Baseball Card collections are only limited by the imagination of the fan. Some concentrate on their favorite player. Others build complete sets of a particular year (like the year they were born). Others focus on their home-town team from childhood, while the last twenty years has motivated collections of autograph cards. And, of course, there are those who are drawn to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.
With very few exceptions, the first card of a Hall of Famer is the most valuable. Collectors pride themselves in having these “Rookie Cards” whether it’s Nolan Ryan from 1968 or Mike Trout from 2011. Thanks to a collector who shared his passion on a baseball card website, we have another interesting approach to Hall of Fame players. Topps has been producing complete baseball cards sets since 1952 and the research tells us that 116 Hall of Famers have their last card in a Topps set. From Yogi Berra in 1965 to Wade Boggs in 2000, they are all there in their glory. So, he went on a quest to complete a collection of all “The Last Cards” and it was certainly a challenge.
As an old-school fan, what drew me to the collection was the fact that over a dozen of these legends had their final cardboard appearance in the 1950’s when Topps was just getting started. Interestingly, some years (like ’52 & ’54) didn’t have a single Hall of Famer with his last card while others years had as many as four. Let’s look back at the first dozen of these beautiful collectibles…
!953 Johnny Mize #77
The big 1B played from 1936-53 and missed three prime seasons serving in World WAR II. He had 359 lifetime HR’s and made ten All-Star teams.
> 1953 Ralph Kiner #191 – He had a relatively short (1946-55) but spectacular career, leading the NL in HR’s for seven consecutive seasons.
1953 Satchell Paige #220
The best Pitcher in the Negro Leagues, he didn’t get to the majors until 1948 at age 41. He began pitching professionally in 1927.
> 1955 Hal Newhouser # 24 – Many of the game’s stars were serving in the War, but this Tiger Pitcher was 4-F due to a heart valve issue. From 1944-46, he won 80 games in three seasons with two AL MVP Awards.
1956 Jackie Robinson # 30
The player who broke the color barrier in 1947, his legend still grows today.
> 1956 Phil Rizzuto # 113 – The scrappy Shortstop of the Yankees, he won the AL MVP in 1950.
> 1956 Monte Irvin #194 – This Outfielder was another Negro League star and he was a mainstay in the Giants line-up during the 50’s.
1956 Bob Feller #200
This Iowa farm-boy was one of the best Pitchers in baseball for 20 years after beginning his career in 1936 at age 17.
1957 Topps Roy Campanella #210
A three-time MVP winner in the 50’s, this Catcher was involved in a tragic automobile accident after the ’57 season and his injuries prevented him from ever playing for the Dodgers once they moved to Los Angeles.
> 1958 Topps Bob Lemon #17 – The leader of the Indians dominant rotation in the 50’s, this Pitcher won 20 or more games in six seasons.
> 1958 Topps George Kell #40 – This outstanding 3B had over 2,000 lifetime hits and made ten All-Star teams.
> 1958 Topps Pee Wee Reese #375 – The Shortstop and Captain of the Dodger teams known as “The Boys Of Summer”.
!958 Topps Ted Williams #1 & #485
“Teddy Ballgame” had both a regular card and All-Star card in this set. Although he played in ’59 & ’60, Topps no longer had him under contract.
There’s a “Baker’s Dozen” of great Hall of Fame players who left the diamond in the first decade of Topps.