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Living in the high numbers

I made the inaccurate statement the other day that the forgotten Billy Wynne received just two Topps cards in his career and both of them were high numbers.

But actually just one of them was a high number. His 1970 Topps card is a "semi-high number" at card No. 618, according to most set checklists.

I suppose that doesn't make a difference to some of you, but if you're collecting a set that involves high numbers, it definitely makes a difference. The 1970 Topps high numbers start at No. 634 and Wynne is just 16 cards away from being studied, memorized and having his mug shot posted on every set-collectors' wanted wall.

Wynne's appearance made me wonder if there were any players whose cards showed up only in the high numbers, which was a yearly part of Topps sets between 1952-73, with a few exceptions. But obviously Wynne is not eligible now.

And as I studied the high numbers my wondering changed to "who has the MOST cards in the high numbers?" I could only imagine a particular player becoming an annual aggravation for collectors -- a high number again????

I went to work.
Yes, there are some players who definitely showed up in the high numbers more often than others. But before I get to the list of who those pesky players are, here are the guidelines for my search:

1. I discounted the All-Star subsets from the late 1950s/early 1960s.
2. I discounted any rookie parade floating head cards.
3. I did not count "In Action" cards from the 1972 set. One high-number per player for that set was enough.
4. I included almost every Topps flagship set between 1952-73, even if that set's high numbers weren't necessarily tough, such as 1968. The ones I did not include were 1954 and 1957, whose "high numbers" are actually "middle numbers." I also didn't include 1956, whose "high numbers" are almost half the set and (from experience) are not noticeably tougher than the other cards. And there were no high numbers in 1958.

Here is the range I considered for high numbers for each year:

1952: cards 311-407
1953: 221-280
1955: 161-210
1959: 507-572
1960: 507-572 
1961: 523-589
1962: 523-598
1963: 447-576
1964: 523-587
1965: 507-598
1966: 523-598
1967: 534-609
1968: 458-598
1969: 589-664
1970: 634-720
1971: 644-752
1972: 657-787
1973: 529-660

The cut-off for the players I'm showing is they had to have showed up in the high numbers at least four times. Yes, four times. I'm surprised, too. There were a ton of players who appeared in the high numbers three times. And, remember, I'm skipping the All-Star cards, with the exception of one, which I'll kick it off with:


Willie McCovey

One of McCovey's high-number appearances is from the All-Star subset from 1960. But that still leaves three other high-number showings for his regular base card! Damn! That's a lot for the Hall of Famer.

Jim Kaat

From one Hall of Famer to the most recent Hall of Famer. Jim Kaat is a high number in 1964 and 1966 and then in 1972 and 1973. Seems like a lot to ask, especially with his '73 card being a batting shot!

J.C. Martin

Martin also pulls back-to-back high-number slots in 1971 and 1972. I think some of the players that show up repeatedly in the high numbers are ones who changed teams a lot as Topps waited to later series to get the players with their new teams. Martin is one of those examples.

Denny McLain

McLain shows up on a technicality. Although I didn't count the "In Action" cards in the '72 set, I did include the "Traded" cards and McLain is in the Traded set, which puts him in the four-time club. He also changed teams a lot after his Tigers days (his only Tiger high-number is in the 1966 set).

Bill Monbouquette

I remember coming across Monbouquette for the first time when I saw his 1969 Topps card as a young teen. I was fascinated by the name. I'm pretty sure I would've been irked if someone with that name kept appearing in the high numbers.

Jimmy Piersall

With the exception of the 1965 set, Piersall lived in the high numbers between 1963-67.

Red Sox team

Oh man, this had to be more aggravating than anything. To see the team card from your favorite team repeatedly show up in the high numbers??? Red Sox fans, are you with me? This isn't the only team to be haunted by this though.

Russ Snyder

Snyder is the subject of one of my favorite quotes from a manager about a player. Snyder played for the 1966 Orioles and Orioles manager Hank Bauer said of Snyder "nobody notices him until he beats their brains out."

Twins team

Here is the other team whose team card appears in the high numbers four times. This one in particular is a toughie.

Hoyt Wilhelm

OK, we are done with the Hall of Famers after this player. Such a popular player to relegate to the high numbers repeatedly and you could make an argument for a fifth high-number appearance as he's card No. 307 in the 1956 set. I am happy every day because I have two of his '72 card in my collection.

Johnny Podres

As a Dodger fan, I am familiar with Johnny Podres' repeated visits to the high numbers. He's even in the rough 1957 middle numbers! But Podres' Padres card in the 1969 set puts him on this list.

Tony Cloninger
Cloninger appears in the high numbers in 1964 and 1965 and in 1970 and 1972. He also comes very close to a fifth appearance at No. 490 in the 1967 set.

