In the 1950s, Topps and Bowman slugged it out for bubble gum dollars and cardboard supremacy by bringing several innovations to the baseball card market. One of those was the advent of multi-player cards, as illustrated by our five favorites of the 1950s, and it was a practice that Topps would continue long after Bowman had been dispatched to the history books. As the 1950s waned and a new decade dawned, Topps got really creative with their card combinations and treated collectors to a decade of superstar mashups that still have great appeal today. What follows is a list of the top five multi-player baseball cards of the 1960s, in the order they were released.
While some hobby staples — like the 1962 Topps #18 Managers’ Dream (right) — didn’t make the cut, the cards in our lineup are hard to beat for historical significance and just plain fun. (Click the linked titles to see current eBay listings for each card).
Baseball fans love our sacred records, and we are loath to see them fall at the hands of players we deem anything less than diamond gods. So, when Roger Maris beat out teammate Mickey Mantle as the man to topple Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, he stamped an eternal asterisk next to his name and statistics that would follow him to the grave. After all, it took him 161 games to smash a measly 61 home runs!
That bias bled over to Topps’ baseball cards the next Spring, where #18 was dubbed “Managers’ Dream” and dedicated to everyone’s favorites, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. It has become a classic 1960s issue that can bring several hundred dollars in top graded condition on today’s market.
It’s ironic that, in those home-run crazy days, the guys who actually led their respective leagues in homers the season before were teammates of Mantle and Mays, and that Topps deigned to give them their own special card but buried it deep within the bowels of Series Five. There, on card #401, are Maris and Orlando Cepeda, with the descriptive title “AL & NL Homer Kings.” By the time boys pulled this card from their packs in 1962, though, it was clear that Maris was headed for a deep drop-off from his 1960 and 1961 levels, and that Cepeda would also disappoint relative to his one-year home run heroics. With Mays tearing up the NL en route to 49 home runs and Mantle being The Mick, #401 never had much of a chance to overshadow “Managers’ Dream.”
Nevertheless, “AL & NL Homer Kings” is a snapshot of baseball history that can be found today for less than $20 in decent raw condition and under $200 for PSA 8 copies.
By the end of the 1962 season, baseball fans were starting to get that tickle in their tummies that told them history might be unfolding in front of them. Not only had Mantle and Maris made their run at Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record the year before, but both Mantle and Mays were closing in on the 400-homer barrier for their careers. They were America’s most feared sluggers, and baseball fans everywhere could, for the first time, envision one or both of their heroes knocking out The Babe’s career mark of 714.
What many may have overlooked was that Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks was just a season or two behind the Big Two, entering 1963 with 335 home runs.
The man who was really hidden in the ongoing home run derby, though, was the steady, unspectacular Hank Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves. Aaron had won just one NL home run title, and his seasonal totals never really caught the eye, what with a career best of 45 that he put up in 1962. His 298 career dingers made Hammerin’ Hank almost an afterthought as teams geared up for 1963.
But, even beyond his consistency, Aaron had one big advantage on the other fearsome sluggers: age.
While Mantle turned 31 in 1963, both Mays and Banks turned 32. Aaron, meanwhile, was still just 29 years old, and that relative youth was his secret weapon as the Sixties played out. Mantle was out of baseball by 1969, Banks made it to the early 1970s, and Mays tailed off dramatically in the new decade. Aaron, of course, just kept hammering, eventually marching right past Ruth.
The one area in which Aaron and Banks were not overlooked in 1963 was on Topps’ summer pasteboards, where the gum maker devoted card #242 to the duo they dubbed “Power Plus.” That power-packed card can be found unslabbed on eBay these days for well under $50, depending on condition. Graded examples range from under $50 for PSA 6 copies to near $100 for PSA 8s.
As was the case with the inaugural version of the team the year before, the 1963 New York Mets were historically bad. In fact, the 1964-67 renditions of the team weren’t much better, which makes card #393 in the 1964 Topps baseball set almost comical in its setup and execution.
“Casey Teaches” depicts legendary manager Casey Stengel intently studying a baseball bat as he imparts some bit of wisdom to an inattentive Ed Kranepool, a teenager who was trying to stick at first base with the worst team in the Major Leagues. Kranepool had hit .209 in 273 at-bats in 1963, so he needed all the tutelage he could get.
Something from that talk, or many others like it, must have stuck with Kranepool and his teammates, though, as the hapless Mets famously became the Amazin’ Mets in 1969 and won the World Series. Standing at first base for 106 games in that championship season was none other than Ed Kranepool, by then all of 24 years old, with another 10 years in front of him before his mediocre but long career would ground out.
Stengel would hang up his spikes in 1965 before passing away a decade later at age 85.
You can find “Casey Teaches” on eBay just about any time you want, with raw copies in nice condition often fetching less than $10. Even PSA 9 specimens can be found for $100 or so.
Heading into the 1966 season, it seems that Topps must have had some inside knowledge about the Pittsburgh Pirates and veteran first baseman Donn Clendenon. How else to explain Clendenon’s presence on card #99, “Buc Belters,” after managing just 14 home runs in 1965 during his age-29 season? Topps must have known that the 30-year-old would turn up the power to club 28 homers in ’66, right?
Regardless of Topps’ prescience when it came to Clendenon, it did not take a psychic to know that leftfielder Willie Stargell, the other Buc Belter on #99, was a budding slugger. He had smacked 27 long balls at age 25 in 1965 and would add 33 more in 1966 before turning into a true power beast in the early 1970s, reaching 48 home runs in 1971 and 44 in 1973.
“Buc Belters” itself features a beautiful shot of Stargell and Clendenon kneeling with their powerful arms draped over the knobs of their bats, and what appears to be pre-game preparation by umpires and other players in the background. These days, the card is readily available for under $10, and even an occasional PSA 9 comes to market for around $100.
What would you do if you were the unquestioned superstar of the team that signed you out of high school, coming off another in a long line of superb seasons, when your general manager sells you for a bag of magic beans during the winter? Well, if you were Frank Robinson after the 1965 season, you would do the only thing you could do to get revenge on Cincinnati Reds’ GM Bill Dewitt for giving up on you as “an old 30”: win the American League Triple Crown and lead your new team to a World Series championship.
And so, that’s exactly what F. Robby did in 1966, when he and third baseman Brooks Robinson led Hank Bauer’s Baltimore Orioles to a Series sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers. That championship was the beginning of a nearly 20-year run that would see Baltimore snag additional titles in 1970 and 1983 and crash the post-season party five other times through the early 1980s.
Topps commemorated the launch of the Orioles powerhouse with card #1 in their gorgeous 1967 set, a dugout shot with Bauer in the middle of the two Robinsons, arms draped across their superstar shoulders.
Today, the card is readily available on eBay, often trading for less than $10 in decent raw condition. Slabbed copies of the card in PSA 8 condition can approach $100, and a PSA 9 recently sold for nearly $450.
As with their 1950s predecessors, these 1960s multi-player cards almost always lag behind their single-player counterparts in terms of value on today’s market, but they are a fun part of baseball history, and of baseball card history. The best part is, if you don’t like my choices for the top 5 multi-player baseball cards of the 1960s, there are plenty of other choices available to suit just about any collecting taste.