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The best of the 'Future Stars'

The biggest of the blog projects I have been working on has involved several sheets of paper, a long period of malaise and staring at way too many Dee Brown mug shots.

Almost six months ago, Gummy Arts, that well-known Twitter card artist, posted his interpretation of the 1981 Topps Pirates Future Stars card.

Here's that tweet:

It was a reference to just Tony Pena, but, of course, we diehard card collectors know this card means much more than Pena.

The following conversation:

Ah, yes, I smelled a project.

It was something I had wondered for quite some time. Which of those multi-player prospects cards, those two- and three- and four- and sometimes-even-five rookie stars/future stars displayed the greatest firepower? Which displayed the starriest stars, when all of the players featured had finished their careers?

And how did all of them stack up with each other?

So I went a hunting. For months. I had no idea there were so many multi-player prospects cards. I should have known, given how much the hobby loves its rookies. But I was never more aware of how much card collecting DEPENDS on rookie "stars" and how long it has done so than when I was looking through card after card of baseball hopefuls (that's what these things should be called, you know, "Prospect Hopefuls").

I went through all of them, from the original Topps "rookie parade" cards of the early 1960s to the turn-of-the-century tributes to Topps from the likes of Fleer Tradition and Upper Deck Vintage. The only multi-player prospect cards I did not consider were the recent ones from 2015 onward, stuff from Heritage and Topps Update, mostly because a lot of the players featured there are still active. (OK, mostly because I was looking for an excuse not to do those cards).

To rank these cards, I relied again on career WAR from the baseball-reference site. And I used totals for a final grade. I suppose I could have gone with average, if I wanted to illustrate what Shane was talking about in his tweet response, but that would have taken another round of tallying and I am about out of energy on this project.

I split these into categories: two-prospect, three-prospect and four-prospect card lists. I didn't bother with the five-prospect cards as only 1962 Topps did this (but the highest was the Sam McDowell card with a total of 61.5).

It's possible I missed a set that featured multi-player prospects but I tried to comb through as many as I could, from all of the Topps sets, through late '80s Fleer and ending with 2005 Topps, where even Topps ran out of steam before reviving the practice about a decade later, because we must have our prospects.
OK, so here are the best of the best. In reverse order, of course.
20. Danny Morris/Graig Nettles, 1969 Topps, 67.7 total WAR
19. Ben Sheets/Roy Oswalt, 2001 Fleer Platinum, 73.2
18. Ryan Howard/Cole Hamels, 2005 Topps, 74.0
16. Mike Andrews/Reggie Smith, 1967 Topps, 77.8
16. Rod Carew/Hank Allen, 1967 Topps, 77.8
15. Chase Utley/Gavin Floyd, 2003 Topps, 78.2
14. Johnny Bench/Ron Tompkins, 1968 Topps 82.1
13. Joe Mauer/Justin Morneau, 2003 Topps, 82.2
12. Ferguson Jenkins/Bill Sorrell, 1966 Topps, 83.0
11. Bill Singer/Don Sutton, 1966 Topps, 85.4

