Taking My Hacks

1952 Topps Baseball Card Face-Off: Andy Pafko vs. Eddie Mathews

Joe Orlando

The 1952 Topps baseball card set has long been considered the king of postwar issues. Within this 407-card set is, perhaps, the most iconic baseball card ever made. Of course, I am referring to Mickey Mantle's first Topps card.

Beyond its centerpiece, the 1952 Topps set starts and ends with arguably the most important pair of bookends the hobby has ever seen: #1 Andy Pafko and #407 Eddie Mathews.

While both cards are amongst the most desirable of all time, let the battle begin.

In this corner ...

1) The Pafko - There are many important #1 cards in the hobby, but the 1952 Topps Pafko is without question the most recognizable lead-off man of any set ever made. The card is so much a part of pop culture that it has even been mentioned in television shows and movies as one of the hobby's Holy Grails. In fact, the entire plot of the comedy Cop Out, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, is about retrieving this elusive piece of cardboard.

The card has taken on such a life of its own that most people forget that Pafko was an excellent player, one who finished his career with over 200 home runs, peaking with 36 in 1950. At the time of this writing, there were nine NM-MT 8s and a single Gem Mint 10 graded. This card presents a challenge in high-grade as a result of being at the top of the stack. I'm sure more than a few rubber bands inflicted pain on poor Pafko.

When you are recognized as the most important of anything, that branding is hard to beat and this Pafko has it as the #1 card.

In this corner ...

2) The Mathews - Before all the talk of PEDs and the flood of home runs that came afterwards, the 500 Home Run Club was very exclusive. Mathews was only the seventh man to join in 1967. Mathews was also the premier slugger at the third sack for two decades. In the 1950s alone, Mathews belted 40 or more homers four times.

The card, which was also susceptible to damage from handling and exposure like the Pafko, is certainly difficult to locate in top condition. There were 15 unqualified PSA 8s and two PSA Mint 9s when this editorial piece was being put together. Interestingly enough, while the number of high-grade examples is comparable to the Pafko, the total number of Mathews cards submitted is less than half of the figure for Pafko.

The Mathews may not be quite as recognizable as the pinnacle of #1 cards, but since it is nearly as tough in PSA 8 or better as the Pafko and a rookie card of a noteworthy Hall of Famer, the card has serious clout.

We go to the judges' scorecards ...

The bottom line is that both cards reside in the industry's most important postwar set, only taking a backseat to the most iconic baseball card ever made. Going into the fight, while each card had the ability to stand its ground in a toe-to-toe scrap, I do think the Mathews rookie might deserve a close decision in the end ... and a closer look by the collecting community.

Despite each having the connection to the staple set and the condition scarcity to go with it, the Mathews has the star power to reach new heights in the future, assuming its perceived difficulty stays intact.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
PSA President