As part of a promotional effort to generate interest in the Topps and Beckett brands, the two leaders in the trading card industry have teamed up on a project this baseball season aimed at determining all-time “most legendary” baseball card lineups for each of the 30 MLB teams.
They’re releasing them one week at a time, and this week it was the Twins’ turn for a trip down baseball card memory lane.
Beckett Media is a longtime player in the world of trading card publications, while Topps is a standard-bearer in the card production industry. Together, they had an ambitious task — one sure to create debates and omissions even within a well-defined set of criteria for picking teams and cards. Jon Finkel, publisher at Beckett, said there were four main things looked at:
“First was what a player means to the local fan base — memories, World Series appearances and whether they were homegrown,” he said. “The second was the overall skill of the player and where they rank among greats. Third was their star power nationally. And the fourth was with Topps and Beckett, what the card specifically meant to the hobby.”
With that in mind, here is the Twins’ all-time team (Gaetti, Gagne and Nathan are not pictured above):
Position Player Card
SP Bert Blyleven 1975 Topps #30 Bert Blyleven
RP Joe Nathan 2004 Topps #557 Joe Nathan
C Joe Mauer 2002 Bowman Chrome #391 Joe Mauer AU A RC
1B Kent Hrbek 1982 Topps Traded #44T Kent Hrbek
2B Rod Carew 1968 Topps #80 Rod Carew
3B Gary Gaetti 1983 Topps #431 Gary Gaetti RC
SS Greg Gagne 1985 Topps Traded #36T Greg Gagne XRC
LF Harmon Killebrew 1969 Topps #375 Harmon Killebrew
CF Kirby Puckett 1985 Topps #536 Kirby Puckett RC
RF Torii Hunter 1994 Bowman #104 Torii Hunter RC
UTIL Tony Oliva 1964 Topps Giants #44 Tony Oliva
For the most part, I think Beckett and Topps got things right (though if this was expanded to other card companies like Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck, there might have been worthy challengers).
The most glaring omission is on the pitching side, where the selection criteria was limited to just one starter and one reliever. Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, but a list that doesn’t include Johan Santana, Jim Kaat and others leaves room for debate.
“For every team we’ve done, the starting pitcher is hardest,” Finkel said. “It’s a fun debate, and I’m sure as we go through each city it will get even harder.”
You could also make a case for a Bob Allison card over Torii Hunter in the outfield. But Finkel said the biggest position player challenge with the Twins was Hrbek vs. Justin Morneau at first base. Morneau racked up more individual honors, including the 2006 AL MVP Award, but Hrbek was a homegrown player and a standout on two World Series teams.
“My favorite card of all of them is Hrbek. I was a big Hrbek fan, and when I was collecting those cards, the card itself was classic,” Finkel said of the 1982 Hrbek card that made the cut. “I don’t think the players realized how widely those cards would be distributed, and maybe they didn’t maybe realize the looks on their faces.”
Indeed, a very young Hrbek is sporting the faintest mustache and has a thousand-yard stare in his card photo. Like many of the other 11 cards on the Twins’ list, the Hrbek card is from very early in his career — ones that tend to have more value and are therefore a bigger deal in the collecting world. The Mauer card is not only a rookie card but also features Joe’s autograph.
You can get a better look at all the Twins cards and players — and see new ones for each team revealed each week — at Thirty Teams Thirty Weeks.
“I think it ties the hobby to the nostalgia of the sport,” Finkel said.