10. Mark Teixeira/Carlos Pena, 2002 Upper Deck Vintage, 86.1

9. Fritz Ackley/Steve Carlton, 1965 Topps, 90.3

8. Vida Blue/Gene Tenace, 1970 Topps, 91.9

7. Phil Roof/Phil Niekro, 1964 Topps, 98.1

6. Albert Pujols/Donaldo Mendez, 2001 Fleer Platinum, 98.2

5. Joe Morgan/Sonny Jackson, 1965 Topps, 102.0

4. Bill Denehy/Tom Seaver, 1967 Topps, 108.8

3. Chipper Jones/Ryan Klesko, 1994 Topps, 112.0

2. Clay Carroll/Phil Niekro, 1965 Topps, 113.6

1. Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan, 1968 Topps, 135.0

I don't think the No. 1 card is a surprise to anyone. Also, if anyone is freaking out that these images are cards that are in my collection, calm down. None of them are. The top-ranked card that I do have is No. 11, Bill Singer/Don Sutton.
You can see that the Braves did quite well in the two-prospect category. They did quite well overall. Phil Niekro appearing on two of them shows that if a Hall of Famer appears on a prospect card, it's an automatic shoo-in as one of the best.
The cards that just missed the cut: 21. Hebner/Oliver (1969 Topps); 22. Kevin Brown/Kevin Reimer (1989 Fleer); 23. Hamilton/Crawford (2003 Topps); 24. Rivera/Pettitte (1995 Topps); 25. Blair/Johnson (1965 Topps)
 20. Mike McQueen/Darrell Evans/Rich Kester, 1970 Topps, 58.5
19. Lance Berkman/Mike Frank/Gabe Kapler, 1999 Topps, 60.4
18. Kerry Wood/Carl Pavano/Gil Meche, 1998 Topps, 60.8
17. Paul Konerko/Derrek Lee/Ron Wright, 1997 Topps, 62.5
16. Steve Bedrosian/Brett Butler/Larry Owen, 1982 Topps, 64.7
15. Richie Sexson/Daryle Ward/David Ortiz, 1998 Topps, 68.8
13. Tim Raines/Roberto Ramos/Bobby Pate, 1981 Topps, 69.4
13. Jack Perconte/Mike Scioscia/Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Topps, 69.4
12. Ichiro/Ryan Franklin/Ryan Christenson, 2001 Upper Deck Vintage, 71.4
11. Dusty Baker/Tom Paciorek/Don Baylor, 1971 Topps, 73.0

10. Ben Oglivie/Ron Cey/Bernie Williams, 1972 Topps, 79.5

9. Matt Clement/Roy Halladay/Brian Fuentes, 1998 Topps, 81.0

8. Matt Riley/Mark Mulder/C.C. Sabathia, 2000 Topps, 82.4

7. Mike Cameron/Raul Ibanez/Geoff Jenkins, 1997 Topps, 89.5

6. Al Bumbry/Dwight Evans/Charlie Spikes, 1973 Topps, 92.0

5. Ryan Anderson/Barry Zito/C.C. Sabathia, 2001 Topps, 94.4

4. Bob Bonner/Cal Ripken/Jeff Schneider, 1982 Topps, 95.2

3. Adrian Beltre/Aaron Boone/Ryan Minor, 1998 Topps, 104.6

2. Mike Garman/Cecil Cooper/Carlton Fisk, 1972 Topps, 106.4

1. Ron Cey/John (David) Hilton/Mike Schmidt, 158.7, 1973 Topps

This No. 1 shouldn't be a surprise to anyone either. In fact, this card has the highest collective WAR of any of the rookie stars cards. Also, note that Ron Cey is in the top 10 twice in the three-prospect category (as is C.C. Sabathia)!
I have a few more of these than the two-prospect cards. I own seven of the top 10.

The also-rans: 21. Law/Pena/Perez, 1981 Topps, 54.3; 22. Capra/Stanton/Matlack (1973 Topps); 23. Lee/Lowell/Pellow (1999 Topps); 24. Perez/Collins/Ricketts (1966 Topps); 25. Cline/Hernandez/Werth (1999 Topps)


20. Luis Ortiz/George Arias/Jason Giambi/David Bell, 1994 Topps, 64.5
19. Willie Randolph/Dave McKay/Jerry Royster, Roy Staiger, 1976 Topps, 67.7
18. Orlando Miller/Brandon Wilson/Derek Jeter/Mike Neal, 1994 Topps, 72.9
17. Ed Armbrister/Rich Bladt/Brian Downing/Bake McBride, 1974 Topps, 74.1
16. Hector Cruz/Chet Lemon/Ellis Valentine/Terry Whitfield, 1976 Topps, 78.1
15. Gary Carter/Marc Hill/Dan Meyter/Leon Roberts, 1975 Topps, 78.1
14. George Arias/Chris Haas/Scott Rolen/Scott Spiezio, 1996 Topps, 78.9
13. Garth Iorg/Dave Oliver/Sam Perlozzo/Lou Whitaker, 1978 Topps, 78.7
12. Max Alvis/Bob Bailey/Ed Kranepool/Pedro (Tony) Oliva, 1963 Topps, 83.6
11. Chris Howard/Carlos Delgado/Jason Kendall/Paul Bako, 1994 Topps, 85.3

