An Infusion of Color: A Look at the 1958 Topps Baseball Card Set

Jim Churilla
Jul 19, 2005

Forty seven years ago, back in 1958, Major League Baseball was introduced to the West Coast with the arrival of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco. The Dodgers would leave Ebbetts Field behind and call the spacious Coliseum home until Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962. The Dodgers Wally Moon would make a name for himself hitting his famous “Moon Shots” at the Coliseum. The Giants, on the other hand, said goodbye to the Polo Grounds and moved into Seals Stadium.

Like the Dodgers, the Giants would eventually move into their own new ballpark called Candlestick Park. There were a bunch of heart broken New York fans in 1958, it must have been unbearable! Even more unbearable had to be coming to terms with reality that both teams were gone for good. That feeling sunk in on April 15, 1958, when the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants faced each other and played the first West Coast baseball game in Major League history with San Francisco’s Ruben Gomez cruising to an easy 8-0 victory over Don Drysdale in front of 23,488 fans at Seals Stadium.

The era of baseball on the left coast was born and, in the next eleven years, three other baseball franchises would start up in California, the Angels, San Diego Padres, and the Oakland Athletics. Further up the coast and a decade later, Seattle would be awarded the Pilots, whose tenure lasted only one year. Seattle would get a second chance in the-mid 1970’s with the formation of the Mariners.

The Giants would finish the 1958 season in third place with an 80-74 record, 12 games behind the pennant-winning Milwaukee Braves, while the Dodgers would finish with the third worst record in baseball at 71-83, 21 games out of first in what would be Pee Wee Reese’s last season. With the loss of Roy Campanella and the shock of moving across country, it’s no wonder the Dodgers struggled but that would soon change the next year as they would win the World Series!

It wasn’t a bad year for everyone though as Ted Williams would sign the biggest baseball contract ever to date at $135,000 a year. Hoyt Wilhelm would throw a no-hitter for Baltimore, Ernie Banks would win the first of his two consecutive MVP awards and the New York Yankees would overcome a 3-1 deficit and stun the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, avenging their loss to the Braves in the 1957 World Series.

From a baseball card collector’s point of view, one can only imagine how difficult it had to be on the young fan and card collector in New York opening packs of 1958 Topps cards. To see your favorite Dodger and Giant players now listed as Los Angeles instead of Brooklyn and San Francisco instead of New York had to be a sad moment, especially when the Giants team card #19 was labeled New York Giants instead of San Francisco Giants.

As a matter of fact, I can remember meeting a person who grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan who told me that it was the worst moment of his young life and it still bothers him to this day, 47 years later! The father of a good friend of mine was also a huge Brooklyn Dodger fan on Long Island and refuses to watch any Los Angeles Dodger games or recognize their existence since the move. Now that’s serious!

To make matters worse, it was particularly hard on Brooklyn Dodger fans when one of their heroes, Roy Campanella, suffered a career-ending injury when his car rolled over on January 29, 1958. On the flip side, however, there were many people in California who were ecstatic that Major League Baseball was introduced to the Golden State, resulting in a new generation of fans and collectors.

The 1958 Topps baseball card set reflects the introduction of baseball on the West Coast with the initial L.A. Dodgers and S.F. Giants cards. Now that California had its two new teams, Topps card distribution was vastly increased in a new market area. Prior to 1958, St. Louis was as far West as the Major League game extended, but now a whole new baseball frontier was opened up just like 109 years earlier with the California gold rush of 1849!

The 1958 Topps baseball card set contains 494 cards that measure approximately 2 ½ x 3 ½ in size. There are an additional 40 cards that are variations, which comprise what is known as the 534 card master set. The front of the cards have one of nine different background colors including, orange, red, green, light green, yellow, blue, light blue, black or pink framed inside a white border. Topps decided to infuse a ton of color into this issue after going with a classic but less colorful 1957 design.

The top portion of the card has the player name in either white or yellow lettering, with the yellow version being the scarcer and more valuable version of the two. These yellow letter variations are found only in series one, cards 1-110. The front of the card has a picture of a player or players, manager, coach, league president, a team photo, or an action shot from the 1957 World Series. Photos are either of a close up facial shot or a fielding, batting, pitching or throwing pose.

The bottom of the card has a thin solid colored block that runs left to right in either black, blue, yellow, red or green. Inside this solid block are the player position and the team name. The team names in series one, cards 1-110, also had a handful of yellow variations. Some team names are abbreviated due to their length such as the Washington Senators. Just above the bottom solid covered block, you will find the team emblem either printed to the right or to the left.

The card back contains all the vital information and some really cool cartoon artwork. Starting with the top of the card reverse, you will find the card number in the upper left hand corner within an image of a baseball that appears to be wearing a cap. To the immediate right of the card number is a player information blurb. Below the card number and player information blurb are two cartoons that describe various career highlights from the previous year or further back. To the right of the cartoon blurbs is a box that gives the players vital information such as height, weight, bats left or right, throws left or right, his hometown and the day and year he was born.

The bottom portion of the card gives all the good statistical information split in two sections. The left section will say minor league hitting record, major league hitting record, minor league pitching record, or major league pitching record. The right section of the bottom box list the players fielding but pitchers have no fielding stats listed. The last item of note on the card back is the Topps copyright/trademark, which runs along the right side edge of the card.

The 1958 set was issued in six different series that are as follows: 1-110, 111-195, 196-283, 284-370, 371-440, and 441-494. What made this set a bit odd was the fact that the low numbered, not the high numbered cards, are harder to find and carry a premium unlike most other Topps sets. Back in 1958, you could buy your baseball cards in either one card penny packs; six card nickel packs, or in cello packs. To buy a box of one cent penny packs you would have to spend a whopping $1.20 for the 120 packs!

