Lying in bed, unsleeping, I got to thinking about someone in my virtual social circles who collects entire runs of players.
It got me thinking “Of the players for whom I have all of their base Topps cards, I wonder… which one has the longest run?”
My collection is very scattershot and focus has never been my strong point. I could barely keep up with the new cards when it went from one set (Topps) to three sets (Topps, Fleer Donruss) in 1981, and it just got worse in 1988 and forward… for example, I have always intended to finish sets like 1982 Topps and 1984 Fleer, but never got around to it because I’d be on to the next set.
After pondering the “longest run” concept in the darkness, I got up the next morning, fired up my database and started trying to figure out who had the longest run.
The first step I took was to group my cards by name and then determine which players I have the most base Topps cards of… I figured that the longest streak probably falls within these players.
The highest counts are as follows;
- 26 cards: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens
- 25 cards: “Dave Roberts” (Which I know isn’t really 25 cards of one player because my collection has 3 different guys named “Dave Roberts”)
- 24 cards: Alex Rodriguez (please let it not be him), Joe Torre (many cards as manager), Rickey Henderson
- 23 cards: “Frank Thomas” (same situation as “Dave Roberts”)
- 22 cards: Lou Piniella (Really? Wow), Mark McGwire
- 21 cards: Bert Blyleven, Carlton Fisk, Charlie Hough, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver
What’s interesting about this list is that it’s not until you get to Rusty Staub and Tom Seaver that I would say “Yes, I collect him”.
So the next thing I did was write a query to see if I had a complete run of any of these guys. I was certain that I did not have a complete run of Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver because their pricey early cards are standing between me and some vintage Mets team sets.
Looking at that list, I also realized that Cal Ripken is not on there even though he’s a player I casually collect (Mrs. Shlabotnik loves him), and that brings up a significant issue with my data – Cal Ripken is in my database as both “Cal Ripken” and “Cal Ripken Jr.”.
I write another query to search for base Topps cards which contain “Cal Ripken” with or without the “Jr” and I find that I own 19 cards of Cal — but I’m missing 2 cards from the 1990s. SHAME ON ME!
So, one by one, I do similar queries on the players above, and because I was enjoying the research I put a couple of other spins on things, which you’ll see in a moment.
Before I get to the winners in a couple of categories as well as the overall winner, let’s run through some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention #1: I have every Topps Rusty Staub card except for his pricey, high-numbered rookie card… my incomplete run is 21 cards running from 1964 to 1986 – keep in mind that Rusty did not have Topps cards in 1972 and 1973
Honorable Mention #2: I’m also missing just one card from what would be 23 consecutive Bert Blyleven cards. In this case we’re talking about a player I’ve never chased (outside of set builds). It’s happenstance that I have so many cards of Bert, and the one card I’m missing is not expensive, but I just didn’t happen to acquire it.
Additional Honorable Mentions: I want to list some other long runs so I can justify the research I did…
19 years: Jerry Reuss (1971 – 1990)
17 years: Eddie Murray (1978 – 1997); Mike Jorgensen (1970 – 1986); Keith Hernandez (1975 – 1990); Willie Randolph (as a player, 1976 – 1993 – I’m missing a card as a manager because that card was listed as a Yankees card in my database)
What is believed to be my longest current streak (not counting 2023):
Evan Longoria, 14 years starting in 2009
Longest run out of the players I actively collect as part of a team or player collection:
Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn — I have every one of his 14 Topps cards from 1964 to 1977.
(Note: The 1977 Yankees card is a Burger King card, and it’s here because I reused an image instead of scanning just the 1977 Topps card).
My biggest complete Topps run of any player…
…Not a guy I actively collect (but it is someone who falls into the “kinda like” category)…
…Spanning 23 years from 1972 to 1994…
I dig knuckleballers like Hough, so there may have been a slightly greater effort to collect Hough than your average run of the mill player, but never in my life have I thought “I should collect Charlie Hough”.
This was fun to research and write, but ended up being more work than I’d intended… Mostly because I struggled to put my hands on a few of these Charlie Hough cards, which just underlines how much more work I need to do in organizing and streamlining my collection. (This is where regular readers of this blog say “So what else is new?”)
On the plus side, I added a few new goals to my list for 2023 and stumbled across a batch of unused and much-needed 9-pocket sheets.
I’ve been considering writing this post but I think it’d be only about Stanford players (Bob Boone vs Mike Mussina mainly).
I gave thought to declaring this a “Bat Around” but I’m not sure if it’s a universal thing… for me it was fun because my most obvious candidates all had cards I can’t afford.
I really need to track down George Brett’s 1982 and 1994 cards to complete my run of his Topps base. I do have the OPC version of the 1982.
If you’ve got the 1975 Brett I think you’re out of excuses :)
Yeah, I’ve had that probably since 1975, or at least close to it. Don’t have the mini. though.
BTW, still have a surprise for you if you send me your address….
I missed that you were just including Topps initially. With that qualifier, Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton are tied with 24. I’d have to reassess on the runners-up as I was including stuff like Bowman and Collector’s Choice.
Love this quirky kind of article. Avid Biggio collector so of course I have all the 1989-2007, but now in recent years Topps has reproduced the 85-88 cards in various reprint sets. Obviously those don’t “really count” but it’s been fun to now start working the years backwards!
Biggio is one of those guys I feel like I should collect because he is about my age and grew up near me on Long Island… I think part of it is just that there are so many cards of him!
I agree. I’ve always collected everything I could find of his and recently have decided I don’t need them all. I’m realizing the ones I like most are the base Topps, whether real ones or heritage/archive reprint versions. The hundreds of others I have beyond that I could do without. Loved seeing him included in the 1988 insert this year since that was an original card Topps missed. Fleer and score included him in 88 but Topps waited til 89.
It’s unfortunate that I don’t plan on cataloguing my entire collection on the TCDB, or I could put up some big numbers like this too. I do collect Piniella, Fisk, Randolph and Hernandez over and above (meaning 2nd copies) of all the Topps sets I have (’59, ’60, ’64[-1], ’68 thru 2020.)
As far as player runs, I’ve got 8/10 of all the Pookie Bernstines. Not sure I’m within 80% of any other PC…
It’s this kind of post that really makes me want to add my cards to a database. I have no idea who my longest run is… but I completed the Gwynn run a while back (which is 20 cards).
Good article, just trying to complete sets is hard, but finding cards of certain players or teams takes a lot of effort, just realizing the amount of time & money that goes into this hobby. With the cost of rookie cards today, who knows how long these players will play in the MLB. I always treat baseball card collecting as a hobby, don’t know if I’ll ever complete sets from 70’s on back, but I will on keep on trying while there shows around my area.