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.
Hank Aaron will always be remembered as the first man who passed the great Babe Ruth on baseball’s all-time home run list. As the 1973 MLB season came to a close, “Hammerin’ Hank” found himself one round-tripper shy of Ruth’s career total of 714. He approached the ensuing ‘74 season with both excitement and trepidation.
Aaron, a black man, was the recipient of death treats throughout the off-season. He received a large assortment of hate mail from people who did not want to see him break Ruth’s seemingly once unbeatable number, which had sat untouched for nearly 40 years. Thankfully, Aaron also received an outpouring of public support in his pursuit of breaking the Great Bambino’s mark. In fact, he received a plaque from the U.S. Postal Service for receiving more mail (930,000 pieces) than any other person excluding politicians.
As the 1974 season commenced, Aaron and his Atlanta Braves teammates found themselves on the road against the Cincinnati Reds. While Braves management wanted to hold Aaron out until the team returned to Atlanta, MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn rule that the healthy Aaron had to play in at least two of team’s first three games. In the season opener on April 4, 1974, Aaron, batting cleanup, crushed Jack Billingham’s first pitch to him for a three-run homer in the first inning. It would be his only hit before the team returned to Atlanta, going 1-for-6 with a walk in the two games he played.
Upon the team’s return to Atlanta Stadium, Aaron wasted little time in besting Ruth. During the Braves’ home opener on April 8 versus the Dodgers, he launched home run No. 715 in the fourth inning off southpaw Al Downing. Braves’ TV play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton enthusiastically described the moment: “There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is gonna be…outta here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron!”
Let’s recognize Aaron’s amazing moment as well as his entire, prolific career on the diamond by looking at four key cards (in chronological order) from his 24-card basic set checklist:
When it comes to collecting cards of baseball’s first black slugger who topped the 700-home run mark, there is no arguing that Aaron’s 1954 Topps rookie card #128 sits by itself atop the list. One of the most recognizable cards in the entire hobby, Aaron’s first issue often faces condition obstacles that keep it from high-grade condition including poor centering, print defects in its bold, orange background, and chipping along its green reverse. The ’54 Topps set consists of 250 cards, each measuring 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4” and is often credited for setting the market’s design standard. Aaron’s RC has a PSA population report of 4,271 of which only two have ever earned PSA Gem Mint 10 standing. A total of 25 submissions have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while another 193 have been judged PSA Near Mint-Mint 8.
In attempting to compile Hank’s basic set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of them all. Weights are determined by the secondary market and the trading card value of each card in the set, 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 current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $943.18
PSA Excellent 5: $2,522.07
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $24,531.09
Hank’s 1955 second-year issue from Bowman is one of his toughest cards to find in high-grade condition. The ‘55 Bowman set, the company’s final baseball effort, consists of 320 cards, each measuring 3-3/4″ wide by 2-1/2” high. It showcases the players horizontally inside a mid-century color television set frame with either a blonde or brown wood-grained border. Card #179 shows a youthful Aaron in his Milwaukee Braves uniform sporting the darker, brown border, which makes it highly susceptible to chipping. The card has a PSA population report of 1,873 of which not a single submission has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Only four submissions have earned the PSA Mint 9 ranking, while a total of 94 have been labeled in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 condition.
This is the third most heavily weighted card (5.00) within PSA’s Aaron basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $56.80
PSA Excellent 5: $183.46
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $2,897.67
Some second-year cards have started to pick up steam in the marketplace and this is one of them. Although Aaron’s vertical 1954 Topps #128 is a beautifully designed card, many might argue that Aaron’s horizontal 1955 Topps #47 has the edge in eye appeal. The ‘55 Topps Baseball set consists of 206 cards, each measuring 3-3/4” wide by 2-5/8” high. Unchanged by Topps – except for the horizontal delivery – from its effort the year before was the two-image design, with every player depicted in a portrait and an action illustration and sharing space with a colorful team logo. Numerically it remains the smallest Topps issue ever produced. The combination of bright colors and Aaron doing what he did best, swinging through at the plate, make his card one to watch. The card has a PSA population report of 4,251 of which none has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. A total of 25 submissions have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while 276 have been designated in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 condition.
