As a baseball card collector, what could be better than finding your favorite player staring up at you from a fresh pack of cards as the aroma of chalky gum wafts into your nose? How about finding two of your favorite players on one card inside that wax wrapper? Luckily for us, when Topps and Bowman stood toe-to-toe in the fight for baseball card supremacy in the 1950s, they spent considerable effort searching for any possible advantage, and cards featuring more than one player, usually superstars, were one of the innovations born from that rivalry. What follows is a list of the top five multi-player cards from the 1950s, in the order they were released, with links to current eBay listings in each header.
While there were many other multi-player cards issued during the golden 1950s, none could top this particular lineup for sheer fun. Click the linked titles to see them on eBay.
1953 Bowman Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Bauer (#44)
Bowman was blindsided by the huge and colorful 1952 Topps set, and the veteran gum maker fought back with two sets in 1953, one in black-and-white, and one featuring full-color player images. The vibrant color set, with a clean design and beautiful photos, is one of the landmark baseball card issues of all time, and it’s also the birthplace of the 1950s multi-player cards.
By the time Bowman packs hit shelves in the spring of 1953, the New York Yankees had won four straight World Series and would win a fifth that fall. Just about everyone in the world knew who Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, and, especially, Mickey Mantle were, but it still must have been quite a treat to pull #44 from a pack of new cards and see the three sluggers lounging there in the Yanks’ dugout.
You can still find the card today, but it will cost you more than the nickel or so that you would have had to plunk down in 1953. Prices range from under $100 for raw examples to nearly $1500 for a copy in PSA 8 condition.
1954 Topps Ed & John O’Brien (#139)
Maybe inspired by Wrigley’s Doublemint Twins, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed twins Ed and Johnny O’Brien as “bonus babies” in 1953 and promptly brought them to the big league club. Both O’Briens made their way into 89 games that year before missing 1954 due to military duty and then logging a handful of uninspiring seasons through the late 1950s.
Though not stars by any stretch, the O’Brien boys were something of a sensation in 1953, and Topps capitalized on the moment in 1954 by issuing what was most likely the first-ever dual rookie card.
You can own the O’Brien Twins RC today, too, with ungraded specimens often selling for less than $20 and PSA 8s fetching a few hundred dollars.
1957 Topps Yankees’ Power Hitters (#407)
By 1957, Hank Bauer was aging and starting to decline, but the New York Yankees were just as mighty as they had been in that iconic triple-threat card from the 1953 Bowman set (above) that Bauer shared with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. In the fall of 1956, the Yanks had reclaimed their World Series trophy, and Mantle won the Triple Crown with a legendary season that just might have been his greatest ever.
For his efforts, the Mick won the MVP award, and Berra finished second in the balloting.
It’s not surprising, then, that Topps devoted the last card (#407) in their 1957 set to the Yankees’ Power Hitters, and named it that way, too. Like the ’53 Bowman card with Bauer, this one features another classic dugout shot, Berra and Mantle kneeling with bats over their left shoulders.
Coming in well under $100 for low-grade, raw samples, #407 is an affordable alternative for collectors interested in mid-career Mantle cards without a hefty price tag. Of course, it’s a different story for high-grade copies, which can bring around $400 in PSA 7 condition.
1958 Topps Rival Fence Busters (#436)
In the spring of 1958, the baseball world, especially that part that overlapped with New York City, was reeling with the news that both the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers were headed for California. Grieving New York fans just could not fathom the sight of heroes like Willie Mays and Duke Snider basking in the sunshine of San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.
Topps, on the other hand, could not only imagine the aftermath of the franchise moves, they decided to commemorate the upheaval with their Rival Fence Busters card (#436). There stood Willie and The Duke, smiling big as they appeared to check out each other’s new duds. It must have been a dagger through the baseball heart for any little boy in Brooklyn to pull this card from his five-cent pack in the summer of 1958 with the carcass of Ebbets Field looming somewhere in the background. And right there in the shadow of the nearby Topps factory, no less!
Rival Fence Busters is a piece of baseball history that you can find for under $10 in low-grade, unslabbed versions. Even PSA 5s and 6s will set you back less than $50.
1959 Fleer Ted’s Idol – Babe Ruth (#2)
By 1959, Ted Williams was nearing the end of a legendary career that established him as perhaps the greatest pure hitter of all time, but he still had tremendous appeal to fans and card makers. So much so, in fact, that Fleer signed him away from Topps and made him the sole subject of their 80-card 1959 set.
Well, he was almost the sole subject.
Card #68 (“Ted Signs for 1959”) is famous for being very scarce and featuring Boston Red Sox general Manager Bucky Harris along with Teddy Ballgame, but it’s card #2 that really makes your eyes pop and warrants a spot on this list. The card’s title says it all, really: “Ted’s Idol – Babe Ruth.”
On the front of the card Williams, in his Red Sox uniform, and Ruth, in his Yankees togs, appear to be grappling over a bat in the locker room. The older Babe looks to be getting the better of Williams, but the young batter does not seem to mind, as he’s beaming from ear to ear.
The card back tells the story of their meeting:
Williams meets his boyhood idol, “Babe” Ruth, for the first time during a special hitting contest in Boston in 1943.
Another relative bargain, ungraded copies of “Ted’s Idol – Babe Ruth” generally sell below $20, and PSA 5s go for under $50. Higher grade copies don’t come to market often and can bring several hundred dollars.
More is not always better, of course, and that’s the case with 1950s baseball cards, as single-player issues of superstars like Mantle and Mays are almost always more valuable than their multi-player counterparts.
On the other hand, the cards on this list prove that more is at least “funner” and, while you may quibble with my top 5, it’s hard to argue their power to make a vintage card collector smile.