Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ten for Tuesday - Best Yankees Cards

Hey everyone, Drew back here! Over the summer, despite my lack of Ten for Tuesday posts, I spent a lot of time coming up with different ideas for future topics of discussion. This post was one I had been eager to write since the idea first came to mind.

This week, we're going to dive into what this blog was originally all about: baseball cards, and more specifically; Yankees baseball cards. I understand the Yankees are a controversial organization that some of you loathe and some of you love, but with their immense history has come a ton of special cards that will one day make me a broke man. I've decided to rank which cards in my opinion are the greatest ever printed featuring a Yankees logo on its cap. This is not necessarily judged solely by dollar value, but it did serve as a good basis to begin my intrapersonal debate (also - no relics, autos, parallels will be seen here).

10 Best Yankees Cards

Honorable Mentions:

1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth
1933 Goudey #180 Lou Gehrig (Rookie Card)
1939 Play Ball #26 Joe DiMaggio (Rookie Card)
1952 Bowman #101 Mickey Mantle
1952 Topps #11 Phil Rizzuto
1962 Topps #200 Mickey Mantle
1976 Topps #74T Oscar Gamble
1992 Bowman #302 Mariano Rivera (Rookie Card)

I was extremely motivated to try and get Oscar Gamble and his fabulous afro inside the Top 10, but ultimately it just couldn't be done. With all of the history behind the Yankees organization, Gamble was more known for that card than for his actual on field contributions. Mariano Rivera's 1992 Bowman Rookie card technically doesn't fit the criteria (featuring a Yankee logo) but there's no way I couldn't at least mention the greatest reliever of all time.

The hardest card to keep off was the 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio rookie card. I've always undervalued Joltin' Joe, almost to the point where sometimes I feel like I have something against him. I considered some parts of his legacy to be overrated earlier this year, and I really don't have much of his in my collection. This card didn't make the cut because it was made during a time where cards really didn't seem to matter much; between the earlier 1930's Goudey cards and the late 1940's Bowman cards. If anything, it's card #10B on this list; close, but no cigar.

10 - 1961 Topps #2 Roger Maris

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Don't worry, I'm not trying to say that Roger Maris was a better Yankee than Joe DiMaggio because I put this card ahead of his. If I were to actually mean that, I would encourage you all to click the 'X' button on my blog tab. 

By 1961, baseball cards were becoming a larger part of pop culture alongside a great period for the sport itself. Roger Maris was a good player up until his 1960 MVP season, where he emerged as a superstar power hitter. In 1961, his name was etched into the record books when he smashed 61 Home Runs en route to defeating his teammate Mickey Mantle in one of the best power competitions ever. Not many wished for Maris to beat the beloved Mantle, but the outcome not only awarded Roger his second consecutive MVP but also a place among Yankees immortals forever.

His Topps card spoke highly of his calm, quiet demeanor in a way that they could not replicate again. As many of you know, I have a good chunk of the 1961 Topps set, not because it's an overly impressive design but because of its historical significance. No card encompasses that any more than Roger's. It may be a stretch to some, but I couldn't keep it off of my list.

9 - 1971 Topps #5 Thurman Munson

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For everything that was serene and peaceful about Maris' 1961 card, Thurman Munson's second year card was the exact opposite. The heart and soul of the Yankees 1970's generation was accurately portrayed on this card. Of course, you can't think of the former Captain without thinking about his tragic death in a plane crash which brought George Steinbrenner's crafted championship team to a startling halt. Munson's courage and compassion was an insurmountable loss for the team, and the Yankees would go without winning a World Series from 1978 all the way until 1996.

Once again, the 1971 Topps set simply was a template that gave way to the photo's brilliance. There is nothing overly special about the design, and the All Star Rookie logo is rather intrusive, but the collision and dust in the air put a different spin on a sport not always known for its aggressiveness. Injuries aside, collisions were always an entertaining part of the game and in a way I wish they still were allowed.

