Classic Tigers card: Doby in '59

December 8th, 2021

As part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Topps baseball cards, we've asked fans (as well as our staff) to submit their all-time favorite baseball cards, and we've broken them down by team. We'll be revealing submissions regularly throughout the season, ranging from the famous to the weird, and everything in between.

Larry Doby, 1959 Topps

Doby will forever be remembered for being the first Black player to play in the American League after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Dodgers. But in addition to Cleveland, he also played for the White Sox and, for 18 games in 1959, the Tigers.

Doby was in his final MLB season, and was traded by the Indians to the Tigers midseason in exchange for Tito Francona -- Terry’s dad.

Overall, Doby was a nine-time All-Star and helped Cleveland win the World Series in 1948, his first full season with the club. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. -- Manny Randhawa

Ivan Rodriguez, 2006 Topps

David Anderson of Pleasant Ridge, Mich., has a story to tell about this card of Pudge, who was an All-Star four straight years for the Tigers from 2004-07.

"My 2006 Topps Ivan Rodriguez has a special place in my heart," he writes. "I fell in love with baseball in '06 and my favorite player was Pudge. He was the reason I wore No. 7 and volunteered myself as catcher for my grade-school team. As the love for playing, watching and learning about the game grew, naturally I discovered a passion for baseball cards. The 2006 design is a dear one to me, because I associate it with the honeymoon butterflies tied to my new love affair with baseball. Seeing Pudge decked out in his catcher's gear would leave me daydreaming about playing ball.

"In the heat of the Tigers' 2006 revival into relevance, Pudge hit a walk-off two-run homer to beat the Indians in early August. I still don’t know if I’ve ever been so thrilled in a moment. The next day, the newspaper had an ad to send items to get them autographed. Riding the excitement from the night before, I sent off my '06 Pudge to be autographed by my hero. I'm still waiting to receive the card in the mail, but I have replaced the original in the meantime. To this day, I have a sense of comfort looking at that 2006 Pudge."

Alan Trammell, 1978 Topps

In the late ‘70s, Burger King partnered with Topps to create special card sets for specific teams. One of these teams was the Tigers in ‘78, and Detroit’s 22-card set happened to have three major rookie cards: five-time All-Star Lou Whitaker and Hall of Famers Jack Morris and Trammell.

Trammell’s rookie card from the standard Topps set that year was a four-player card with other rookie shortstops, including the Brewers’ Paul Molitor, himself a future Hall of Famer, the Yankees’ Mickey Klutts and the Royals’ U.L. Washington.

But to get a solo Trammell rookie card, your only option is his card from Burger King’s set, which was mentioned in our survey by multiple fans, including Matt Karaffa, Sebastian Oslund and Tony Kunkel.

“My love for baseball and the Tigers began a few years before the epic 1984 team,” Kunkel wrote. “A key cog in that team was Alan Trammell. This Burger King rookie card is somewhat rare and I am glad to have the whole set.”

“Those cards were my introduction to the Detroit Tigers," Osland wrote. "I'm glad that I still have a few of those first cards of mine, including the Trammell. As beat up as it is, it's not worth money. There's a lot of sentimental value, though.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Jack Morris, 1980 Topps

Before he became a postseason legend for his incredible performance in the epic 1991 World Series between the Twins and Braves, including a 10-inning shutout in Game 7, Morris was a young right-hander for the Tigers, with whom he made his MLB debut in 1977.

Look at that face -- it’s a far cry from the grizzled veteran look of Morris when he was helping lead Minnesota and Toronto to World Series titles in 1991 and ’92. But Morris already had some postseason bona fides before then -- he posted a 1.80 ERA in October 1984 to help the Tigers win it all.

Doug F. submitted this gem, and we’re glad he did -- whenever we see Morris highlights, we seldom get a chance to see the young man on this card. And how about that sweet warmup jacket? -- Manny Randhawa

Norm Cash and Al Kaline -- 1969 Topps

Whenever two tremendous hitters are together in a photo, you wonder, “What were they talking about?” Wow -- to be a fly on that dugout wall. In this case, it’s Norm Cash and Al Kaline, two of the greatest sluggers in Tigers history.

Cash belted 377 home runs and was a five-time All-Star during a 17-year MLB career, 15 years of which were spent with Detroit. And Kaline launched 399 homers during a Hall of Fame career from 1953-74, which he spent entirely with the Tigers.

Paul B. of San Clemente, Calif., demonstrates just how deep the love of a childhood team goes, no matter where the fan goes.

“We moved from Royal Oak, Mich., to California in the early ’60s. I grew up a Tigers fan and lived and died with them in ’67. The magic of ’68 made it the best year of my life. Norm Cash and Al Kaline were my favorite players and in that year of social unrest and uncertainty the Tigers kept winning.