10. Phil Garner/Keith Hernandez/Bob Sheldon/Tom Veryzer, 1975 Topps, 86.6

9. Dave Silvestri/Chipper Jones/Benji Gil/Jeff Patzke, 1994 1993 Topps, 85.3

8. Dick Egan/Julio Navarro/Gaylord Perry/Tommie Sisk, 1963 Topps, 87.2

7. Jack Clark/Ruppert Jones/Lee Mazzilli/Dan Thomas, 1977 Topps, 92.1

6. Andre Dawson/Gene Richards/John Scott/Denny Walling, 1977 Topps, 93.6

5. Mike Piazza/Brook Fordyce/Carlos Delgado/Donnie Leshnock, 1993 Topps, 105.6

4. Bo Diaz/Dale Murphy/Lance Parrish/Ernie Whitt, 1978 Topps, 116.1

3. Pedro Gonzalez/Ken McMullen/Pete Rose/Al Weis, 1963 Topps, 117.2

2. Brian Banks/Vladimir Guerrero/Andruw Jones/Billy McMillon, 121.4

1. Mickey Klutts/Paul Molitor/Alan Trammell/U.L. Washington, 1978 Topps, 155.8

With the exception of the Cey-Hilton-Schmidt card, the No. 1 four-player prospect card blows every other one out of the water. That's what happens when there are two Hall of Famers on one card.

The four-prospect format is the one that I first knew and is the most familiar. I remember seeing the three-prospect cards in 1979 (in black & white, no less) and going "what the heck is this?," not realizing that three-prospect cards was the format at recently as '73.

The also-rans: 21. Ramirez/Gonzalez/Casey (1998 Topps); 22. Albury/Frailing/Kobel/Tanana (1974 Topps); 23. Easterly/Johnson/McGregor/Rhoden (1975 Topps); 24. Cubbage/DeCinces/Sanders/Trillo (1975 Topps), 25. Armbrister/Lynn/Poquette/Whitfield (1975 Topps)
Here is the top 10 when you include all of them:
1. Cey/Hilton/Schmidt (1973T) 158.7
2. Klutts/Molitor/Trammell/Washington (1978T) 155.8
3. Koosman/Ryan (1968T) 135.0
4. Banks/Guerrero/Jones/McMillon (1996T), 121.4
5. Gonzalez/McMullen/Rose/Weis (1963T) 117.2
6. Diaz/Murphy/Parrish/Whitt (1978T) 116.1
7. Carroll/Niekro (1965T) 113.6
8. Jones/Klesko (1994T) 112.0
9. Denehy/Seaver (1967T) 108.8
10. Garman/Cooper/Fisk (1972T) 106.4
All right, now I think I can finally get rid of the stack of papers that's been sitting next to me since June.
However, I do have tallies for every single card, right down to those unfortunate ones in which the total WAR was in negative numbers. Maybe during a slow period (i.e. when I retire), I'll add the complete list here.


That is some serious research...well done! That is quite a fascinating read. (Although I know you meant to put 1993 Topps on the 4 prospect Chipper Jones card)
night owl said…
As a matter of fact, I did. I constantly confuse '93 and '94 Topps.
Bill@Bravestarr said…
Appreciate your work! Great job as always and even though I had a feeling what might be the #1s it was still super fun to work my way down to the bottom.
John Bateman said…
Now it is time to do the worst rookie star cards of all time.

