 3rd in the NL MVP voting, had a powerful 1.055 OPS)
  • 200 Wade Boggs (led AL with .363 batting average)
  • 300 Don Mattingly (most popular Yankee in the 1980's)
  • 500 Andre Dawson (NL MVP, led NL with 49 home runs and 137 rbi's)
  • 600 Mike Schmidt (living legend, had hit his 500th home run in 1987)
  • 700 George Brett (All-Star and leader of the KC Royals)
All were big names, but none were bigger (to a Chicagoan) than Andre Dawson. The "Hawk" signed a blank contract with the Cubs for the 1987, and although the Cubs finished dead last that year, he was voted as the NL's Most Valuable Player. Leading the NL in homers and rbi's helps.

With 1989's set, I noticed the same thing with card number 500. That set had AL MVP Jose Canseco at the 500 position. The year before, he became the first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in one season. The combination of power and speed, plus leading the Athletics to the 1988 postseason, earned him the MVP.

In 1990, card 500 was of NL MVP Kevin Mitchell of the Giants. He led the league in home runs and rbi's, the Giants to the World Series, and was named the NL MVP. Do you notice a pattern here???

The 1991 set had Will Clark, Mitchell's Giants teammate, was the subject of card 500. That may have snapped the MVP player streak associated with card 500, but it also meant that Clark was a big time superstar.

Lately, I've been thinking about that number 500. In baseball, it's has always been a very important number in terms of it's most powerful club...the 500 Home Runs club. But to me, the number 500 was significant because, more often than not, the player assigned that number by Topps was among the baseball's elite. So I'd like to honor the #500 cards by listing them here below. Now the first Topps #500 card did not appear until 1959. The player that year was Vic Wertz, first baseman for the Indians. Since then, here is the list of players who held the 500 position in Topps' eponymous set.

  • 1960 Johnny Temple
  • 1961 Harvey Kuenn
  • 1962 Duke Snider
  • 1963 Harmon Killebrew
  • 1964 Carmilo Pascual
  • 1965 Eddie Mathews
  • 1966 Hank Aaron
  • 1967 Juan Marichal
  • 1968 Frank Robinson
  • 1969 Mickey Mantle
  • 1970 Hank Aaron (first person to have this number twice)
  • 1971 Jim Perry
  • 1972 Joe Torre
  • 1973 Oakland A's Team Card (they won the World Series)
  • 1974 Lee May
  • 1975 Nolan Ryan
  • 1976 Reggie Jackson
  • 1977 Dave Kingman
  • 1978 George Foster
  • 1979 Ron Guidry
  • 1980 Tom Seaver
  • 1981 Jim Rice
  • 1982 Rod Carew
  • 1983 Reggie Jackson (again)
  • 1984 George Brett
  • 1985 Mike Schmidt
  • 1986 Rickey Henderson
  • 1987 Don Mattingly
  • 1988 Andre Dawson
  • 1989 Jose Canseco
  • 1990 Kevin Mitchell
  • 1991 Will Clark
  • 1992 Vince Coleman
  • 1993 Jose Canseco (again, this time as a Texas Ranger)
  • 1994 Bo Jackson
  • 1995 John Hudek (huh???)
  • 1998 Dustin Carr/Luis Cruz dual rookie card
  • 2001 Kent Mercker (did Topps start deviating from the formula here???)
  • 2002 Barry Bonds (nope, I guess not...)
  • 2003 Mike Piazza
  • 2004 Ivan Rodriguez
  • 2005 Barry Bonds (again)
  • 2006 Derek Jeter
  • 2007 Pedro Martinez (first time as a NY Met)
  • 2008 Chipper Jones
  • 2009 Ryan Howard
So with certain exceptions, card #500 was always of the best of the best. The MVP, superstars sluggers, the dominant pitchers of the time, these are the members of the Topps 500 club.

By now, you must be wondering why I've become suddenly obsessed with the number 500. Well, this is the 500th post on my humble little blog. And it's a milestone that when I first started I thought I'd never reach. But here I am, still writing away about the Hobby I love, and the Topps cards that keep me involved. Five hundred posts is a lot for a blog, and not too many reach this many posting milestone. Thank you very much for joining me on my journey within the Hobby. And here's looking forward to another 500 posts.


JayBee Anama


Stormy said...

Very cool milestone post!!! Thanks!

night owl said...

Congrats on 500. Reading all the blogs is almost as entertaining as card collecting.

Collective Troll said...

Yeah, congrats on 500! I really enjoy your well researched posts, I can always learn something here... I liked seeing the list of card #500. I have that dustin carr dual rookie card #500 and I thought that maybe expansion killed the 100 level cards from being superstars, but they just took a couple years off and its back! On the set building side-if you are making a wantlist and you see 200, 400, 500, 600... you know you need some big cards to finish that set...Congrats again!

Jeremy Roe said...

Congrats on your milestone! I've enjoyed reading all of your posts. Keep up the good work.

deal said...

great Milestone posts.

"Hero Numbers" is part of the reason I continue to be a Topps guy as opposed to a UD collector.

TDLindgren said...

Congratulations JayBee! I look forward to reading your next 500+ posts!

csd said...

Very cool post. Keep up the good work.

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Congratulations on your milestone post! Excellent work as usual.