The front of the packs have a drawn picture of a pitcher delivering a pitch with the word “Topps” in the upper left, the word “baseball” across the center of the pack, the word “bubble gum” at the bottom left and “5 cent” at the bottom right. The pack colors are red, white, black, and light green. Topps had a contest listed on the back of the packs, “Fans- win $5 a week from the All-Star Game to Christmas in Bazooka’s 2nd annual baseball contest, thousands of prizes, thousands of winners-ask your retailer for the rules”. The last line on the back of the wax pack reads as follows: “1 slab bubble gum plus picture cards”. Now I wonder how many lucky kids won that contest which totaled just over $100!

The key rookie cards in the 1958 Topps set are that of Orlando Cepeda, Roger Maris, Curt Flood, and Vada Pinson. The set featured the first Sport Magazine All-Star cards, which were cards 475-495. What is really significant about the Sport Magazine All-Star cards is that Stan Musial had his first Topps card ever in a set and first major card in any set since his 1953 Bowman color card. The reason why there were no Stan Musial cards was explained by Stan Musial himself who simply said that none of the card companies were willing to pay him what he wanted. He did not have a regular 1958 card because the card agreement was not reached until later in the printing cycle of the 1958 cards, thus the final series card issue.

Many believe that the Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle All-Star cards were triple printed and replaced cards # 443 Billy Harrell, #446 Carroll Hardy, #450 Preston Ward, and #462 Gary Geiger on the printing sheets, making those four cards short print cards.

One of the more interesting stories of the set is the non-issue of card # 145, which was supposed to be Ed Bouchee. It is thought that before the set was to go to print, card #145 of Ed Bouchee was withdrawn due to him having alleged legal problems. Topps executives did not want the company to be associated with Ed at the time. Apparently, the following year, the issue was cleared up and Ed Bouchee would have a card in the 1959 Topps set and subsequent sets.

For the first time, Topps team cards were issued with checklist on the back and some of the team cards list the players in alphabetical order. The following cards also have a numerically listed checklist version that has a much higher value: Cincinnati, Detroit, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. There is only one known corrected error in the set and that is of card # 433 Pancho Herrera. The error version has the letter “a” left off the last name Herrera and is very difficult to find, which makes it one of the most desired and valuable cards in the set. The corrected version has been graded 128 times by PSA, while only 15 of the error card version have been graded.

Uncorrected error cards in the set include the following: #37 Mike McCormick (which is actually a picture of Ray Monzant), #188 Milt Bolling (which shows a photo of Lou Berberet) and #478 Johnny Temple (which list his record vs the American League when in fact he was in the National League). Of the non-error, non-yellow lettered cards; card #150 of Mickey Mantle is the most valuable card in the entire set, followed by card #1 of Ted Williams, a very tough card to locate in high-grade.

Looking at an old price guide from 1981, only 6 cards had a value above $10 in Ex-Mt condition with Mickey Mantle topping out at a wallet burning $28.50! The complete set could have been had for an incredible $390 in Ex-Mt condition!

The recent 1958 Topps PSA Population Report posted shows a total of 62,182 cards having been graded by PSA. Of that total, 33% or 20,580 cards graded out PSA 7’s, 32% or 19,744 cards graded out PSA 8’s, 17% or 10,499 cards graded out PSA 6’s, 9% or 5,565 cards graded out PSA 5’s, 5% or 3,245 cards graded out in the PSA 3 to 4 range, 2% or 1,185 cards graded out PSA 9’s, 1% or 613 cards graded out as a PSA 1 or 2, and, finally, only 17 cards submitted for grading received the highest grade of PSA Gem Mint 10.

The following 17 cards are the only 1958 Topps cards to receive a perfect PSA grade of 10: #41 Dave Hillman, (2) #70 Al Kaline’s with white letters, #99 Bobby Adams, #100 Early Wynn (yellow letters), #101 Bobby Richardson (white letters), #160 Don Hoak, #187 Sandy Koufax, #216 St.Louis Cardinal team checklist, #240 Bill “Moose” Skowron, #270 Warren Spahn, #285 Frank Robinson, #309 Gail Harris, #370 Yogi Berra, (2) #375 Pee Wee Reese’s, and a #485 Ted Williams All-Star card.

The top ten 1958 Topps baseball cards submitted for grading with the number graded in parenthesis are card #487 Mickey Mantle All-Star card (2,700), card #150 Mickey Mantle (1,851), card #47 Roger Maris rookie card (1,458), card #418 Mantle/Aaron World Series Batting Foes (1,327), card #1 Ted Williams (999), card # 30 Hank Aaron with white lettering (955), card #476 Stan Musial All-Star card (950), card #187 Sandy Koufax (941), card #5 Willie Mays (933), and card #485 Ted Williams All-Star card (856). As expected Mickey Mantle cards continue to be the most frequently graded and popular of his era.

Its safe to say that the 1958 Topps set broke new ground in the card collecting field by introducing new types of cards such as the first alphabetical and numerical team checklist along with the first Stan Musial Topps card. It also introduced the collector to the new Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants cards, ushering in a whole new era of baseball West Coast style.

The after affects would be a card boom now that the West Coast market was opened up. The standard complete card set went from the 494 cards in the 1958 set to 572 cards in 1959. Not until 1996 would Topps produce another complete set that totaled less than 500 cards. Needless to say, this great vintage set unknowingly set the tone for future Topps productions and remains a highly sought-after gem.

Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at mailto:[email protected] with any additional information or comments.