We are in that lull in time that happens each year when the sun is low in the Southern horizon, casting long shadows at midday toward the North. It’s a clean light, a sharp light that bodes hope of the chase which is about to begin. It is the chase for the #1, that first card in the newest Topps baseball card set for the coming year. Who will it be? Arguments are bound to develop.
To be sure, everyone has a favorite #1. The little appreciated #1 on the ’51 Topps Red set was Yogi Berra. On the more valuable ’51 Topps Blue set, Eddie Yost was #1. While many would argue that the ’51 Topps edition was not a card set but rather a game, most consider the ’51 Topps Red & Blue sets as the first Topps baseball card sets. The world-famous ’52 Topps set had one of the most valuable cards leading off that year’s collection. The Andy Pafko card today is of considerable value. As Topps was based in the East, New York teams usually got the #1 card. Pafko was then with the Dodgers. The next year, 1953, another Dodger was #1, Jackie Robinson.
In 1954, Ted Williams was not only the #1 card but also #250, the last card in the deck. Little doubt that ‘The Kid’ was the star hero returning from the Korean War.
However, one of my favorite #1s was the first card in the 1955 Topps card set, one James Lamar Rhodes. It was one of the under appreciated baseball card sets ever produced. It was also one of the most classic baseball card sets ever produced. It was the first horizontal card sets with a head shot of the player, along with the nickname first name on the card and an action art drawing along with the players signature and the team’s logo. For the record, “Dusty” Rhodes played for the New York Giants and was one of the many heroes of the ’54 Giants’ World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians.
The 1955 Tops set was spectacular in many ways. It was the smallest set Topps ever produced in the standard size issues. It contained 206 cards but was numbered to 210. It is believed that four cards were pulled at the last moment to avoid legal issues. One of the biggest names of the day that was missing was that of Stan Musial, who had signed with the rival Bowman card and gum company.
But the #1 card was always the most chased. On the back of the card were all the stats that could propel you through the cold days of winter, allowing you to wait for that first wisp of spring that would occur when the first familiar voice of the your favorite team’s play-by-play announcer broadcast that first spring training game in the warm climes of Florida. Now you could know as much as that announcer. You had all the facts at your finger tips. It was right there…on the back of the card. Height: 6′. Weight: 180. Bats: Left. Throws: Right. Home: Deatsville, Ala. Born: May 13, 1927. He had been in 82 games the previous year, was at bat 184 times. He scored 31 runs and had 56 hits, with 7 doubles, 3 triples and 15 home runs while driving in 50 RBI. He hit .341.
This was the bible of baseball, the stats of life. And every kid could own this amazing encyclopedia of information by merely putting down a penny and having that light green, red and white wrapper in your hands with the words “Topps, Bubble Gum, 1 cent and Baseball across the front. “Buy Bazooka the Chew of Champions” emblazoned across the side of the pack assured you that you were now in the hunt and the dream of a great season floated in your head while a smile came across your face. Could this pack have the #1 in it?