8 - 1984 Donruss #248 Don Mattingly (Rookie Card)

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Oh, to be young. The look in a young Don Mattingly's eyes shows that he had the confidence and poise to dominate New York. Who would have guessed the former 19th Round Draft Pick would have not only made his mark on the big leagues in his rookie season but also take home MVP honors the very next year? Mattingly's ascension into the stratosphere of baseball popularity was rapid, but unfortunately back issues caused his fall from grace to come much quicker than anyone wished.

But on the day this photo was taken, he was ready to conquer the Bronx faithful, and although he will likely never make the Hall of Fame, his #23 will always be revered. His Topps rookie card was also notable, but the Donruss card is more sought after and simply more aesthetically pleasing.

7 - 1948 Bowman #6 Yogi Berra (Rookie Card)

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Yogi Berra's name has got to be mentioned in every other one of my blog posts, and for that repetitiveness I am sorry. But, if any player deserves the limelight, it's Berra. Forget his memorable quotes and 10 World Series rings for a minute and just think about him as a player. Catcher just may be baseball's most difficult position, and he not only held his own there but contributed more than most of his fellow teammates offensively. He had excellent plate discipline and was a great source of power for several of the best teams of all time. Like he famously said, "You can observe a lot by watching". Any of his highlights that I've seen merit all of the attention and fame he has gotten, and while I may rank Johnny Bench as a slightly better all around catcher; Yogi is not far behind.

There are several really beautiful cards of the second #8 that could have made this list (1952 Bowman, 1952 Topps in particular), but the final selection was his simple and elegant Rookie Card out of 1948 Bowman.

6 - 1934 Goudey #37 Lou Gehrig

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Which card epitomizes Gehrig better than this 1934 Goudey beauty? Sure, cards were not nearly as coveted back in this generation, but the ones that were made were executed brilliantly. Babe Ruth may be the first name you think of in the Yankees history books, but Lou Gehrig started the "Yankee Way" fans have become synonymous with ever since his early death from ALS. Ruth was a great person by most accounts, but in a loud and boisterous way. Gehrig led by example and was as humble as one could be.

I didn't choose his 1933 Goudey Rookie Card, although it is certainly worthy of being right here in this card's place on the list in terms of value and importance. But there's something so charming and down to Earth about this card (even with a pretty ugly yellow in the background) that I couldn't pass over it.

5 - 1993 Upper Deck SP #279 Derek Jeter (Rookie Card)

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The legend from my generation, Derek Jeter; despite a general trend of overprinting and too many various parallels overpopulating the hobby these days, deserves to be recognized as much as just about anyone else. Beckett states that the most recent Yankee Captain has precisely 15,252 different cards to his name, but if I had to pick any one of them to represent his likeness, I would be hard-pressed to choose anything but his SP Rookie Card. Featured from the foil generation, this card scans horribly but is lustrous and polished when held in your hand. Jeter wasn't exactly a superstar for the reasons most players were during his prime, as he never specialized in power hitting (24 Home Runs was his career high for a single season). But Jeter was a complete player in every sense of the word for a vast majority of his career, until his age detracted from his range and overall defense.

This card may feel and seem far out from the rest of the pack; with more foil than on the rest of the cards combined. But it already belongs for all of the right reasons, and this card could even move up a spot or two twenty or thirty years from now.

4 - 1953 Topps #82 Mickey Mantle

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When viewing this week's Ten for Tuesday topic, I bet several of you wondered "How many Mickey Mantle cards will be on this one?" Heck, I could have done a Top 10 with just Mantle cards and would have struggled to come to fruition with it. Mantle is a cardboard god not just for his role as a fan favorite and being one of the finest athletes to ever grace the diamond, but for the timing at which his career began. The first official flagship Topps set was released in 1952, and Mantle made his MLB Debut in 1951. Mantle's emergence sparked the first collector rush in the Sports Card Industry, similar to what we see now with Bowman's top prospects and players like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Factor in that he was part of a team that won 5 Championships in his first decade manning center field, and you have a Hobby Hero on your hands.

The first Mantle inclusion on this list (there were two of his cards in the Honorable Mention section) is his 1953 Topps card; which in my book is the most visually satisfying Yankees card ever printed. I find three cards to be more important in the grand scheme of things, but if I had the opportunity to choose any of these 10 cards I would have to fight myself not to choose this one. The sketch looks like it came straight out of a Comic Book, and Mantle appears as a larger than life figure. The 1953 Topps design is iconic, and is a true definition of what vintage should be classified as.

