Who should be on the 2021 MLB All-Star team? National League stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Kris Bryant and new American League sluggers Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero Jr., as well as many others, sprout easily within the discussion.
The rosters for 2021 Midsummer Classic will add to the game’s rich history, which began as a “one-off” exhibition in 1933 sparked by an idea from Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward. The game returns on July 13 after only the second missed year since its inception — in 1945 war-time travel restrictions sidelined the matchup and, of course, last year the surging COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the event.
But what about a starting lineup from the vintage (pre-1980) All-Star cards? Who makes that squad?
For this cardboard “Dream Team” the parameters are as follows: blending the leagues is permissible; the player had to be active when the card debuted; players can only appear once on the list; one slot per position (with some flexibility in the outfield); no “posed” combo cards that directly or indirectly appear to originate from All-Star game photo ops or the like; two cards max from any one set. That largely boils down to cards from Topps All-Star subsets that appeared many years from 1958-1970, which often included many of the previous season’s All-Star starting lineup for each league.
So, after much research and consideration, here is this scribe’s take, in batting order fashion, on this pasteboard parade of vintage All-Star cards. Hopefully Arch Ward’s spirit would approve.
1968 Joe Morgan, 2B
The diminutive young player, who would become known for his clutch hitting, speed and great defensive play, had only made the 1966 All-Star squad up to this point. Morgan’s best years, including two MVP awards, were several seasons away, so kudos to whomever picked “Little Joe” to be part of this subset. The one drawback: the blacked out/airbrushed logo from his hat.
1958 Stan Musial, 1B
Although Stan “The Man” roamed the outfield for much of his career, he played more at first base during his last seasons and is listed as a first sacker within this subset, the first year Musial appeared in a regular Topps issue by himself. In 1955 the St. Louis Cardinal slammed a 12th-inning walk-off homer to win the All-Star game.
1961 Mickey Mantle, LF
The Yankee slugger delivered one of his finest seasons in ’61 as he and teammate Roger Maris, also an All-Star in this issue, battled it out chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Many of the era’s vintage All-Star cards came out in a set’s last series, including this card of “The Mick.” It also happened to be one of the tougher last series of the period to obtain.
1960 Hank Aaron, RF
The first player to break Babe Ruth’s career home run mark, Aaron had quite the shine on his star in 1960, not even halfway into his MLB career. This 1960 design gets the nod for “The Hammer” partly because it seems to announce a fresh look in a new decade, and Aaron made the ‘60s his own.
1961 Willie Mays, CF
Baseball legend Ted Williams once said, “The All-Star game was invented for Willie Mays.” Seems about right. Mays, Aaron and Musial all played in the most All-Star games (24, helped by the fact that from 1959-62 there were two Midsummer Classics per year). The 1961 Mays All-Star shows “The Say Hey Kid” and his infectious smile blasting through the newspaper-like design, and it comes from that tough high-numbered series, too.
1969 Johnny Bench, C
Combining a powerful bat and superior defense, many rank Bench as the best all-around backstop in MLB history. The ’69 All-Star card of Bench shows the young catcher in only his second Topps set.
1959 Ernie Banks, SS
In 1959 Banks produced big dividends by winning his second straight NL MVP award. This high number card likely ranks at or near the top of All-Star cards of Mr. Cub for many reasons, but it also gets points for its overall design and photo.
1970 Brooks Robinson, 3B
Although the famous Abbott & Costello routine “Who’s On First?” makes a few references to “I Don’t Know, third base,” baseball fans know that Brooks Robinson was the top third sacker of his era with 16 Gold Gloves, and many place him as the best ever at that spot. In the 1970 World Series Robinson led Baltimore to the title. Like the 1961 Topps All-Star subset, the 1970 version also shows each player’s image sort of bursting out of a newspaper.
1962 Warren Spahn, P
The winningest pitcher (363 victories) of any hurler since World War II. From 1956-1963 the lefthander won 20 or more games every year except one, 1962, when he “only” notched 18. Spahn could also occasionally swing a mean bat as he slammed 35 career big-league dingers, among the highest career totals for pitchers.
Bench (late-game replacements/pinch hitters)
This section contains ample candidates, but for our purposes the limit is three slots. It starts with 1968 Roberto Clemente, who made his only appearance in these subsets, which is hard to believe. It also includes 1958 Frank Robinson, who hit All-Star game homers for each league over the years and, along with Aaron, is the only player to appear in both the 1958 and 1970 Topps All-Star subsets.
Rounding it out is Ted Williams, who appeared in the 1958 Topps All-Star lineup, but in this case, he actually gets the spot for his 1948 Swell Sport Thrills pasteboard. That card features “The Splendid Splinter,” along with Joe DiMaggio and others, celebrating the Boston slugger’s walk-off three-run homer in the 1941 All-Star clash.
Whether you collect by type, player, team or set, vintage All-Star cards present a solid roster to choose from. And they can ignite fun debate, something the originators of the Midsummer Classic would likely take great pride in nearly 90 years since the first such official exhibition.
ALL-STAR PRICE GUIDE
Here are some recent card auction prices realized, rounded to the nearest dollar, for the starting lineup of our vintage All-Star cards. All cards are graded PSA 8, unless noted otherwise.
1968 Morgan $26-$55
1958 Musial $193-$269
1961 Mantle $1,049-$1,850
1960 Aaron $747-$808
1961 Mays $506-$652
1969 Bench $135-$209
1959 Banks $342-$464
1970 Brooks Robinson $342-$464
1962 Spahn $66-$70
1968 Clemente $155-$280
1958 Frank Robinson $150-$188
1948 Swell Williams (PSA 5) $422
— Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org