Johnny Klippstein

The only Johnny Klippstein cards I have are from his Dodgers days in the late '50s and early '60s. But once he left the Dodgers, he went on a high-numbers tear.

He's also in the 1957 middle numbers and comes close to making the high numbers in 1966 at #493.


The only five-appearance high number players are ones whose totals also include the all-star subsets from the '50s/'60s. That includes Bill Mazeroski (2 of his 5 are all-star cards) and Willie Mays (3 of his 5 are all-stars).

Luis Aparicio appears in the high number portion of sets a whopping six times. But three of those are all-star subset cards.

That leaves only one other high-number resident to get to. But before I do that, here are a few players who made the high numbers at least three times:

Ken Aspromonte, Roy Face, Don Cardwell, Donn Clendenon, Chuck Estrada, Tony Gonzalez, Jim Landis, Don Mincher, Mike McCormick, Ed Roebuck, Dick Selma, Jim Stewart, Faye Throneberry. That's not all of them but I'll stop there.

Now for the guy who had to give collectors growing up in the '60s and early '70s fits.

He showed up as a high-number card SEVEN TIMES. That's more often than he appeared in the low numbers. His first appearance in the high numbers was in 1962 and his last was on his final card in 1973.

Here are his card numbers for those high-number showings:

1962: #565
1963: #545
1964: #575
1968: #482
1970: #643
1972: #701
1973: #659

And you could throw in his In-Action card at #702 in 1972 for an eighth appearance.

I'm sure some old-school collectors know who he is by now and definitely a few Giants fans.

The player to appear in the high numbers the most (excluding present-day Heritage sets, of course) is former Giants and Pirates shortstop Jose Pagan.

Let's just call him the most elusive player card ever. Yup I'm saying he was tougher to get than Willie, Mickey or the Duke.

Props to all you people collecting back then.


jacobmrley said…
This is the kind of marvelous minutiae that makes me keep reading this blog year after year. Love it! Also, the 1972 Wilhelm is one of my favorite cards of all time for reasons I cannot properly express.
GTT said…
Gary Geiger is someone I've noticed who's like that. In the three sets I like most, 1959, 1963, and 1967, he's a high number in all of them.
Old Cards said…
Another great post. I remember paying much more than I wanted to for a 67 J C Martin.
That's a lot of homework.
sg488 said…
In 1972 the 5th and 6th series came out at the same time,so I always considered 526-656 as high numbers also.
bryan was here said…
As soon as I saw #659 in the '73 listed, I knew it was Jose Pagan. Featuring that lovely Topps airbrushing wizardry into a Phillies uniform.

I actually have a near-complete last series of '73 Topps (with one major exception), so this is how I knew.

Once again, outstanding work.
RunForeKelloggs said…
Great research. I was wrong to be expecting a list of relief pitchers and bench players who would either be in the last series or not included at all in the set.
Nick said…
I'm ashamed to say that Hoyt didn't come to mind when I read your concept for this post. But yeah, he sure does have a bunch of high-numbers, doesn't he? I thank the cardboard gods every day that I have a copy of his '52 AND '72 high #s.

(Still looking for a '66 Denny McLain though, and probably will be for a long time because I'm astounded by how much that one goes for.)
Fuji said…
Great research as usual. I thought the Red Sox team card thing was pretty shocking... but Jose Pagan took it to a completely different level. This is such a cool piece of baseball card trivia.
Jon said…
I may have given up set collecting, but I'm not far enough removed from it yet to have not known most of these. It's kind of hard not to remember some of these guys when they keep showing up again and again on ones list of needs. Johnny Podres is the only one here that I collect now, and thankfully most of his high numbers can still be gotten for a reasonable price.
Mark Zentkovich said…
nice story, thanks for sharing.
John Bateman said…
I would not have included 73 Topps with high number.....

The thing I hate about heritage was most of the stars were in high numbers (except 1969 and 1972 Topps heritage) sets for about the last 10 years

I think Jose score the winning run or drove in the winning run in game 7 of the 1971 world series
night owl said…
@John Bateman ~

I collected the '73 set. The high numbers were definitely more difficult to acquire.
Bo said…
Sounds like good research for another Beckett article.
Jafronius said…
This is Beckett-quality research, awesome job!
Matt said…
Right now, my focus is on Red Sox cards from 1975-present. When ever I do venture back further, yes those Red Sox team cards will be a headache...
Nick Vossbrink said…
Very acquainted with McCovey. Would not have guessed Pagan even though half of his 6 Giants cards are high numbers. For some reason he never gave me trouble the way Jim Duffalo (3 out of 4 career cards in high numbers) has (still need the 62). The other one who's killing me is Doug Camilli who is in the 50% or more high numbers club (3 out of 6) but by being a rookie parade, 66, and 67 high is part of the hardest sets aside form the 52s.
Kin said…
Fantastic post!