3 - 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle (Rookie Card)

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Just narrowly topping the 1953 Mantle is what is considered his official Rookie Card; his 1951 Bowman. This was the first Mantle card ever printed of what would amount to over 10,000 more in the future. Forget the recent splurge of Mantle we all were given in Topps flagship products (because yes, even Yankee fans like myself found it all a bit excessive), and remember him for classics like this instead. The first few Bowman releases really put an emphasis on simplicity and photography; not letting the design take away from the importance of the player highlighted. The clouds in the air and what appears to be a Spring Training complex in the horizon make Mantle pop out much like in the aforementioned 1953. It feels like he's ready to step outside of the white border and hit a home run in Yankee Stadium tonight.

There is such an aura with Mantle cards that really just can't be surpassed by any sports figure in history. Tell me if you feel it too, because I'm almost certain it's not just a Yankee thing.

2 - 1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth

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Babe Ruth doesn't have nearly as many cards as Mantle, but companies made the ones he had during his playing days count. "The Bambino" only played into the 1935 season, and there weren't many cards issued between his famous few Red Sox Rookie Cards and his 1933 Goudey's. But the handful of different cards he had in the Goudey set took on a legacy of their own that has continued since his retirement from the game.

I've heard that the card mentioned in the Honorable Mentions of his from this set; featuring a close up of Ruth swinging with a yellow backdrop, is the most valuable of the lot due to the difficulty of the cards still remaining in tact. This is my favorite of the bunch though, and it's beyond my distaste for the yellow color. When I look at this card, it feels like Ruth never actually existed and was a figment of the baseball fan's imagination. Hell, the man retired 80 years ago, and the game was completely different when he left it than it is now. The stories and myths regarding his career may or may not have actually happened, but it was so long ago that you may as well think they did.

This card also reminds me of "The Sandlot", one of my all time favorite baseball movies. If you haven't seen it, the players use a signed Babe Ruth baseball in their pickup games, much to the confusion of the boy who borrowed the ball from his step-father. It's a classic scene, as most of you know, and was recreated earlier this year by the Yankees (McCann really pulled off a solid Ham Porter). I think of the movie whenever I see this card because it looks like Ruth is playing in someone's back yard far from Yankee Stadium.

"Remember kid, there's heroes and there's legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong."

1 - 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle

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Did you really think it was going to be anything other than this at the top? Though not Mantle's true Rookie Card, this was practically Topps' Rookie Card. This card helped spiral the company to the upper echelon of the card industry, and is far more than just a piece of cardboard. The 1952 Mantle is a rare find, to say the least. 

An article published on 24/7 Wall St. stated on August 2nd of this year that the card recently sold by Goldin Auctions for $330,000; far more than the card had ever commanded prior. Most commonly sell between $10,000 and $20,000, but the card sold had been graded an 8; in far better condition than most. The card's value has always been higher than any other Mantle somewhat in part to the famous legend that former Topps CEO Sy Berger cut off the circulation of most of the set after dumping hundreds of unopened cases of the product into the Hudson River. I'm currently sitting in my College Library overlooking the Hudson, and thinking of the fortune that lies deep within the water; completely disintegrated, brings a tear to my eye. One day it'll be mine. Hopefully.

As of now, I own 4 of my Top 10 cards, and I have a hard time envisioning owning any of the other 6. I currently have the 1961 Topps Maris, 1993 SP Jeter, 1984 Donruss Mattingly, and the 1971 Topps Munson.

Do you agree or disagree with my rankings? Feel free to get the conversation started in the comments below!

See Ya!


  1. Great post! Another idea, is "Unknown players that have made an impact on the Yankees."

  2. Great post Drew! I have 2 of your top 10.

  3. Man. That 51 Bowman Mantle is sure pretty. Great list.

  4. Hard to argue with any of these! I might put '56 Rizzuto in there somewhere. Also any Nernie Williams early card with his big glasses!

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