Hank Aaron played on a record 25 all-star teams at the Major League level, a record that will almost certainly last forever. Four were “extras” in that there were two all-star games each year from 1959-1962, but duplicates notwithstanding it’s hard to imagine any player making the all-star team 21 straight years like the Hammer did from 1955-1975. (Mays and Musial were all-stars for 20 seasons, while the “modern” record goes to Cal Ripken with 19.)
All in all, Aaron’s all-star accomplishments were reflected four different ways by Topps:
- All-star subset (one player per card): 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1968, 1970
- All-star subset (two players per card): 1974 with Dick Allen
- All-star designation on Highlights card: 1975
It’s easy to see that the nine cards identified above fall well short of 21, and there are two main reasons for this:
- As Wax Pack Gods notes, Topps did not have all-star subsets every year. During Aaron’s cardboard career (1954-1976), all-stars were only noted from 1958-1962, 1968-1970, and 1974-1976. (I am not counting the 1965 Topps Embossed set since all 72 players were identified in that set as all-stars, which just wasn’t true!)
- Hank Aaron was not always a starter. The games he started were in 1957-1960, 1963, and 1965-1974. (Credit Roberto Clemente for earning the nod in RF those other years of the 1960s.)
Accounting for these two explanations, the only “missing” All-Star card for the Hammer was in 1969. However, it’s also important to realize that while Topps sometimes honored the all-star game starters, they chose other years to go with the all-star sections of either Sport Magazine (1958, 1960) or the Sporting News (1959, 1963, 1968-1970). For example, while Don Drysdale started the 1968 All-Star game for the National League, the 1969 Topps set instead chose Bob Gibson, who (for very obvious reasons!) was named the Sporting News All-Star at pitcher over Drysdale. And sure enough, the Hammer was nowhere to be found in the magazine’s all-star outfield of Curt Flood, Pete Rose, and Billy Williams. (As a weird aside, Topps gave Billy Williams’ spot to Lou Brock, who was neither selected by TSN nor an ASG starter.)
So of the nine Hank Aaron all-star cards, how do they rate? Here are my rankings from worst to best.
9. 1974 Topps
Nothing against Dick Allen, but the 1974 card takes last place simply by virtue of being a multi-player card. Topps could have paired the Hammer with Jesus Christ himself, and I’d still vote the card into ninth (and perhaps pay dearly in the afterlife). Fact is, Hank Aaron always deserves his own card! I also dock some points for Aaron’s position being first base. This wasn’t any fault of Topps since Aaron really was a first baseman that year; still, the legendary hero we all think of when we think of Hank Aaron is definitely an outfielder.
8. 1970 Topps
On the plus side, I’m a big fan of this particular Sporting News design, also used in 1961. I’m also a fan of the Atlanta hat logo shown on the card. However, I’m otherwise not much in love with the photo. First off, Aaron is neither smiling nor looking mean, which really are the only two acceptable expressions on an awesome baseball card. (And depending on the situation, a look of intense concentration might work too.) Additionally, the drab color of his uniform practically disappears into the equally drab background, giving the shot something of a driver’s license photo look. And overall, combined with the colorless card design, the overall look of the card is somewhat dull.
7. 1968 Topps
I’m just not a fan of pretty much anything Topps did in 1968, so it’s hard for me to rate this card highly. The burlap border is practically a death sentence, and the card loses additional points for relegating Aaron to only about half the real estate. To beat a dead horse, the “68” reminds me of one of those tests you take at the eye doctor to see if you’re color blind. And finally, the background behind Hank is a bit hard to make out. It almost looks like he’s in the desert.
6. 1960 Topps
I tend to prefer the portrait layout over landscape, which tends to bias me against pretty much all things Topps from 1960. However, I do find a lot to like about this card. In contrast with the 1968 design, which gives half the card to the year, Topps was skilled here in putting the year in the background while still making it readable. (Of course, the year is also given in the top red bar, so maybe it’s still kind of a lame design.) The black outlining or shadowing of Aaron’s photo works for me here and keeps Hank’s uniform from disappearing onto the card background. Overall though, there’s still too little Hank for the card, which I think tends to be the case just about any time you go to a landscape layout–1971 Thurman Munson excepted.
