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Topps Knew Aaron Would Be Great

Yesterday the baseball world rightly celebrated the crowning achievement of the great Henry Aaron, his 715th home run, which “eclipsed” the record formerly held by Babe Ruth. Naturally, there is no shortage of cards–modern and vintage–celebrating the historic feat. A personal favorite is card #1 from the 1974 Topps set, which young collectors would have pulled up to a month before Aaron toppled Ruth’s mark.

When a card predicts the future, as this one did, I call the phenomenon “cardboard clairvoyance.” Obviously, Topps didn’t need to go out on much of a limb to predict 715, seeing as Aaron was only two home runs shy. On the other hand, Topps showcased some serious cardboard clairvoyance with the Hammer nearly two decades earlier!

Let’s start with Aaron’s 1955 Topps card, produced when his career home run total was a mere 13. The front of the card appears inconspicuous enough, just a repeat of the photo from his rookie card coupled with a nice action pose of his follow-through. So where’s the clairvoyance?

For things to get fun, we need to flip the card over and check out the cartoon. Here we are in 1955 and we already have a cardboard connection between Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth!

What’s more, fans of the Negro Leagues will recall that the great Josh Gibson may or may not have hit a home run completely out of Yankee Stadium. So there you have it…Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Josh Gibson–three-fourths of baseball’s home run Mount Rushmore–all on a single card! (As an added bonus, the card number, 47, also matches Aaron’s season high for roundtrippers.)

But that’s not all. Fast forward another year to Aaron’s 1956 Topps card. Again we have a repeat of the rookie card portrait, but this time the action pose is replaced with true in-game action. 

There’s only one problem. While the player sliding into home is supposed to be Hank Aaron, it’s actually the Say Hey Kid, as is verified by this source photo from 1952.

Then again, is this Topps snafu a feature or a bug? Again, I like to think it was cardboard clairvoyance, pairing Aaron with Ruth in 1955 and Mays in 1956 more than 600 home runs ahead of this 1973 Topps classic.

Not only that but the Mays-for-Aaron switcheroo may have even foretold the November 2, 1974, trade of Aaron to the Brewers for Dave May!

So there you have it. We have no idea how they knew it so early, but Topps clearly knew as early as 1955, nineteen years ahead of the record, that Aaron was destined for greatness.

If this isn’t the most amazing feat of cardboard clairvoyance, I don’t know what is! I mean, can you imagine if a card company somehow predicted the next Home Run King so far in advance? Oh wait, Donruss just called me to say, “Hold my beer!” (Check that lifetime home run total.)



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