The baseball card market has never been hotter, with both vintage and modern cards fetching record prices.
The booming market has forced — or allowed — even the wealthiest collectors to make some difficult decisions.
For instance, would you rather own a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle or a 1951 Bowman Willie Mays rookie card?
Or what if you had an opportunity to purchase the Holy Grail — the rare 1909 T206 Honus Wagner? Would you rather have the Wagner, or a 1939 Play Ball Ted Williams?
If you’re more into modern cards, which would you rather own — a 2019 Topps Fernando Tatis rookie, or a 2014 Topps Update of Mets ace Jacob deGrom?
Or what if you had to choose between the red-hot Wander Franco and a 2018 Juan Soto?
Those are all valid and fun questions to ponder, and MLB.com is putting such choices to the test with its Top of the Pack Bracket.
Sponsored by the Loupe app, the bracket features 32 cards — one from every big-league team, plus two wild cards. Fans will vote on the matchups over the next two weeks, with the finals set for Sept. 29-30 just before the end of the regular season.
The bracket is split into four categories: the Golden Era for cards prior to the 1960s; the Post-Expansion Era, which tracks the height of the baseball card industry; the 21st Century for current stars; and Off-Center cards, or odd cards that make us laugh.
Loupe is giving fans a chance to win some of the iconic cards, including three PSA Gem Mint 10 Mike Trout rookie cards. Two of the Trout cards are part of Grand Prize packages (approximate value of $5,000 each) Loupe is giving away to two random winners who register for a free Loupe account by Sept. 30. Users can register on iOS or Android devices.
The third Trout rookie card will be given away to a random fan who votes in the finals between September 29-30.
The Top of the Pack Bracket features some intriguing matchups, like a 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout vs. a 2021 Topps Series 2 Jazz Chisholm Jr. While Chisholm Jr. is hot and may appeal more to younger collectors, you don’t pass up a Trout. His 2011 Update is worth a few thousand and will undoubtedly be worth much, much more as his Hall of Fame career winds down.
While Franco vs. Soto and Tatis vs. deGrom are tough calls, MLB’s Golden Era matchups are more clear-cut, though no less intriguing.
The Wagner vs. Ted Williams matchup is a no-brainer. While a 1939 grade-9 Williams could be worth as much as $500,000, the famous Wagner is so rare it is practically priceless. An SGC 3 grade recently sold for more than $6 million, setting the all-time record for sports cards. And with only about 60 known to exist, its value will always hold strong and will likely continue to soar toward the $10 million range.
Mantle vs. Mays is also a no-brainer. While the 1951 Mays rookie is a beautiful card worth $60,000 or more in a high grade, the ’52 Mantle is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby. The Topps Mantle regularly sells for more than $1 million and held the all-time record at $5.2 million until the SGC 3 Wagner hit the auction block. Even a ’52 Mantle in the worst condition is worth $50,000 or more, making it one of the most valuable cards in the hobby.
The Golden Era of the MLB bracket features some more intriguing matchups among vintage cards, like a 1953 Satchel Paige vs. a 1955 Jackie Robinson, or a 1954 Ernie Banks vs. a 1948 Stan Musial.
The Post-Expansion side of the bracket is much more difficult to handicap. It features some intriguing matchups among Hall of Famers, like: 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. vs. 1988 Craig Biggio; 1982 Cal Ripken Jr. vs. 1990 Frank Thomas; 1980 Rickey Henderson vs. 1975 Robin Yount; and 1984 Don Mattingly vs. Johnny Bench.
The Off-Center bracket is pure fun, featuring some of the hobby’s classic error cards and some of its most entertaining examples.
For example, Hank Aaron’s 1957 Topps card — an error card in which he is shown batting left-handed — is squared off against a 1992 Fleer Nolan Ryan that features the flame-throwing holding a smoking baseball.
Former manager and “legendarily grumpy” Buck Showalter is featured on one of the very first Arizona Diamondback cards, posing with a cactus. His card is overmatched against a valuable 1914 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson card ($101,000 at Memory Lane in July) stained by caramel and candy. Poor Buck.
And then there’s former Detroit Tigers Pitcher Don Mossi, who is best known for his nickname, “Ears.” Mossi and his famously large ears are featured on his 1960 Topps card and matched up against a shirtless, shoulder pad-wearing Bo Jackson and his famous 1990 Score card.
MLB’s Top of the Pack Bracket is a fun and intriguing exercise that has something for every collector. And thanks to Loupe, three lucky fans can win some valuable Mike Trout cards.