Topps began honoring its annual Rookie All-Star team with a postseason banquet in 1959. Players were featured in a dinner program, but it soon became obvious to someone at Topps — it was a card company, so why not honor the rookie recipients with a card set?
Topps did just that in 1964, issuing a 36-card boxed set for the annual dinner, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Oct. 22, 1964.
The Topps Rookie All-Star Banquet set is certainly among Topps’ most obscure sets. The cards measured 3 inches by 5¼ inches and have the look and feel of a program one might find at an awards ceremony. To make it more program-like, Topps assigned a “page number” to each card, which is featured in the lower right-hand section on the front. Each card is printed in black and white, with either blue or red highlights on the front. The cards came in a special presentation box that was printed in foil.
The first seven cards in the set featured black-and-white photography of key Topps sports employees and baseball officials. The idea is reminiscent of this year’s Allen & Ginter set, which has eight autographed mini cards of Topps employees, numbered to 10. It’s a safe bet that production values for the 1964 version were not as good as they are today.
Cards of note in those first seven include innovative Topps executive Sy Berger (No. 6), Election Committee card No. 4 includes Hall of Famers Frank Frisch and Hank Greenberg, along with media members. No. 5 features Joel Shorin of Topps, media members, and Hall of Famers. No. 7 is a “Topps Salutes Joe Garagiola” card.
Cards 8 through 12 show the previous years’ Rookie All-Star Teams, using 10 “floating head” mug shots against a light blue background.
Cards 13 through 34A featured a 3-inch by 3¼-inch black-and-white photograph of one of the 1964 rookies who were being honored at the banquet. No. 13 was a header card similar to the other seasons, featuring the 1964 rookie team. Other cards in those numbers featured a team’s public relations director with a write-up about the rookie. For example, card No. 20 featured Kansas City Athletics PR director Jim Schaaf, while No. 21 showcased A’s rookie star Bert Campaneris.
This set is difficult to find in high grade. A total of 196 cards have been sent to PSA for grading. Of those, only six earned gem mint status, and two of them are cards of Hal Lanier. There are 46 cards that earned a PSA 9 grade, and 58 have been graded near mint (PSA 8).
Only 13 cards have been registered with SGC, and three grade as high as 96.
By far, the most valuable card in the set is No. 12, the 1963 Topps All-Star Rookie Team. This card features Pete Rose, Rusty Staub, Al Weis, Pete Ward, Jimmie Hall, Vic Davalillo, Tommy Harper, Jesse Gonder, Ray Culp and Gary Peters. Only 13 of these cards have been registered with PSA, and only two grade as high as PSA 9. A PSA 8 version of the 1963 rookies sold for $3,480.75 (including buyer’s premium) in a Mile High Card Company auction in November 2010. A complete, 36-card box — including the presentation case — fetched $3,107 in a Heritage Auctions sale on May 2, 2008.
Hall of Famers in the set include Willie McCovey (card No. 8), Ron Santo (No. 9), Billy Williams and Joe Torre (No. 10) and Rose (No. 12).
The Topps Rookie All-Star Banquet card set is quirky and interesting. It represents a slice of Topps’ history and the company’s desire to honor rookies.
You can see numerous cards from the set for sale and auction on eBay by clicking here.