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Monday, August 27, 2018

The Greatest of Topps Flagship

1972 Fred Gladding - 0.4 WAR
I recently came across an article from MLB Cut4 in which various baseball writers and personalities ranked their favorite Topps flagship card from every year dating back to 1951. The writers were asked not to pick their favorites based on the most valuable or famous cards, rather cards that held particular importance to them. The results were all over the place, with favorites ranging from the 1972 Fred Gladding to the infamous 2012 Skip Schumaker.

The article got me thinking about my own favorites across the history of Topps, and I briefly pondered creating a list of my own. But considering I started collecting in 2004 and my collection features primarily 21st-century cards, I found myself needing to learn more about the history of baseball and the history of baseball cards before I jumped into a project of that nature.

2012 Skip Schumaker - 0.8 WAR
And what better way to do this, I thought, than to explore the history of baseball cards through card checklists, statistics, and a ton of research.

Though baseball's advanced metrics are a common topic of controversy in 2018, I am a huge numbers buff, and I absolutely love digging through the stats to learn about players and the history of the game.

One of the most common advanced statistics used today is WAR, that is, Wins Above Replacement. While not a perfect statistic, WAR attempts to provide a single number to measure a player's contributions to their team. Though not always the most precise, WAR is an easy way to determine how well a player is performing in a given year. It will also serve as my guiding light as I attempt to determine the cards that captured the greatest seasons of baseball history...well, let's pretend history started in 1951, as did Topps Flagship.

I'm going to take a look at every Topps Flagship set dating back to 1951, evaluate the top performers at each position using WAR, and catch a glimpse at how well Topps represented baseball's greatest players year in and year out.

On the surface, this would seem to yield predictable results. Mike Trout has dominated for the past several years, and there is zero chance you won't see his card (or several) in a modern set. But modern baseball card production has certainly shifted since its inception in the first half of the 20th century, and it will be interesting to see how the industry has changed over the years.

For instance, did you know that Stan Musial was the most valuable player by WAR from 1951 to 1955, yet he didn't have a single card in Topps Flagship during that period? I find this mind-boggling, and I hope to uncover more oddities like this throughout this project.

Uncovering the greatest of Topps Flagship is soon to come, starting with 1951 later this week. And I hope you'll follow me on this journey through baseball card history.


  1. Musial didn't get a Topps card until 1958. In 1951 he was signed to Bowman; when his deal expired, he refused to sign with either company, finally relenting after Topps made a substantial charitable donation to convince him to sign.

  2. Looking forward to reading more of these! (Although I have to ask: what's the Rally Squirrel's WAR?)