“My Dad took us to a three-game series in Anaheim, and we got to see Mickey Lolich and Denny McClain pitch. Willie Horton hit a couple of home runs and my brother and I were in heaven. When Lolich did the impossible and beat Bob Gibson in Game 7 of the World Series, I held my breath till the last pitch.” -- Manny Randhawa

Best Tigers facial hair card: Kirk Gibson, 1981 Topps

Gibson rocked a sweet mustache for most of his career, from his early years with the Tigers to his time with the Dodgers to his lone season with the Royals.

Gibson was actually sans-facial hair on his 1981 Fleer rookie card, but Topps went with this fantastic picture the same year. Gibson’s 'stache wasn’t as full as it would become, but with the sideburns and flowing locks, the 22-year-old outfielder looks as cool as anything.

Jeff Bortnick of Huntington Woods, Mich., submitted the card, writing:

“I idolized Kirk Gibson as a kid, and this was my first rookie card of his -- 1981 O-Pee-Chee (Canada’s version of Topps), because I grew up in Toronto. I hated it at first because it wasn’t Topps, but I ended up getting all of his rookie cards eventually and this one is now my favorite because it’s probably the rarest of the bunch.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Gary Pettis, 1989 Upper Deck

The first Upper Deck set in ‘89 famously features Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie card, one of the most iconic cards ever. But Steve Tse considers another card from that set to be his favorite, one that depicts light-hitting defensive whiz Gary Pettis.

As Tse notes, the ‘89 Upper Deck Pettis card contains a mind-bending paradox.

“The arrival of 1989 Upper Deck was revolutionary, with sharper photography, upgraded glossy card stock and an embedded counterfeit-proof hologram on each card,” Tse wrote. “My favorite card, which I had to do a double-take each time when I was a teen, is the Gary Pettis card. Gary's 1989 Upper Deck card, features him holding his ...1989 Upper Deck card? Wait, what, how could that be possible? Welcome to the 4th-dimensional baseball card.” -- Thomas Harrigan

Iconic Tigers card: Mark Fidrych, 1977 Topps

For Tigers fans who collected cards in the late 1970s, the Mark Fidrych rookie card was a must-have.

Doug McCready from Grand Rapids, Mich., Eric Rass from Beverly Hills, Mich., Mark Wendt from Westminster, Calif., and Jon Paslean from Oxford, Mich., all submitted it as their favorite card.

“There can only be one choice: 1977 Topps Mark Fidrych,” McCready wrote. “It signifies two major things in my life -- my newfound obsession with baseball cards, as 1977 was my first year collecting, and my desire to get the most polarizing, exciting player the Tigers had ever had. Scrolling through a pack and seeing the bold brown letters of ‘TIGERS’ along the top and the most amazing red All-Star ribbon at the bottom still gives my heart a shot. Throw in the rookie cup and you have the perfect card.”

A lanky righty with a mop of curly blonde hair, Fidrych took the Majors by storm as a 21-year-old in 1976, going 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA in 250 1/3 innings, making the American League All-Star team, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finishing second to the Orioles’ Jim Palmer in the AL Cy Young Award race.

"The Bird" also captivated the baseball world with his quirky personality, as he would strut around the mound after outs, talk to the baseball and himself, aim the ball like a dart and crouch on the mound to fill in cleat marks.

Rass summed up the experience of being a young fan in Detroit during that time: “As a kid growing up in the 1970s in metro Detroit, ‘The Bird’ was a rock star, and every kid wanted to be like Mark. I saved up enough money to buy 10 grocery trays (30 packs) of 1977 Topps and got the card I wanted, the Fidrych RC. I was so excited to show my friends that I stuck it in my back pocket and jumped on my bike to go to a friend's house. When I got to my friend's house I was devastated when I took the card out of my back pocket, as it had a big crease right in the middle of it from me sitting on it! I kept the card for a long time, however, I have no idea what eventually happened to it.”

“Opening that pack as an 8-year-old and seeing your favorite player was unforgettable,” Paslean wrote. “It's a great-looking card -- [I] still have it. [I] still remember where I was when I finally opened one up. I was in my grandparents’ driveway. It was multiple packs of '77 Topps that year before I finally got the Fidrych card.”

Injuries took their toll on Fidrych after his rookie year, and he threw only 162 innings for the rest of his career. He passed away tragically in a truck mishap at his home in Northborough, Mass., in 2009. However, the memory of his unique brilliance in 1976 lives on. -- Thomas Harrigan

Victor Martinez, 2014 Topps Heritage

Martinez glares out as he grips his bat in this intimidating card, which is perfectly appropriate -- he was one of the most intimidating hitters in the league to face that year.

V-Mart was the runner-up for AL MVP in 2014 after batting .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs.