5. 1962 Topps
I’m not crazy about the wood grain (though I’ll take it over 1968 burlap), but I do like some things about the design of this card: the borderless white frame around the picture matching up with the borderless white Sporting News banner. The oval name placard bugs me and the “outfield” line seems a bit crammed to the bottom, but let’s call those things minor. As another small point, I like the color the uniform adds here, but I wish both fours in 44 were visible. If I were the photographer, I would have said, “Please, Mr. Aaron…if you could just turn a bit more toward me.” Or maybe I’d just move a step or two myself. The pose itself is also a bit mysterious to me. I suppose Aaron is demonstrating how he takes the ball out of his glove after making a catch, but something about it doesn’t look quite right.
4. 1975 Topps
Before talking pluses and minuses, I’ll first note that Topps did something unique here. All other all-stars in the set have their designation on their base card. However, in Aaron’s case, Topps threw it onto his “Highlights” card. I suspect the main reason for this was because Hank’s base card depicted him as a Brewer, and it would have been too strange to have an NL All-Star designator on a Milwaukee Brewer card. (Not anymore, I guess. But this was back in 1975 when the Brewers were an AL team.) Then again, look carefully at 1975 Topps Bobby Murcer, and you’ll see an “AL All-Star” designation on a Giants card. But alas, onto the pluses and minuses!
On the plus side, “Aaron Sets Homer Mark” is about as bad ass as a baseball highlight can get. As far as baseball history goes, I’d put this in second place all-time behind only Jackie Robinson’s major league debut on April 15, 1947. Another plus is the shot itself. This is obviously not a young Hank, but the age captured in the photo only adds to the magnificence of Aaron’s record and career. You can juxtapose this shot with Hank as a rookie and realize, “Wow, that’s how long he had to be awesome!” As for negatives, I’m a bit on the fence as to whether the All-Star/Highlights combo really works for me or not. It’s definitely the best Highlights/Record Breaker card of all-time, but the purist in me might have preferred Hank’s all-star designator to fall on his base card.
3. 1961 Topps
I was tough on the 1970 card of similar design, but I am actually a big fan of this one. I know some collectors aren’t fans of hat-less cards, but I think it works here. The outdoor background behind Hank is a bit blurry but still adds just enough color and contrast to make the overall card a winner. No smile or menacing glare, but again I can live with it, perhaps because there’s something nonetheless regal in Hank’s gaze. And adding to the allure of the card is the faux headline of the Sporting News that day. It’s pretty unusual to start a sentence (or even a headline) with the verb “Grabs,” which made me think it might actually be a proper noun here. However, the only baseball player I could find with that name or nickname was Billy “Grabs” Grabarkewitz who would have been a young teenager at the time this card was issued.
2. 1959 Topps
This card has a ton going for it. The bold red background with the white outline logo of the National League is fantastic. Combined with the Sporting News banner, these elements give the card a timeless quality and connect Aaron’s all-star selection the history of organized baseball itself. The bottom of the card also does a good job capturing various pertinent elements in an economical manner. (Team is omitted, but this was true all the way until 1974!) The pose is a good one, but I’ll knock it a little for having Hank’s bat blend in with the background a bit too much and also for Hank’s eyes being mostly closed.
1. 1958 Topps
I know a lot of collectors who put the 1958 All-Star subset as one of the very best that Topps ever did. I’m no exception–I just love these cards. I’d give top honors to the cards of Mantle, Banks, Spahn, and Mays, but the Aaron is still very much a winner. The photo itself is not identical to but greatly recalls the photo from Aaron’s rookie card. So there’s that big plus. But most of the big points this card scores come from the simple but awesome design. This is just a beautiful set to look at, particularly when you intersperse the American Leaguers and their red backgrounds. Then you’ve solved the puzzle, pairing the blue and red backgrounds with the white stars to see baseball as the Great American Game that it was.