Without doing any research, I think that the 1979 set with all those rookie stars in black and were the worst collection of players of all time. No one did anything

If my memory serves correct I think Rudy Law had the best career out of all of them
Jimetal7212 said…
Rigged I say! Just had to find a way to get Penguin to the top of the list somehow. Nice to see Dewey in there. Great post and amazing who you forget share these Prospects cards.
sg488 said…
Good to see the Sundown Kid checking in at number 6 lol.
Brett Alan said…
I think you're missing what I hope will become the SECOND such card with 2 Hall of Famers, from 1996 Topps:

Brian Banks -- -1.2
Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.) -- 59.5
Andruw Jones -- 62.7
Billy McMillion -- 0.4

I believe that adds up to 121.4, which would put it second behind the Molitor/Trammell among the quads and third overall. Weird that a Hall of Famer doesn't have the most WAR on his own card!

I'll probably never own a Koos rookie card, but I am happy for him that he's got such a famous one. He's been known to brag about his valuable his rookie card is.
night owl said…
Fixed. Geez, who remembers who's in 1996 Topps? Apparently 5-plus months of research wasn't enough!
steelehere said…
Great piece. After reading this, I’m curious which prospect card had the highest WAR for the worst player (as defined by career WAR) on each card.
jacobmrley said…
Oh, I absolutely need to see that bottom 10/20 of prospect cards. I love rookie cards where I have never heard of any of the guys on there. My favorite is the 1981 Tigers Future Stars, which has three dudes I have never even fathomed in major league thought. I need to know where that one stacks up.
Nick said…
Had a feeling the Molitor/Trammell quad-rookie would be the best of the best here. Ryan/Koosman has to be the best-ever overall pairing on a rookie card. And now I definitely wanna see the worst prospect cards, too!
Jim said…
Great post! I'd also be curious to see what was the worst prospect card. Best/worst League Leaders card would be cool too . . . in your spare time of course. ; )
Old Cards said…
Lot of time, effort and research here and a very interesting post. It's understandable why you eliminated the 1962 rookie cards when Topps started this process of "floating heads" and multiple rookies on one card. Of the bunch, Bob Uecker may have more notoriety than Sam McDowell. All of these rookie cards are why I look so forward to "dedicated rookie" cards made by Gio and Cards That Never Were.
The Braves faired fairly well :)
Matt said…
I think a fun post would be finding the biggest "Coat-tail riders" - guys who make lists like this because they had the good fortune to end up on a card with a Hall of Famer. Case in point: Cal Ripken's 1982 Topps rookie card - That card's cumulative WAR is actually LESS than Cal Ripken's because both Bonner and Schneider had negative WAR for their career.
Bo said…
Not to give you more work, but it would be interesting to see which card had the highest "lowest WAR" on for each type of card. For example, does Bo Diaz have the lowest WAR on his four-player card, and does he have the highest WAR of someone who finished fourth out of four on his own card?
Stack22 said…
Nice work, I'm sure that took some time to compile.

I'd like to see some math nerd run this exercise using some form of a standard deviation to account for situations where one player carries more than something like 80% of the total. For instance, Seaver/Denehy is in the Top 10 despite Denehy having a negative career WAR.

And sorry for this is in advance, but my math shows the 1981 Raines at 69.4, good for a tie at #13 (and had Topps gone with Wallach and Charlie Lea with Raines instead of Bobby Ramos and Bob Pate, it would have been #2 at 116.3)
Fuji said…
A. Awesome post. Yup. I love these lists.

B. The Schmidt/Cey totally slipped my mind, but I did think of the Ryan and Trammell/Molitor cards. Actually the first card that popped into my head is the Ripken.

C. I hope you give your readers the opportunity to see the bottom of the barrel one day.

The biggest "coattail riders" may be the guys who appeared with Seaver and Bench.
simpson said…
just a fantastic read and fun exercise!