Over the last two years, I was able to check off three collecting goals, two of which I’d started more than 20 years ago–

  1. 1956 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set
  2. 1957 Topps Brooklyn Dodgers team set – needed only a $2 Don Elston!
  3. Hank Aaron mini-master set (all Topps regular issue cards + notable magazine covers + bobbleheads + a few random things)

However, I still stood two cards away from my biggest collecting challenge: a framed display of the 50 best baseball players from 1933-1969. As the two said players were Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, I figured it could be a while.

Complex Psychological Transformations

It turns out there are three things that happen (in this order) when you find yourself “only” a Gehrig and a Ruth away from a goal of more than two decades.

  1. You stop making progress.
  2. You miss the thrill of checking players off your want list.
  3. You convince yourself there really are other players you need.

And with that, the project has now been reinvented as a Top 100. The bad news is I now need even more players than two. But the good news is…wait, that was the good news!

Player Selection

1939 Play Ball Bill Dickey

First on the agenda was trying to figure out which players to include. For help, I looked over Top 100 player lists from SABR, the Sporting News, and ESPN, paying special attention to the players making all three lists. (I later bumped my selections against the MLB All-Century Team nominees and found all were represented for except Goose Goslin.)

While my budget would dictate that there was no point adding deadball era greats like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson, the review did convince me to go beyond 1969 so I could add the great players I grew up watching as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. As a result, my new cutoff was 1980. (Update: When Tim Raines made the HOF, I extended to 1981 so I could add him in.)

Round 1: The Immortals

Reflecting both the variability in such Top 100 lists as well as the significant number of great players whose last card was pre-1933 or post-1980, there were only 51 eligible players who made all three Top 100 lists. Here are the 23 who made the top half of all three lists, along with two honorable mentions I added myself. Rankings on each list are indicated as well in SABR/TSN/ESPN order:

  1. Babe Ruth – 1/1/1

    1964 Genko card of the Japanese HR King
  2. Hank Aaron – 4/5/5
  3. Willie Mays – 8/2/2
  4. Ted Williams – 3/8/4
  5. Stan Musial – 5/10/8
  6. Lou Gehrig – 2/6/11
  7. Rogers Hornsby – 9/9/15
  8. Mickey Mantle – 12/17/9
  9. Joe DiMaggio – 6/11/19
  10. Frank Robinson – 24/22/20
  11. Johnny Bench – 19/16/26
  12. Jimmie Foxx – 14/15/27
  13. Mike Schmidt – 16/28/16
  14. Steve Carlton – 30/30/25
  15. Tom Seaver – 28/32/22
  16. Bob Gibson – 17/31/33
  17. Roberto Clemente – 20/20/34
  18. Mel Ott – 42/42/37
  19. Sandy Koufax – 21/26/44
  20. Nolan Ryan – 44/41/36
  21. Warren Spahn – 15/21/45
  22. Lefty Grove – 33/23/48
  23. Pete Rose – 48/25/38
  24. Satchel Paige – NA/19/NA
  25. Sadaharu Oh – NA/NA/NA

Round 2: Triple Mentions

And here are the 28 other players who made all three Top 100 lists but fell outside the top 50 on at least one. Definitely some immortals on this list also.

  1. Ernie Banks – 27/38/53

    These DeLong cards are tough finds
  2. Jackie Robinson – 36/44/54
  3. George Brett – 29/55/30
  4. Yogi Berra – 26/40/58
  5. Joe Morgan – 37/60/18
  6. Rickey Henderson – 60/51/14
  7. Bob Feller – 22/36/61
  8. Rod Carew – 51/61/55
  9. Willie McCovey – 62/56/59
  10. Eddie Mathews – 31/63/39
  11. Hank Greenberg – 35/37/65
  12. Reggie Jackson – 67/48/57
  13. Harmon Killebrew – 69/69/66
  14. Juan Marichal – 58/71/71
  15. Carl Yastrzemski – 45/72/40
  16. Al Kaline – 59/76/46
  17. Brooks Robinson – 32/80/43
  18. Charlie Gehringer – 46/46/81
  19. Eddie Murray – 82/77/67
  20. Duke Snider – 68/83/82
  21. Robin Roberts – 83/74/80
  22. Ozzie Smith – 56/87/62
  23. Frank Frisch – 72/88/88
  24. Jim Palmer – 57/64/90
  25. Paul Waner – 71/62/92
  26. Willie Stargell – 93/81/85
  27. Al Simmons – 66/43/99
  28. Paul Molitor – 81/99/78

