Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sometimes I'm a numbers guy

So, I'm a word guy. I understand words. I write words for a living. I GET words.

Words make sense to me. Words come out of me instinctively. I can convey what I want to say with words better than any other vehicle that we have here on earth.

But sometimes I like numbers. When they don't make my brain hurt, numbers are fun. Numbers define and categorize and make sense of an incomprehensible world. They're also excellent at summing up what it would take hundreds of words to say.

For example, "42".

Today is Jackie Robinson Day and everyone is remembering what that man meant to baseball, this nation and our world. A lot of it has been said many times before, and that doesn't mean it's not worth saying again, but sometimes all that needs to be said is simply:


Just say it. Just wear it. The number does the work. Number 42 means "yes," and "I agree," and "the dude was the man," without anyone having to say anything else ... or anything.

Topps has done this a few times with 42. The first time I was aware of it was on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's integration of Major League Baseball. In the 1997 set, card No. 42 was this card:

That was pretty cool. Because Topps almost never tied the card number on the back with the player on the front, unless it was one of those hero numbers ending in "5" or "0".

Of course, since then Topps has used the card number on the back for more mundane recognition, like its endlessly boring love letter to Mickey Mantle, and the weird thing it did in the 2013 set by matching current players with their uniform number.

But one thing that I don't think Topps has ever done with its card numbers is used the number on the back to connect the player's card to the corresponding year.

This has interested me for a long time and tonight I'm going to do something about it.

I want to know every player who appeared in a Topps base set whose card number matched the year in which it came out. For example:

Yoenis Cespedes is card. No. 14 in the 2014 Topps set.

I want to see that for every year since 1952.

Got it?

OK. For record-keeping purposes, I've added the actual card back number image with the cards that I do have in my collection. If there's no card number image, then, sadly, I lack that card.

Time to nerd out on card back numbers:

1952 Topps - Don Mueller, #52

1953 Topps - Sherman Lollar, #53

1954 Topps - Vern Stephens, #54

1955 Topps - Rip Repulski, #55

1956 Topps - Dale Long, #56

1957 Topps - Jim Lemon, #57

1958 Topps - Art Schult, #58

1959 Topps - Irv Noren, #59

1960 Topps - Gus Triandos, #60

1961 Topps - Ron Piche, #61

1962 Topps - Steve Boros, #62

1963 Topps - Cincinnati Reds team, #63

1964 Topps - Ted Abernathy, #64

1965 Topps - Tony Kubek, #65

1966 Topps - Al Weis, #66

1967 Topps - Ken Berry, #67

1968 Topps - Ron Willis, #68

1969 Topps - Steve Hamilton, #69

1970 Topps - American League Pitching Leaders, #70

1971 Topps - American League Strikeout Leaders, #71

1972 Topps - Bruce Kison, #72

1973 Topps - Ed Herrmann, #73

1974 Topps - Minnesota Twins team, #74

1975 Topps - Ted Simmons, #75

1976 Topps - Willie Crawford, #76

1977 Topps - Dyar Miller, #77

1978 Topps - Pablo Torrealba, #78

1979 Topps - Ted Cox, #79

1980 Topps - Ron LeFlore, #80

1981 Topps - Dave Stapleton, #81

1982 Topps - Bob Welch, #82

1983 Topps - Ryne Sandberg, #83

1984 Topps - Lenny Faedo, #84

1985 Topps - Mike Marshall, #85

1986 Topps - Tom Waddell, #86

1987 Topps - Mark Salas, #87

1988 Topps - Earnie Riles, #88

1989 Topps - Dave LaPoint, #89

1990 Topps - Jack Clark, #90

1991 Topps - Greg Colbrunn, #91

1992 Topps - Lenny Harris, #92

1993 Topps - Pedro Astacio, #93

1994 Topps - Garret Anderson, #94

1995 Topps - Mark Langston, #95

1996 Topps - Cal Ripken, #96

1997 Topps - Greg Myers, #97

1998 Topps - Kurt Abbott, #98

1999 Topps - Derek Bell, #99

2001 Topps - Cal Ripken, #1

2002 Topps - Mike Stanton, #2

2003 Topps - Jimmy Rollins, #3

2004 Topps - Edgardo Alfonzo, #4

2005 Topps - Johnny Damon, #5

2006 Topps - Armando Benitez, #6

2007 Topps - Mickey Mantle, #7

2008 Topps - Stephen Drew, #8

2009 Topps - Dallas McPherson, #9

2010 Topps - Clayton Kershaw, #10

2011 Topps - National League Wins Leaders, #11

2012 Topps - Wilson Ramos, #12

2013 Topps - Brett Lawrie, #13

OK, a couple of notes:

1. The only card above that I can make a case for the player's card number corresponding with the designated year is the Cal Ripken card in 1996. Sure, Ripken broke Gehrig's consecutive games played streak in 1995, but what better way to recognize the new record than in the new year of 1996? I don't know if that's what happened, but it's possible.

2. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has made the connection of Ryne Sandberg's rookie card number matching the year of his first card. But that was just luck as few saw Sandberg's success coming at that point.

3. That is my first look at the 1970 Pitching Leaders card. Wow. Topps had to squeeze six players on there because in 1969, four A.L. pitchers won exactly 20 games to tie for third place.

4. I skipped 2000 Topps because there is no card "0." And I don't think card No. 100 works with it.

So, there you go. I think all that scanning satisfied my curiosity forever.

I hope everyone had a happy Jackie Robinson Day.

Oh, and bring that Ron LeFlore 1980 card number back here one more time.

Today is also my dad's 80th birthday.

The number says it all.


  1. Wow, this is an insanely cool post. Happy Jackie Robinson Day (and also happy birthday to your father N.O.)!

  2. You realize we will now ask you to update this post every year.

    I would like to see Topps dedicate #42 to a deserving player each year. Sort of a hero number for Good Citizenship among MLB players.

    Re: cards and player numbers, At the end of his career Topps gave Nolan Ryan #34 and I think card #44 in 2000T is Hank Aaron.

  3. You never cease to amaze me with your thoughts and ideas !

    Also, just picked up the book " Opening Day ", the story of Jackie's first season.

  4. Wow - you really hate the Yankees that much when it comes to the year 2000, huh?

  5. Nicely done! Love the '73 Ed Hermann... helmet at a jaunty angle, generic catcher mimics his pose, and those scouts or more likely beat writers in the background. That guy's purple outfit is pure 70s.

  6. I like the Home Plate on the Leflore card, nice touch. I always liked that card anyway, a Batting Cage & Bunt Card, there can't be too many of those.

    And all those Sea Turtle cards I looked at last year … never noticed the Turtle was on the back of the card too.

  7. You do realize that 1997 is the best one right? Right?

  8. Very interesting post.. Happy birthday to your pops

  9. Interesting! That's a cool way of 'playing' with numbers.