Bill Freehan, 1970 Topps Super

Thanks to Chris Guyor of Huntington Woods, Mich., for submitting this card of Freehan, who passed away on Aug. 19. It’s from the 1970 Topps Super set, which was separate from the company’s base set and featured oversized cards that measured 3 1/8 inches by 5 1/4 inches, compared to the standard 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

The set stands out because of its simplicity. Each card had a full color photo with no other text on the front besides the player’s autograph.

“The obvious reason for this to be a favorite card is that he was a star and world champion for my hometown team,” Guyor wrote. “But, to be honest, he wasn’t even my favorite player when I started following the Tigers. However, when I flipped over the card, which I got as a gift from my uncle, to check out the stats, I saw one that stood out among the others -- Home: Southfield, Mich., which is where I lived. I took such pride in the fact he lived where I did, and I showed everyone I knew that card.

“I carried it with me everywhere for years, hoping I’d run into him. I never did while I had it, but, when I was in high school and working as a caddy at Plum Hollow Golf course in Southfield, I got assigned a bag one day -- and it was Bill Freehan! He had been retired a few years, so I told him the story. He laughed and asked if I wanted him to sign something. I said no, but could I shake his hand? He agreed -- it was a great moment!” -- Thomas Harrigan

Jason Thompson, 1979 Topps

Thompson broke in with the Tigers in 1976 and spent his first four-plus seasons with Detroit, hitting .256 with 98 homers and making two All-Star teams.

The first baseman had a big fan in Chris Guyor of Huntington Woods, Mich., who submitted Thompson’s 1979 Topps card.

“This is one of my favorite cards for the sole reason that as a kid Jason Thompson was my favorite player on my hometown team, the Detroit Tigers,” Guyor wrote. “I collected all of his cards and had them in plastic holders mounted on my wall. I was actually flying to California in 1980 when I found out that he had been traded to the Angels for Al Cowens, and my heart was broken.

“I begged my dad to take me to an Angels game but we couldn’t go. I met Jason years later and had him sign the card … telling him that story. I said I knew all of his stats by heart, even after he was traded, and later went to Pittsburgh. He didn’t believe me, so I rattled off 10 years worth of stats. He laughed, signed this card, then pulled out another card of his -- his rookie card, and signed that for me, too. Just a great guy!” -- Thomas Harrigan

Ty Cobb, T206 (1909-11)

Picture this (pun intended): You’re eight years old and love collecting baseball cards. Your dad tells one of his coworkers about your hobby and the coworker gives your dad some old cards to take home to you.

And among them you find a coveted T206 Ty Cobb.

“He told my dad ‘Bring these home to your son, he can pick any 2,’” said Tommy G. of West Caldwell, New Jersey, who submitted this relic in our survey. “I think I picked well -- even though it was worn, how could I pass on Ty Cobb and an old Yankee? Over the years I have thought to myself, ‘I sure hope there wasn't a Wagner in the deck!’”

Whether Wagner was in the deck or not, pulling a Cobb isn’t a bad outcome. -- Manny Randhawa

'90s throwback: Cecil Fielder, 1991 Donruss Diamond Kings

The Diamond Kings baseball cards are '90s classics, and this is a great one for the Tigers, with the slugger Fielder staring out at you, bat slung across his shoulder.

The 1991 season was Fielder's second with Detroit. In the first, 1990, he led the Majors with 51 home runs and 132 RBIs and finished second in AL MVP Award voting. In '91, he finished second again, after again leading the Majors with 44 homers and 133 RBIs.

Iconic Tigers rookie card: Al Kaline, 1954 Topps

Kaline's rookie card looks amazing, with the young Tigers slugger's headshot so vivid on the left side and his kneeling portrait inlaid next to it.

Only 19 years old in 1954, the future Hall of Famer was still signing his name "Albert Kaline" at the time, as you can see by the printed signature across the bottom of the card. Al would go on to be an 18-time All-Star who hit 399 home runs and won the 1968 World Series in his 22-year career in Detroit.

This card was sent in by Dennis Berg of Rochester Hills, Mich., who writes: "I grew up admiring Mr. Tiger, and he was my sports hero by the way he played the game with class and dignity."

Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, 1964 Topps

Four of the era’s top hitters appear on this ‘64 Topps card, with Tigers legends Kaline and Cash joining the Yankees’ M&M Boys, Mantle and Maris, under the banner “A.L. Bombers.” The original Yankee Stadium serves as a backdrop. Between the four players on this card, there are 50 All-Star selections.

The card was submitted by Burke Wills of Newfane, N.Y., who wrote:

“I never knew this card existed until about 10 years ago. I've been a Tigers fan my whole life, and I had no Mantle cards in my collection. I thought this card was as good as it got for me. When I found it at the right price, I snatched it up. I love this card.” -- Thomas Harrigan