Round 3: Double Mentions

In this next round are the 17 players who made two of the three Top 100 lists. Two standouts here are Roy Campanella and Carl Hubbell, who made the top 50 with SABR and the Sporting News but failed to crack the ESPN list at all–not even among their 101-125 Honorable Mentions. Now that’s some real #FakeNews!

  1. Carl Hubbell

    Terry_1935_DS_no case
    One of my very favorite cards!
  2. Roy Campanella
  3. Mickey Cochrane
  4. Whitey Ford
  5. Bill Dickey
  6. Dennis Eckersley
  7. Pie Traynor
  8. Lou Brock
  9. Dizzy Dean
  10. Rollie Fingers
  11. Bill Terry
  12. Robin Yount
  13. Joe Cronin
  14. Ralph Kiner
  15. Carlton Fisk
  16. Fergie Jenkins
  17. Gaylord Perry

Round 4: Single Mentions

There were 14 players who made only one Top 100 list. As this was a somewhat weak criterion for inclusion, I chose to include only 11 of them.

  1. Bert Blyleven

    Who knew this guy used to be young?
  2. Luke Appling
  3. Johnny Mize
  4. Gary Carter
  5. Dave Winfield
  6. Joe Medwick
  7. Ron Santo
  8. Hoyt Wilhelm
  9. Luis Aparicio
  10. Chuck Klein
  11. Phil Niekro

Left out: Lefty Gomez, Goose Goslin, Early Wynn

Round 5: The Final 19

From my perspective, I had already ensured inclusion of all of the must haves. From here, while I was definitely interested in considering the best remaining players, I wanted to ensure I kept spots open for some sentimental favorites, record holders, and pioneers of the game.

  1. Don Sutton

    The T206 Wagner of late 1970s Brentwood Science Magnet
  2. Lou Boudreau
  3. Billy Williams
  4. Don Drysdale
  5. Hack Wilson
  6. Lefty O’Doul
  7. Gabby Hartnett
  8. Arky Vaughan
  9. Monte Irvin
  10. Richie Ashburn
  11. Minnie Minoso
  12. Larry Doby
  13. Roger Maris
  14. Steve Garvey
  15. Thurman Munson
  16. Dick Allen
  17. J.R. Richard
  18. Andre Dawson
  19. Jim Rice

Left out: Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, etc.

Card selection

Once I knew which players I wanted to feature I put a lot of time into determining which specific cards of each player to use. My main criteria were these–

  • Use only portrait (vs landscape) orientations so nothing would be sideways
  • Use cards I already had, particular for the more expensive players
  • Aim for early cards of modern players but avoid any multi-player RCs
  • Feature cards from as many sets as possible but include multiple cards from each of my favorite sets (e.g., Diamond Stars, 1957 Topps)
  • Look for great looking cards!

Then What?

Once I finally get the three cards I still need for my framed display, I really do think I’m done. (UPDATE: I was wrong!) Building a collection like this was my biggest and maybe only dream as a kid. And for all the times I had my cards thrown away or stolen, I don’t think I ever really got over any of them. Yes, I know there are other ways to gain closure on past traumas, but this is the route I’ve chosen. Good chance it proves no more expensive than real therapy would have, plus I end up with something really awesome for my wall. Long live cardboard therapy!