Thursday, January 19, 2023

Number one

Might as well not bury the lead here - Dad got me a 1952 Topps Andy Pafko for Christmas this year!

I feel like I've been saying this more and more about the stuff I've been adding to my collection lately, but this is a card I never, ever thought I'd own. It's hard enough finding anything from '52 Topps on the cheap these days, and CARD #1?? Forget it. But once again, Dad comes to the rescue and whacks me over the head with a major boost to the binders. It's been a common tale throughout my collecting life.

It's true that I've gone on record by saying '52 Topps is grossly overrated, but even I can't deny it's an iconic set, and Andy Pafko kicked off what would be a long and fruitful history - baseball cards as we know them might not exist at all these days if Topps hadn't come along.

The back explains how Dad was able to find a copy that fit into the relatively small budgets both he and I have - but back damage doesn't really bother me, and besides, that all-important "#1" is still visible!

Off the top of my head, I can't think of another guy whose (relative) fame is almost solely based on a baseball card. If he wasn't card #1 in '52 Topps, Andy Pafko would've long faded into that miasma of pretty-good-but-never-great '40s and '50s ballplayers whose name might occasionally get mentioned by a diehard fan these days. But thanks to Topps, Pafko's a binder guy, and I want all of his cards - and the card that made that possible is now in my collection!

I found it interesting that you don't often hear about the "Number Ones" of most of the other big companies - so in honor of Andy Pafko, I thought we'd take a look at the guys who got a few of the other card brands we (sometimes) love off and running.

Donruss picked a winner by having (then) future HOFer Ozzie Smith at Card #1 in their inaugural '81 checklist - and it's a darn fine piece of cardboard with those brown-and-gold Padres unis and a sunny Wrigley Field shot.

I honestly had no idea what Card #1 in '81 Fleer was until I looked it up for this post, which seems weird given how monumental the entry of Fleer and Donruss into the marketplace was for the ultimate future of the hobby.

Fleer matched the star power of Donruss by tapping Pete Rose for the #1 slot, though the card itself isn't anywhere near as good as the '81 Donruss Ozzie.

It's not easy to hit a home run on the first try, but I've always thought Score had the best inaugural set of any brand in the history of baseball cards - it's also probably my favorite design in the entire Score catalog.

However, much like Fleer, I didn't know what Score's first card was until I consulted the archives - given the time and place, it makes sense that it'd be Donnie Baseball.

One could argue that, in terms of prestige and general oomph in the hobby, the '89 Upper Deck Griffey has long lapped the '52 Topps Pafko.

Inevitably, I always see this one get mentioned in the "Best Baseball Cards Ever" discussions. Look, I acknowledge the it's a fine card, and I'm proud to own a copy - one that, in true Dime Box fashion has some paper loss along the bottom - but it's nowhere near the best baseball card ever, and probably isn't even in my top five or ten favorite Griffey cards alone.

It's a monumental piece of cardboard, of course - Upper Deck forever changed the trajectory of the hobby, and this is the card that started it all. Take a straw poll of today's collectors, and I'm sure a lot of them would tell you they'd rather have Griffey over Pafko.

Me, though, I'll take Pafko every time. 



Greg Zakwin said...

Classic card, and I love low-grade....I'd rather own the card and still collect other things than break the bank for a high-grade copy. Well-loved vintage is amazing, it has history behind it.

Congrats Nick!

night owl said...

You'll see that '81 Fleer Rose card on my post tonight as well.

Out of the cards you showed, the Griffey is the only one I don't own. Apathy, and a little bit the price, is the reason.

Welcome to the '52 Pafko club!

Mike said...

Ha,you said you would work the Pafko into a blog theme,and you did!... I'm so glad you like it!

Johnnys Trading Spot said...

Really cool addition (Pafko). As for the other #1's, well go figure I've been accumulating them for a long time now. It is one of those Franken-Sets I mentioned.

The Angels In Order said...

I have a 1921 W551 Casey Stengel that looks like it's been someone's wallet card since 1921. But I wanted a real Stengel card.

Jeff B - Wax Pack Wonders said...

Fun post! Would be neat to see the first cards from other random brands like Pacific or Flair.

Laurens said...

When he was alive, I think I sent a letter to Pafko with some questions and he wrote he was aware of the status of the card [being No. 1 in the set].

Brett Alan said...

Donruss really either was super smart or got very lucky with the choice of Ozzie Smith. Rose and Mattingly were big stars in the hobby at the time, and Griffey was a ballyhooed rookie with a pedigree, but Smith was just a slick-fielding shortstop whom no one (least of all the Padres!) thought would be a superstar.

I feel like Bob Elliott should get a mention. As the reigning NL MVP, he was card number one in 1948 Bowman. Not a guy you hear much about now, but it looks like he was a very good player.

Doc Samson said...

Congrats to you and your dad, Nick! What beautiful card. Andy Pafko sat behind me one time at Wrigley Field. A very nice man. He told everyone how much he hated hitting curve balls.

Bo said...

Seems like Billy Martin should be on this list somewhere!

As a 1950s Brooklyn Dodger, Pafko was a little more famous than similar players anyway.

Fuji said...

Nice. That's one of my bucket list cards. I actually owned a 52T Pafko back in the 80's (my aunt bought it for me), but ended up trading it for a 1987 Fleer tin set and some rookie cards. It's up there as being one of my worst trades ever... and I've made a few poor decisions over the years.

When I think of card #1... Pafko and Griffey are the first two that come to mind. I should have been able to recognize the 81F Rose since I sorted that set over and over and over again as a kid. But before this post, I wouldn't have been able to tell you that it was card #1. The only other card #1 that stands out at this very moment is Hank Aaron in the 1974 set.

Jon said...

I think I've said it before, but I'm very envious of you for having a dad that takes such an active interest in your collection. And as far as the card itself goes, despite the problems on the back, the front still looks pretty darn good.

BaseSetCalling said...

methinks there is a Bruce Willis movie in your video watching future

Jafronius said...

Congrats on the Pafko add, and thanks for the research! I didn't know who the Score, Donruss, or Fleer #1s were.

Daniel Wilson said...

Awesome gift from your Dad! Love it and the damage on the back would not bother me either. Like you mentioned, cool that you can see the #1.