This is Aaron’s second most heavily weighted card (6.00) in his basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $103.74
PSA Excellent 5: $331.74
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $2,562.65
The 1956 Topps Baseball set consists of 340 cards, each measuring 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4”. The set was quite similar in design to the prior year’s entry, that full-color artwork that features each player “In Action” adjacent to his portrait – with some portraits identical to those used not only in 1955 but also 1954. Such is the case with this Aaron card as it repurposes his ’54 rookie card portrait. Card backs for #s 1-180 including Aaron’s #31 can be found with either white or gray cardboard, with collectors leaning more toward the gray backs for cards #1-100 and white backs from #101-180. Aaron’s more desirable issue, therefore, is the gray back. That version has a PSA population report of 1,353 with not one ever earning top billing as PSA Gem Mint 10. Five others have been graded PSA Mint 9 and 60 more have earned PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 standing.
This card ranks tied for fourth (with two others) in the weighted card (4.50) category in Hank’s basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $64.80
PSA Excellent 5: $165.92
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $1,100.00
(including PSA ‘Weights’)
- 1954 TOPPS HANK AARON #128 (10.00)
- 1955 BOWMAN HANK AARON #179 (5.00)
- 1955 TOPPS HANK AARON #47 (6.00)
- 1956 TOPPS HANK AARON #31 (4.50)
- 1957 TOPPS HANK AARON #20 (4.50)
- 1958 TOPPS HANK AARON #30 (4.50)
- 1959 TOPPS HANK AARON #380 (3.00)
- 1960 TOPPS HANK AARON #300 (3.00)
- 1961 TOPPS HANK AARON #415 (2.00)
- 1962 TOPPS HANK AARON #320 (4.50)
- 1963 TOPPS HANK AARON #390 (3.50)
- 1964 TOPPS HANK AARON #300 (2.00)
- 1965 TOPPS HANK AARON #170 (2.50)
- 1966 TOPPS HANK AARON #500 (3.00)
- 1967 TOPPS HANK AARON #250 (2.50)
- 1968 TOPPS HANK AARON #110 (2.00)
- 1969 TOPPS HANK AARON #100 (2.00)
- 1970 TOPPS HANK AARON #500 (2.00)
- 1971 TOPPS HANK AARON #400 (2.00)
- 1972 TOPPS HANK AARON #299 (1.75)
- 1973 TOPPS HANK AARON #100 (1.50)
- 1974 TOPPS HANK AARON #1 (2.00)
- 1975 TOPPS HANK AARON #660 (1.50)
- 1976 TOPPS HANK AARON #550 (1.50)
Hank Aaron played a total of 23 seasons of big league ball. Beyond his colossal home run total of 755, which places him second behind only Barry Bonds (762), Aaron also played in more MLB All-Star Games (25) than anyone in history. Note: From 1959 to 1962, MLB staged two All-Star Games per season. The reason was simple: money. The playing of the second game was intended to increase the amount of money going toward the players’ pension fund. But after four years of playing two All-Star Games per season, the fans’ interest in the second game was starting to wane. At the time, John Drebinger of The New York Times wrote: “The public at large is finding a second all-star attraction something of an anticlimax, like playing a second World Series in Brazil.”
It was agreed to after the 1962 season that the players would receive more money from the first All-Star Game, and that the second would be dropped. But those four seasons supplied Aaron with four more All-Star Game nods and so his cumulative total will likely stand the test of time.
Aaron finished his career in 1976 at the age of 42. He wound up with a .305 lifetime with 3,771 hits and 2,267 runs batted in. Whether or not you were ever a fan of either the Milwaukee or Atlanta Braves, you really can’t wrong trying to collect the basic set of a living legend like Hammerin’ Hank. Go ahead and give it a try on the PSA Set Registry. The man has always commanded respect so his card values should only continue to increase over time.
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