Set Registry

Don't Hate the Player: Player Sets Popular on the Registry

By Joe Orlando

When the PSA Set Registry first started about 16 months ago, we anticipated growth in the obvious area – complete sets produced by the manufacturer. What we did not anticipate was the steady but unquestioned interest in completing player runs. From Mantle to Jordan, for some collectors, the player is where the fun begins.

Babe Ruth
1933 Goudey Babe Ruth – Photo courtesy of the Brian Seigel Collection

As a young collector, I had my share of favorite teams that I followed throughout the season. When the game of baseball changed, however, so did I as a collector. What am I referring to? Well, it became difficult to keep my team loyalty when my favorite players seemed to move each and every year to a new team. For me, the focus became player loyalty. Even though my collection was mainly comprised of vintage items, I still had my modern favorites.

Speaking of vintage items, many pre-1980 collectors didn't have to worry so much about players jumping from team to team throughout their career. Many of the most popular players of all-time performed for one team and one team only. Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente all played for one team their entire careers. These four legends just happen to be four extremely popular choices on the Registry.

Mickey Mantle
1954 Dan Dee Mickey Mantle – Photo courtesy of the John Branca Collection

There were others, in the vintage era, that played for a few different teams but the frequency was low overall compared to today. Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, Jimmie Foxx and even Babe Ruth moved around a bit during their careers. Does that fact hinder their great popularity in any way? The answer is absolutely not.

Getting back to the Registry, like some fans who tended to follow a particular player instead of a team, some collectors choose to collect individual players as opposed to the complete sets that come from the manufacturer each year. These collectors do not want to be bothered with the commons; they just want to own the stars.

Ted Williams
1954 Wilson Franks Ted Williams – Photo courtesy of the Don Louchios Collection

For other collectors, the interest in collecting player runs may be in addition to collecting full, annual sets. Take, for instance, the collector who won the PSA Set Registry award for Best Overall Collection of the Year in 2002 – Marshall Fogel. Fogel really enjoys the chase of the complete set and the difficulty in finding tough commons. Fogel also enjoys collecting cards of his boyhood idol, Mickey Mantle. For Fogel, a 1952 Topps set is a challenge and no doubt fun to assemble but a 1952 Topps Mantle is special all on its own.

For those of you who are either new to the Registry or for you veterans who may be thinking about completing a player set, there are two choices available for each player. The Registry offers a Basic Set and a Master Player Set for each player. The Basic Set will only include the mainstream/basic cards manufactured during their career. Now there are some exceptions, like the 1948 Leaf Babe Ruth card (produced after his playing days). Certain cards, based on their popularity and mainstream acceptance, are included by popular demand.

While the Basic Sets will usually satisfy most collectors, featuring many of the most popular cards of the featured player, the Master Set is where the advanced collectors will find a huge challenge. The Master Sets include a checklist of every card, not just the mainstream ones, for that particular player. The Master Set includes cards such as league leaders, combo cards (ones featuring more than one player) and, really, any card featuring that player. If PSA grades it, it's part of the set and this is where the competition on the Registry is taken up a notch.

For example, finding a nice 1954 Bowman Mantle or Williams is hard enough but now the registrant will need a Dan Dee Mantle or a Wilson Franks Williams to complete the Master Player run. Many of the regional or specialty cards are extremely difficult but, if you really like that player, then the chase can be very rewarding – that is if you can find that elusive card.

Roberto Clemente
1955 Topps Roberto Clemente - Photo courtesy of the Don Louchios Collection

Now, as we talked about, we know how tough some of those regional or specialty vintage cards are. Some of them are nearly impossible but, when it comes to modern Master Sets, it's volume that overwhelms the collector. For you Mantle collectors, consider yourselves lucky. To complete a Mantle run, even the Master Set, there are still a limited amount of cards needed for completion.

Yes, you may need a 1964 Topps Stand-Up or a very elusive Stahl Meyer example but at least your checklist doesn't look like a small novel! Imagine completing a Kobe Bryant or Cal Ripken Jr. player set – yikes! There are so many cards needed in the post-1980 era, especially for the really popular players. In some cases, there are more rookie cards of some modern players than total cards of some vintage-era players.

Kobe Bryant
1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant

For those of you who choose to collect player runs and compete on the Registry, this can be very fun and rewarding. Many collectors tell me that they learn quite a bit from assembling player runs. Again, most collectors have seen the mainstream cards produced by Topps, Bowman, Fleer, etc. but how many of you have ever seen or heard about a 1961 Topps Dice Game Willie Mays? The Master Sets force the collector to learn more about EVERY card that features their favorite player, not just the well-known ones.

It will be interesting to see how the player sets develop over time. We are constantly adding cards to the existing sets and creating brand new players sets altogether. While the crux of the PSA Set Registry will no doubt be the manufactured sets from Topps, Bowman, Play Ball, etc., Player Sets provide a nice alternative to the collector whose loyalties lie with the players they love to watch or read about. Good luck with all your player runs.