We’re #1! A Visual History of the First Topps Baseball Card in Every Set, 1952-2021


In the beginning, there was Andy Pafko. In its 64th year, Topps said, “Let there be Jeter!” And it was so. For it’s 65th, collectors wanted Trout. The first cards in the flagship Topps baseball set bring a lot of history. And it’s not just the designs and names. The lead-off card is the gateway into a hobby’s tradition. There’s significance in that. Some might even call it an honor to be the first card in the biggest set of the year.


Hall of Famers, World Series Champions, league leaders and some curious choices have heralded in the new baseball card season for more than six decades.

For the most part, it has been baseball’s best in the number one spot on the Topps Baseball checklist. In the set’s early days, there was the likes of Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron getting their main player cards in the important slot. Over the past couple of decades, Nolan Ryan, Frank Thomas, Tony Gwynn, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been number one.

And then there are the players that don’t fall in with tradition. First, there’s Dusty Rhodes in 1955. While he hit .341 for the New York Giants in 1954, his short career was hardly the stuff of legend. Dick Groat was a good player, but not fantastic. However, he appears first in 1961 Topps, likely due to the fact that he was a batting champion in 1960. Even John Lackey in 2007 seems on the weaker side compared to a lot of other years.

More Than Regular Player Cards

For several Topps Baseball sets, the first spot on the checklist hasn’t always been dedicated to a traditional player card. Several subsets have also debuted things, many of which have design elements that differ from what’s become ingrained on our memories over the years.

In 1963, it was a league leaders card with multiple players. These appeared regularly for the next few years and a couple more time in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

In 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1972, card #1 was reserved for a team photo of the previous year’s World Series winners.

Hank Aaron’s march to becoming baseball’s Home Run King and other records made him a #1 mainstay in the mid 1970s, although none were his main card.

Much of the 1980s kicked off with the Record Breakers subset, which gave Vince Coleman the top spot in 1988.

A pair of MLB leaders got the distinction of being #1 in Topps’ early days. 1956 has American League President William Harridge while Commissioner Ford Frick get the honors in 1959.

Multiple Firsts

When you factor in team cards and league leader cards, seven players have been on a Topps Baseball #1 card on multiple occasions. Baltimore teammates Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson each appeared three times, although never by themselves.

Ted Williams was a three-time #1, all of which were traditional player cards.

Nolan Ryan has four #1 cards. He was a mainstay from 1990 to 1992 in the twilight of his career. He’s also somewhere in the team photo of the Miracle Mets team that kicks off 1970 Topps Baseball.

Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez hold the record with five appearances each at the top spot. As mentioned, many of Aaron’s came as a result of his home run record. None are his main card.

For Rodriguez, he was late in signing with Topps. But when he finally did, he went on to be a company spokesman. His appearances all came in the early part of the new millennium when his popularity was at its peak.

More recently, Mike Trout has been #1 three times (so far): 2014, 2016 and 2020.

Topps Baseball #1 Cards Through the Years

1952 – Andy Pafko

1952 1 Andy Pafko

1953 – Jackie Robinson

1953 Jackie Robinson

1954 – Ted Williams

1954 Ted Williams

1955 – “Dusty” Rhodes

1955 Dusty Rhodes

1956 – William Harridge

1956 William Harridge

1957 – Ted Williams

1957 Ted Williams

1958 – Ted Williams

1958 Ted Williams

1959 – Ford Frick

1959 Ford Frick

1960 – Early Wynn

1960 Early Wynn

1961 – Dick Groat

1961 Dick Groat

1962 – Roger Maris

1962 Topps Roger Maris

1963 – NL Batting Leaders: Tommy Davis, Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, Bill White, Hank Aaron

1963 NL Batting Leaders

1964 – NL ERA Leaders: Sandy Koufax, Dick Ellsworth, Bob Friend

1964 NL ERA Leaders


1965 – AL Batting Leaders: Tony Oliva, Brooks Robinson, Elston Howard

1965 AL Baatting Leaders

1966 – Willie Mays

1966 Willie Mays

1967 – The Champs: Frank Robinson, Hank Bauer, Brooks Robinson

1967 The Champs

1968 – NL Batting Leaders: Roberto Clemente, Tony Gonzalez, Matty Alou

1968 NL Batting Leaders

1969 – AL Batting Leaders: Danny Carter, Tony Oliva, Carl Yastrzemski

1969 AL Batting Leaders

1970 – World Champions – New York Mets

1970 World Champions

1971 – World Champions – Baltimore Orioles

1971 World Champions

1972 – World Champions – Pittsburgh Pirates

1972 World Champions

1973 – All-Time Home Run Leaders: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays

