A rare Mantle card, but not the one you think

April 21st, 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.

Mickey Mantle, 1951 Bowman

Oh, what could’ve been. Mantle will forever be known as one of the greatest players of all time, but if he had been healthy throughout his career, he may have ended up as the greatest player of all time.

This 1951 Bowman gem gives us an opportunity to ponder that, but also to see an image of Mantle before he hurt his knees and experienced a host of other ailments that plagued him the rest of his career. Somehow, despite all of the injuries, he launched 536 home runs, won the 1956 Triple Crown, three American League MVP Awards, seven World Series rings and was one of the best hitters in the game’s history from both sides of the plate.

This card, which is the only recognized Mantle rookie card, was submitted by Rick S. of Naples, Fla., who noted that it was his first Mantle card. That suggests he had or has more than one, which is awesome, but also that his first was a Mantle rookie card. We know how it all turned out for Mantle, but it’s special to have a card from the year he was fully healthy and could not only hit a 500-foot home run, but also beat out a routine ground ball to second.

There is a lot of myth and legend surrounding Mantle’s career, but this card takes us back to where it all began. The 1951 Bowman Mantle is overshadowed by the famous 1952 Topps Mantle, but it is nevertheless beautiful with its artistic flair, giving it more depth than a photograph and capturing the Mantle mystique as it was seen by countless youngsters in the 1950s. -- Manny Randhawa

Aaron Judge, 2018 Topps Series 1

All Rise for this card. Judge became the face of Topps' 2018 Series 1 baseball card set, and everything about Card #1 looks fantastic.

Start with the photo. It's striking. Judge stands in the batter's box, holding his pose after a swing. He's gazing off into the distance, doubtless admiring a monster home run he just crushed.

Then there's the design of the card, from the glinting, classic Yankees logo in the bottom left to the way Judge's nameplate trails off on the right edge of the card in a swirl of computerized pixels.

And, of course, because this card was made following Judge's monster 52-home run rookie season in 2017, there's the signature Topps All-Star Rookie trophy in the bottom right, and the gold Future Stars lettering at the top, with the same pixel trails as Judge's name.

Iconic Yankees card: Don Mattingly, 1984 Topps

The 1980s were a golden era for baseball card collecting, and Mattingly was one of the best and most popular players of the decade, so it’s not surprising that the first baseman’s rookie cards were among the most coveted in the industry during that time.

Mike from St. Louis has an affinity for Mattingly’s 1984 Topps card.

“Like many Yankees fans my age, Mattingly was my childhood hero,” he wrote. “In Little League, I wore sweatbands just like he did in the picture on this card.”

The 1984 Topps design is easily distinguishable, featuring team nicknames rendered in vertical block lettering and two images -- an action shot and a smaller headshot in front of a brightly colored background.

Mattingly’s 1984 Topps card shows the first baseman on defense, clad in Yankee pinstripes and preparing to field his position. Interestingly, Mattingly is clean shaven in his action shot, but he has a mustache in his inset headshot.

A 4 is visible on Mattingly’s back. While he wore No. 23 for much of his career, Mattingly sported No. 46 his first three seasons. Mattingly is also listed as an outfielder and a first baseman on the card.

Mattingly actually debuted in 1982 and lost his rookie eligibility in ’83, but he wasn't included in baseball card sets until '84. That season proved to be the first baseman's big breakout, as he won the American League batting title with a .343 average and had 23 homers, 44 doubles and 110 RBIs in 153 games. The next year, Mattingly was named AL MVP.

From 1984-89, Mattingly hit .327 with 160 homers, 257 doubles, 684 RBIs and a .902 OPS and won five Gold Glove Awards. Mattingly was hampered by injuries thereafter, but in his prime, few players were better. -- Thomas Harrigan