In this new, ongoing series, we explore various sets on the PSA Set Registry, featuring the trading cards of iconic athletes. Select cards will be highlighted and the requirements of each set will be included.
Some ballplayers have great legacies from their time on the field. Others leverage their status as athletes to do great things for others and cement their names in history as great humanitarians. Then there are very few, like the late Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente, who were able to do both. As an international hero on and off the field, the Pittsburgh star’s cards and memorabilia are highly sought. His 1955 Topps rookie card is one of the most desired cards of its era, and in addition to annual Topps sets, Clemente cards can be found in many of the regional and food issues of his time.
One of the most popular player sets on the PSA Set Registry is the Roberto Clemente Basic Set, which consists of his 18 annual base Topps cards and a lone Fleer release from 1963. The set is a excellent tribute to a wonderful man and ballplayer. Here are four of his top cards:
Though originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Clemente made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 17, 1955, thus beginning a storied career that would end with his being one of the most successful and beloved players in Bucs’ history. This is his rookie issue and the most valuable card in the collection. The 1955 Topps set has a classic horizontal format that has been popular with collectors for decades. The Clemente card is found in the more scarce high-number series, which adds to the challenge of acquisition. Centering problems and general wear are the issues that typically plague this card. Still, it is highly collectible in any grade.
If you are trying to complete Clemente’s basic set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of the collection. Weights are determined by the card’s secondary market value using a scale from 1.00 to 10.00 with 10.00 being the most expensive. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $656.80
PSA Excellent 5: $2,129.49
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $37,466.14
The simple design of the 1966 Topps set belies the fact that this card was produced during the season in which the star outfielder earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Fewer than 15% of the cards submitted have been graded in the PSA 8-10 range, thus making high-grade examples tough to find and extremely desirable.
PSA Good 2: $20.00
PSA Excellent 5: $57.41
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $428.75
The 1971 Topps set is one of the most condition-sensitive sets in the hobby. Extremely fragile black borders combine with printing issues and poor centering to make high grade examples exceedingly rare. Of the nearly 3,200 examples submitted, only 17 cards have graded either PSA 9 or 10. On the rare occasion that such a card comes up for auction, the bidding is fast and furious. The lone PSA 10 last sold publicly in 2016, for a winning bid of nearly $72,000.
PSA Good 2: $34.69
PSA Excellent 5: $79.25
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $916.08
The final card in this set was issued the season after his tragic death. It features a stunning image of the late slugger at the plate, calmly waiving his bat and looking down the pitcher. The back offers no mention of his untimely passing, but displays a full run of his year-by-year statistics and a simple cartoon stating that “Roberto got his 3,000th hit in 1972.” While plentiful in PSA 8, there are just 216 PSA 9 and seven PSA 10 examples from a total population of nearly 5,000 graded examples.
PSA Good 2: $14.99
PSA Excellent 5: $25.08
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $120.21
(including PSA ‘Weights’)
- 1955 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #164 (10.00)
- 1956 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #33 (8.00)
- 1957 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #76 (7.50)
- 1958 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #52 (8.50)
- 1959 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #478 (6.50)
- 1960 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #326 (6.00)
- 1961 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #388 (5.00)
- 1962 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #10 (7.00)
- 1963 FLEER ROBERTO CLEMENTE #56 (6.00)
- 1963 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #540 (7.00)
- 1964 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #440 (7.00)
- 1965 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #160 (6.00)
- 1966 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #300 (6.00)
- 1967 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #400 (5.50)
- 1968 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #150 (5.00)
- 1969 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #50 (5.00)
- 1970 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #350 (5.00)
- 1971 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #630 (6.00)
- 1972 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #309 (3.00)
- 1973 TOPPS ROBERTO CLEMENTE #50 (3.00)
Over the course of his 18 seasons in the major leagues, Roberto Clemente was named to 15 All-Star teams, won 12 Gold Glove Awards, four batting titles, two World Series championships, a Triple Crown and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1966. When he wasn’t busy with baseball, Clemente was involved in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries that often involved delivering food and other necessities to underprivileged areas. Sadly, it was on one of these missions in late 1972, that the flight he was on crashed into the ocean, killing all aboard. The plane was loaded with food and relief supplies to deliver to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The Pirates legend died at the age of 38.
Major League Baseball moved quickly to honor the fallen hero. The Pirates retired Clemente’s #21, while MLB renamed its annual Commissioner’s Award, which has since been known as the Roberto Clemente Award, and is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” The Baseball Writers’ Association of America waived their standard five-year grace period after a player’s retirement, and posthumously inducted Clemente into the Baseball Hall of Fame on March 20, 1973.
If you are a fan of legendary ball players whose lives transcend the sport itself, then there are few better individuals for you to collect than Roberto Clemente. His Basic Set on the PSA Registry is a tribute to a phenomenal player and an ever better man. Take some time to study the intricacies of the Roberto Clemente Basic Set and then give it a shot. You will be glad you did!
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