1973 All-Time Home Run Leaders

1974 – Hank Aaron All-Time Home Run King

1974 Topps Hank Aaron 1

1975 – Hank Aaron ’74 Highlights

1975 Hank Aaron

1976 – Hank Aaron Record Breaker

1976 Hank Aaron

1977 – Batting Leaders: George Brett, Bill Madlock

1977 Batting Leaders

1978 – Lou Brock Record Breaker

1978 Lou Brock RB

1979 – Batting Leaders: Rod Carew, Dave Parker

1979 Batting Leaders

1980 – Highlights: Lou Brock, Carl Yastrzemski

1980 Highlights

1981 – Batting Leaders: George Brett, Bill Buckner

1981 Batting Leaders

1982 – Steve Carlton, 1981 Highlight

1982 Steve Carlton Highlight

1983 – Tony Armas, Record Breaker

1983 Tony Armas Highlights

1984 – Steve Carlton, 1983 Highlight

1984 Steve Carlton HL

1985 – Carlton Fisk, Record Breaker

1985 Carlton Fisk RB

1986 – Pete Rose

1986 Pete Rose

1987 – Roger Clemens, Record Breaker

1987 Roger Clemens RB

1988 – Vince Coleman, Record Breakers

1988 Vince Coleman RB

1989 – George Bell, Record Breaker

1989 George Bell RB

1990 – Nolan Ryan

1990 Topps 1 Nolan Ryan

1991 – Nolan Ryan

1991 Nolan Ryan

1992 – Nolan Ryan

1992 Nolan Ryan

1993 – Robin Yount

1993 Robin Yount

1994 – Mike Piazza

1994 Mike Piazza

1995 – Frank Thomas

1995 Frank Thomas

1996 – Tony Gwynn, Star Power

1996 Tony Gwynn

1997 – Barry Bonds

1997 Barry Bonds

1998 – Tony Gwynn

1998 Tony Gwynn

1999 – Roger Clemens

1999 Roger Clemens

2000 – Mark McGwire

2000 Mark McGwire

2001 – Cal Ripken Jr.

2001 Cal Ripken Jr

2002 – Pedro Martinez

2002 Pedro Martinez

2003 – Alex Rodriguez

2003 Topps Alex Rodriguez

2004 – Jim Thome

2004 Jim Thome

2005 – Alex Rodriguez

2005 Alex Rodriguez

2006 – Alex Rodriguez

2006 Alex Rodriguez

2007 – John Lackey

2007 John Lackey

2008 – Alex Rodriguez

2008 Alex Rodriguez

2009 – Alex Rodriguez

2009 Alex Rodriguez

2010 – Prince Fielder

2010 Prince Fielder

2011 – Ryan Braun

2011 Ryan Braun

2012 – Ryan Braun

2012 Ryan Braun

2013 – Bryce Harper

2013 Bryce Harper

2014 – Mike Trout

2014 Mike Trout

2015 – Derek Jeter

2015 Derek Jeter

2016 – Mike Trout

2016 Topps 1 Mike Trout

2017 – Kris Bryant

2017 Topps Kris Bryant 1

2018 – Aaron Judge

2019 – Ronald Acuna Jr.

2019 Topps 1 Ronald Acuna Jr

2020 – Mike Trout

2020 Topps Series 1 Baseball Mike Trout

2021 – Fernando Tatis Jr.

2021 Topps Baseball Fernando Tatis Jr.


Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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  1. David D 2 October, 2015 at 21:13

    My favorite is in the 1967 set with the first card captioned “The Champs” in honor of Baltimore’s World Champion team!
    I’ve got an idea that may resonate with Cincinnati Reds fans.
    How about the number 1 card having a picture of the hapless Reds team with the caption “The Chumps”
    This would be a perfect reminder how a team with a current 12 game losing streak ( longest since 1945) and a 9 game losing streak celebrated the 2015 baseball year. And maybe card number 2 could have Bryan Price on it- since they plan on bringing him back for more fun next year!

  2. JD 3 October, 2015 at 13:04

    Seeing this reminds me of how much I prefer gathered together record breakers and leaders subsets instead of the scattered that Topps is currently using. They don’t necessarily have to be at the beginning of a set, but if I am looking through a bindered page I would much rather see all the record breakers or leaders or All Stars together. But maybe I am just too old school.

  3. Jeorge hibz 14 October, 2015 at 21:37

    Have 90% of these cards from 1970-95,,, of course the grades on the 70’s are only 5-7.0,, but I have’em n puts a smile on my face because it reminds me of my school buddy’s n the fun we had back then

  4. Steven Pinter 15 October, 2015 at 06:49

    Grouped together subsets makes sense , especially if the companies could get their acts together in respects towards 9-pocket pages. I’m going to imagine that would be difficult to offer a set that would look amazing , where every turn of the page would be comprehensive and organized. 27 cards per team ? 9 card subsets be it leaders or gold glovers etc.. Especially baseball where last i checked there were 9 on the field. Just suggesting !

  5. Brent 15 October, 2015 at 14:01

    Groat was MVP in 1960. Along with Roger Maris. That is why he is card #1 and Maris is card #2.

    Twitter @brewingcards

  6. Robert B.Jones 28 January, 2016 at 19:14

    Even Mantle’s triple crown year did not warrant a #1, what does that say about anything?

  7. Rich M. 23 July, 2016 at 18:21

    My opinion on best looking 5:
    1. 1987 (wood grain FTW)
    2. 1979
    3. 1971
    4. 1966
    5. Tie: 1993 + 2011 + 1962

    My picks for ugliest 5:
    1. 1980 (nice hat)
    2. 1967 (puke? no…dotted puke)
    3. 1960 (this is how migraines are born)
    4. 1972 (funky, but alas no)
    5. 2016 (erasing half the image? not cool bro)

  8. Rob 4 August, 2020 at 20:11

    My vote for best design is 1959. I love the player picture inside of the circle with a solid colored backgrounds. Classic!

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