This is not 1919. There are no nine-game World Series anymore. So later tonight (or early Saturday morning), we will experience the final day of the baseball season.
Thanks to David Freese, I will be able to witness Game 7 of a World Series for the first time since, well, the last one, in 2002. I was off on that night, too.
But since I don't have a huge rooting interest to distract me, I will spend too much of the game mourning the fact that this is the last major league baseball game I will see for five months. We are about to enter the less happy portion of the year. Big fat bummer.
As usual, I have a baseball card connection for this bittersweet experience. It is called "the last card in the set."
The last card of any set -- well, any traditionally large set -- is the final chapter in a novel that you never want to end. The greatest baseball card sets are epic in nature, colorful and fascinating from beginning to end. When you turn to the final page -- or reach the last card -- you don't want to read what lies on that last piece of paper or cardboard. Because when you do, that's it. That's the end. There is no more. There will never be another story, book, card set or season like it. Ever, ever again.
During my early days of collecting, when Topps was the only thing around, I prized the player that brought up the rear. There were several Dodgers -- Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Bill Russell and Steve Yeager -- that won that final position during my first collecting period. I considered the final card to be a place of honor, a card that tied the set together. I liked to think that this card was somehow representative of the rest of the set, whether that was actually Topps' intent or not.
I have a feeling it wasn't. Because there are a lot of years in which the last card in Topps' flagship set seemed like an afterthought. This is especially true in the last 15 years or so as Topps has littered the last card with throwaway "awards" cards or checklists.
Only in the last couple of years has Topps returned to the days of my childhood and placed a player's base card at the back of the set. The Jacoby Ellsbury card from 2009 is a terrific example of what the final card in a set should be.
I suppose you've been wondering while reading this whether I have looked up the final card for every one of Topps' base sets from 1952 to present.
Well, duh, of course I have. I've already done so for the first card in each set. I don't want the last card to get a complex.
So here you are -- Game 7 in cardboard form:
2011: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
2010: Brandon McCarthy, Rangers
2009: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
(this is where Topps gets funky or just plain stupid)
2008: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (no, I refuse to count the Johan Santana fake no-no card)
2007: Yadier Molina, Cardinals (I refuse to count the Barry Bonds short-print)
2006: Ervin Santana/Francisco Rodriguez, Classic Combos, Angels
2005: "Sox Win" (Damon/Lowe World Series Game 4), Red Sox
2004: Josh Beckett, World Series MVP, Marlins
2003: Anaheim Angels, World Series
2002: Albert Pujols, Cardinals, Rookie of the Year
2001: Carlton Fisk, Golden Moments, Red Sox
2000: Alex Rodriguez, Milestone Moments, '98 Batting Leader, Mariners
1998: Alex Rodriguez, Mariners
(Back to normalcy)
1992: Dave Winfield, Angels
1991: Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
1990: Gerald Perry, Braves
1989: Rafael Santana, Yankees
1988: John Tudor, Cardinals
1986: Charles Hudson, Phillies
1985: Darrell Evans, Tigers
1984: Bill Russell, Dodgers
1983: Chris Chambliss, Braves
1982: Frank Tanana, Red Sox
1981: Rick Monday, Dodgers
1980: Steve Yeager, Dodgers
1979: Giants Future Stars (Greg Johnston, Joe Strain, John Tamargo)
1978: Wilbur Wood, White Sox
1977: Willie Horton, Tigers
1976: Davey Lopes, Dodgers
1975: Hank Aaron, Brewers
1973: Fred Scherman, Tigers
(Now we're getting into the high-number, crazy prices stuff)
1972: Ron Reed, Braves
1971: Dick Drago, Royals
1970: Rick Reichardt, Angels
1969: Ron Hunt, Giants
1968: Jerry May, Pirates
1967: Tommy John, White Sox
1966: Gaylord Perry, Giants
1965: Al Downing, Yankees
1964: Bennie Daniels, Senators
1963: Johnny Temple, Colt .45s
1962: Rookie Outfielders (Al Luplow, Indians; Manny Jimenez, A's; Ed Oliveras, Colt .45s; Jim Hickman, Mets; Howie Goss, Pirates)
1961: Warren Spahn All-Star, Braves
1960: Johnny Antonelli, All-Star, Giants
1959: Billy Pierce, All-Star, White Sox
1958: Herb Score, All-Star, Indians
1957: Yankees Power Hitters (Mantle/Berra), Yankees
(Don't get excited. I don't have this card).
1956: Mickey McDermott, Yankees
1955: Duke Snider, Dodgers
1954: Ted Williams, Red Sox
1953: Milt Bolling, Red Sox
1952: Eddie Mathews, Braves
There you go.
Once you got through all the checklist and award/milestone gobbledygook, wasn't that fun?
A few notes:
- Alex Rodriguez and Yadier Molina are the only two players to be the last card in the set more than once. Rodriguez also happens to have had the first card in a Topps set more than any other player. Topps is under the mistaken impression that collectors actually like the guy.
- The Red Sox have finished off a Topps set more than any other team. It's done so seven times. The Braves and Dodgers are next with five each.
- That 1963 Johnny Temple card has just made it to No. 1 on my Christmas want list.
I hope everyone enjoys Game 7. It's the last baseball you're going to see for awhile. After that, we'll all pretend to like football, hockey and, blaaarrgh, basketball, for the next five months. But we all know it's just for show.
We're really waiting for baseball to start again. And looking for card No. 1 in the set.
When it finally comes, we'll never want it to end.