Baseball and baseball cards would never be the same. In a sense, the 1957 Topps Baseball set marks the end of an era–a seismic shift if you will–to baseball’s expansion era.
New York City, the epicenter of baseball in the 1950s, went from three teams to one following the 1957 campaign. The Dodgers and Giants headed west taking nearly 150 years of combined Big Apple baseball memories with them.
On the field, baseball was beginning to look more like it does today. In addition to teams in California, the number of club went from 16 in 1957 to 24 just 12 years later. TV broadcast coverage was increasing, too.
1957 Topps Baseball Cards Marked Sea Change
Baseball cards also were not immune to change. In the second year of its monopoly over the industry, Topps deviated far from all other sets it had issued to that point and introduced essentially the template for modern baseball cards.
The 1957 Topps set marked the company’s first use of actual photographs of players rather than artist’s renderings. The backs of cards also began to resemble those of their modern descendants as complete year-by-year statistics made their inaugural appearance. 1957 also marked the first year of combination cards. Topps issued two that year, each depicting heroes from the 1956 World Series.
Inside the ’57 Set
Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra share the final card in the set, while Dodger legends Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider make an appearance together on card No. 400. In what has to be two of the best deals in the decade, both cards can be found in pretty darn good shape for between $60 to just over $100 with Mantle/Berra selling for a little more than their Flatbush counterparts.
An admittedly less exciting but far less expensive combo card of league presidents William Harridge and Warren Giles is also included in the set.
New Size Became the Baseball Card Standard
By far the largest change in 1957 was only about 1/8 of an inch big. Topps modified the dimensions of its cards from the 2 5/8 x 3 3/4 size it employed in its previous five sets to the now standard 2 ½ x 3 ½. This change was made much to the delight of future collectors who could never find sleeves or pages big enough to fit their pre-1957 cards.
1957 Set’s Remarkable Star Power
The set itself has turned into something of a classic and is quite popular among collectors today despite being something of a minimalist effort from Topps. Name, Team, Position – that’s it. But what the set lacks in pizazz – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it makes up for in superstars.
Ted Williams, who led baseball with a .388 average in 1957, leads off the set. There are also classic cards of young legends like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, who due to a reversed negative appears as a left-hander.
In addition to Hall of Famers, 1957 might have the best overall crop of rookies of any Topps set. Both Frank and Brooks Robinson make their first appearances as do fellow future HOFers Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning and Bill Mazeroski. Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek, cornerstones up the middle of the great Yankee teams of the late 1950s and early 60s, also show up for the first time.
Unfortunately like many classic 1950s sets there are a few notable absences. This was the last year Stan Musial did not appear at all in Topps’ sets and Harmon Killebrew – who spent the ’57 season in the minors – is also not included. Topps didn’t include a retiring Jackie Robinson – who hung ‘em up in December 1956 – or a true rookie card of Roger Maris who played in 116 games for the Indians in ’57.
1957 Topps Baseball Prices
The set’s manageable size of 407 cards and relatively affordable stars with a few notable exceptions make 1957 a set that can be put together even by collectors on a budget. Cards 265-352 – which include the rookie cards of Brooks Robinson, Richardson and Kubek as well as a terrific card of Koufax – are short printed although 22 of the cards in that series are listed as double prints and are a bit more affordable than their single printed brethren. Commons in this range typically sell for $5-$10.
The only major variation in the set, other than the reversed Aaron which wasn’t corrected, is that of former Cubs infielder Gene Baker. A printing flaw on the back of the card has “Baker” reading as “Bakep.” The “Bakep” variation is scarce, but you can find pretty nice examples for less than $100.
Contest Cards and Checklists
Collecting cards 1 through 407 is one thing, but compiling a master set is another issue entirely. Difficult-to-find contest cards as well as eight very expensive checklists made even more expensive in unmarked condition make master sets a very difficult feat indeed. The four contest cards range in price anywhere from under $50 for low grade versions to $250 and up depending on condition. A lucky penny card is a little tougher to find and will probably run you $100 or more.
Checklist cards can be found with either Bazooka or Blony Gum backs. Both are very expensive. Even marked versions routinely go for $100 or more.
If you’d prefer to bit the bullet and purchase a complete set, with a little patience, you can land a nice one for between $4-$5,000 and if you are willing to compromise on condition, lower grade sets are usually available as well.
1957 was a watershed moment for baseball and baseball cards. While the game would continue to change and evolve over the coming decades, the cards, beginning with the 1957 set, started to look very much as they do today.