Saturday, March 23, 2013

He's No. 1

When Topps released its 2013 base set, there was a lot of commotion about the card numbers on the back. Some card numbers matched up with the respective player's uniform number. Also, the "hero numbers" of 100, 200, etc., usually designated for superstars, now featured average players.

We were all asked how we felt about this. Some folks didn't like it. I didn't really care. Topps had done all these things before, maybe not to this degree, but it's been seen in the past.

I did notice that Bryce Harper was card No. 1, though, and that seemed different to me.

Harper's rookie season was in 2012. The first card in the set usually had gone to a more established player, some with more than a year of big league experience. Here is the list of the No. 1 card in a Topps flagship set, updated from this post:

2013 - Bryce Harper
2012 - Ryan Braun
2011 - Ryan Braun
2010 - Prince Fielder
2009 - Alex Rodriguez

2008 - Alex Rodriguez
2007 - John Lackey
2006 - Alex Rodriguez
2005 - Alex Rodriguez
2004 - Jim Thome
2003 - Alex Rodriguez
2002 - Pedro Martinez
2001 - Cal Ripken Jr.
2000 - Mark McGwire
1999 - Roger Clemens
1998 - Tony Gwynn
1997 - Barry Bonds
1996 - Tony Gwynn
1995 - Frank Thomas
1994 - Mike Piazza
1993 - Robin Yount
1992 - Nolan Ryan
1991 - Nolan Ryan
1990 - Nolan Ryan
1989 - George Brett, Record Breaker
1988 - Vince Coleman, Record Breaker
1987 - Roger Clemens, Record Breaker
1986 - Pete Rose
1985 - Carlton Fisk, Record Breaker
1984 - Steve Carlton, Highlight
1983 - Tony Armas, Record Breaker
1982 - Steve Carlton, Highlight
1981 - League Leaders (Brett, Buckner)
1980 - Carl Yastrzemski/Lou Brock, Highlight
1979 - League Leaders (Carew, Parker)
1978 - Lou Brock, Record Breaker
1977 - League Leaders (Brett, Madlock)
1976 - Hank Aaron, Record Breaker
1975 - Hank Aaron, Highlight
1974 - Hank Aaron
1973 - Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron/Willie Mays
1972 - Pirates team card
1971 - Orioles team card
1970 - Mets team card
1969 - League Leaders (Yastrzemski, Cater, Oliva)
1968 - League Leaders (Clemente, Gonzalez, Alou)
1967 - Frank Robinson/Hank Bauer/Brooks Robinson
1966 - Willie Mays
1965 - League Leaders (Oliva, Howard, B. Robinson)
1964 - League Leaders (Koufax, Ellsworth, Friend)
1963 - League Leaders (F. Robinson, Musial, Aaron)
1962 - Roger Maris
1961 - Dick Groat
1960 - Early Wynn
1959 - Ford Frickcommissioner
1958 - Ted Williams
1957 - Ted Williams
1956 - Will Harridge, league president
1955 - Dusty Rhodes
1954 - Ted Williams
1953 - Jackie Robinson
1952 - Andy Pafko

An argument could be made that Harper is the least accomplished person (or team, in some cases) on that list. The list is filled with record-breakers, World Series winners, league leaders and dominant stars.

Why does Harper get this treatment when players like Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Ken Griffey Jr., or a host of others never received card No. 1? Harper has never led a major league or won a World Series.

 But there's another side, too.

1. John Lackey.
2. League presidents and commissioners? Come on now.
3. Harper could have been in a "record-breaker set" if Topps chose to make one. He set a couple of records for a player under age 20, and he was the youngest position player to make an All-Star Game. He also won Rookie of the Year honors.

It seems a bit out of character with the tradition of No. 1's in Topps sets to feature a player with just one year of big league experience. I suppose it's all part of the hype and hoopla surrounding rooooooookies that we must endure in this hobby these days.

I fully expect Harper to achieve great things and live up to the other-worldly expectations. Harper's inclusion at No. 1 doesn't signal the downfall of collecting to me or whatever we were accusing Topps of doing when they put Scott Downs at card No. 200.

But it would have been cooler if No. 1 in the Topps set went to a sweat-and-toiled-for-years-to-get-here player like R.A. Dickey.

Or better yet: How about one of those record breaker subsets to lead off the set again?


  1. The '86 Rose is one of the best #1's of all time, IMO. Also, I didn't realize how much A-Rod monopolized that top spot over the past 10 years or so.

  2. My 2 favorite #1s are 1986 Rose and 1990 Ryan. A veteran at the end of a Hall of Fame career should lead off a set.

    Chipper Jones should have been #1 in 2013, or if there is to be no Chipper card due to retirement, then dare I say Todd Helton should have gotten #1. 2013 is probably his last flagship card, but Topps doesn't consider the Rockies an actual Screw the monopoly, bring back Pacific.

  3. Even as a Red Sox fan, I'm on board with you about John Lackey.

    Bring back the Record Breakers.

  4. I too thought Harper's numbering was a bit pretentious.
    Trout was much more impressive, but Topps love for Harper is without measure.

  5. I agree with hiflew - chipper would have been a good choice for number 1. The weird thing us with harper at 1 it would have made sense for mike trout to be the first card in series 2 but he is in series 1.

  6. Topps has kinda a love affection on Harper, he could easily be the number one for the next few years. Though he isn't a number 1.

  7. 2007 Topps doesn't count for anything.

  8. A Blue Jay as #1? America would never stand for it!

  9. I agree - when I read people being up in arms about the hero numbers, I was kind of surprised because it isn't something Topps has stuck to throughout its history anyways.

    For the #1 card - to me, one name sticks out far more than Harper. Harper is the defending ROY. This is not unprecedented - look at 1994, where the defending NL ROY got card #1.

    In all but two cases, the list tends to include:
    a) a subset (record breaker, team card of the world champs, league leader, commissioner)
    b) a historically great player, often but not always near the twilight of his career.
    c) someone who accomplished something or got an award the previous year (Dick Groat, Roger Maris, Piazza, Harper, Clemens)

    Rhodes, Pafko and Lackey don't fit into either of those categories. But Pafko was Topps' first year, and Rhodes only the 4th. Lackey was given card #1 after Topps had over 5 decades of precedence for that number. And it's weird - his really good season came after this card was #1. When this card came out, he was a 13-11 pitcher with some promise, no more no less.