As the Major League Baseball season sprints to the final weeks of the pennant chase, Sports Broadcast Journal takes you on a journey down memory lane. Dating back to 1888, baseball cards have chronicled the evolution of the American Pastime and played such a memorable element of childhood for so many of us. Similar to how listening to an old song can instantly transport us years back to a specific moment in time, these cardboard treasures can narrate unending personal memoirs.
Over the last several decades, baseball cards have appreciated from bicycle spoke decorations into full-fledged art-like investment assets. Earlier this year, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in gem mint condition sold at auction for $2,880,000. As we all know, however, not all players and cards are created equally. When most of us were ripping open packs of cards, we gravitated to the cards of the elite all-stars and speculated with rookie cards of the highest potential prospects.
Years later, as I flip through old sets, it is amazing how many then-popular and less heralded cards now represent today’s top broadcast talent in the game.
In a two-part article, today the being the first, Sports Broadcast Journal counts down the top 25, current announcer baseball cards ever made. In the second part next week, we’ll feature the greatest cards of all-time former athlete/announcers (e.g. Don Drysdale, Joe Garagiola, Phil Rizzuto and Dizzy Dean).
In establishing these rankings, we balanced three criteria for each announcer baseball card: (1) Playing Career (2) Announcing Career and (3) Popularity of the baseball card.
“Playing Career” is based upon on-field accomplishments and post-season success.
“Announcing Career” is based upon durability, popularity, insight, time in position, presence, visibility and respect.
“Baseball Card Popularity” is based upon the monetary value of the card, the overall look of the card, any scarcity or nuances of the specific card issue and overall popularity of the card. Baseball card popularity is heavily skewed toward rookie cards and speculation of high potential players with early career success.
The team or network on the right side of the top line of each ranking represents the player’s current broadcast home.
For those who want to take an even deeper dive, we also ranked Top Announcers #26-75
25. 1976 Topps Jerry Remy – Boston Red Sox
Jerry Remy kicks off our Top 25 countdown. Fans voted the smooth fielding Second Baseman as a starter in the 1978 All-Star game. Remy’s dependable 10-year career also featured 208 stolen bases and a rare accomplishment – six hits in a single game during the 1981 season. Dating back to 1988, Remy has achieved grander success as a color commentator for the Boston Red Sox and is widely considered one of the best in the business. With only 7 career home runs, Remy’s baseball cards fit into the ordinary category as collectors more often gravitate towards power hitters and strikeout pitchers. This 1976 Topps rookie card has Remy modeling the hair and mustache fashions of the day. The card also feature the popular “All-Rookie” cup that was popular with collectors.
24. 1973 Topps Ken Singleton – NY Yankees
Ken Singleton announced he will continue to carry the New York Yankees broadcast torch through the end of the 2019 season. His impressive run in the game earns Singleton the #24 ranking. Singleton’s praiseworthy playing career with the Mets, Expos and Orioles was highlighted by 3 All-Star game appearances, 246 home runs and 1,065 RBIs. His broadcast career began in Canada 1985, and the native New Yorker found his way home to the Yankees broadcast booth in 1997. Although Singleton began his career with the Mets, his first is the 1973 Topps issue is as a Montreal Expo. Given that Singleton’s All-Star status was achieved later in his career, he only achieved modest baseball card popularity. A Gem Mint Ken Singleton rookie will run you $100+.
23. 1981 Fleer Mike Krukow – SF Giants
Mike Krukow tops his long-time broadcast partner Duane Kuiper and edges into the #23 slot. Krukow also happened to hit more career home runs (5) than his runningmate Kuiper (1). Krukow accrued a productive 14 year career with an all-star game appearance, 124 wins and #3 finishing the 1986 Cy Young Award balloting. His broadcast career kicked off in 1990 and he quickly established him as one of the best in the business. As for baseball cards, Krukow cards never achieved a big followings and fit into the “commons” classification. Of note, this 1981 Fleer card represents the entry of Fleer and Donruss into the baseball market – breaking the stronghold Topps had on the market as the only major baseball card manufacturer from 1956 to 1980.
22. 1981 Donruss Rick Sutcliffe – ESPN
Rick Sutcliffe starts a run of 1980s Dodgers pitchers landing in our Top 25 as he settles in at #22. He came out of the MLB gates strong by winning the 1979 National League Rookie of the Year. He tacked on a number of career accomplishments, including a Cy Young Award, 3 All-Star game appearances and 171 wins. In addition, Sutcliffe came on strong as an announcer for the San Diego Padres before making the jump to the national stage of ESPN – a post he still holds down today. While Sutcliffe’s strong rookie start would typically fuel speculation, Sutcliffe’s cards seemingly underperformed relative to his on-field success. This 1981 Donruss card represents the first issue Donruss ever put out.
21 1974 Topps Rick Monday – LA Dodgers
The versatile Rick Monday locks down the #21 ranking. He put together a solid 19 year playing career with 2 all-star appearances, a World Series championship and 241 home runs with the Athletics, Cubs and Dodgers. Monday’s broadcast career dates back to 1985 when he began handling play-by-play duties for the Dodgers – a very unusual post for a player retiring a season earlier. He subsequently took on the analyst role and maintains an accomplished broadcast career. As for the baseball card world, Monday received little fanfare and was overshadowed by some of his more statistically powerful teammates. This 1974 Topps Rick Monday card is remarkable in that it features Monday in a generic, numberless uniform despite his then 3 year tenure with the Cubs.
20. 1964 Topps Ken “Hawk” Harrelson – Chicago White Sox
Hawk Harrelson followed a 9-year playing career with more than 40 years in the broadcast booth – and Hawk is still going strong. His longevity, reputation and keen insights clearly over-index Harrelson in the broadcast criteria of our rankings. His playing career is highlighted by an All-Star game appearance and a season American League leading RBI total. While Harrelson’s cards never achieved monetary values of note, this 1964 Topps issue (#20 in our countdown) encapsulates a young Hawk ready to devote his life to the game.
19. 1974 Topps Traded Steve Stone – Chicago White Sox
As one of the elite announcers in the game today, Steve Stone achieves the #19 ranking. While Stone had an impressive career with a 1980 Cy Young award, 107 wins and 1,065 strikeouts, his cards never really resonated with the collecting masses. This indifference can partially be attributed to Stone pre-dating the speculating “hey day” as well as his best years coming late in his career – which will do little to attract rookie card speculators. This 1974 Topps Traded late season “addendum” issue is especially interesting because of the now remedial quality uniform photo editing work. The standard 1974 Topps issue features Stone in a Chicago White Sox uniform, but Topps attempted to stay current before Stone suited up for the crosstown Cubs.
18. 1987 Donruss David Cone – NY Yankees
David Cone sits at #18. With 15 years in the Yankees broadcast booth, Cone has achieved veteran announcer status when he was seemingly chalking up career strikeout number 2,688 not that long ago. He can bejewel himself with a World Series ring for each finger on his non-throwing hand. In addition, Cone’s Cy Young award, Perfect Game and New York zip code made him especially popular with rookie card collectors – and his 1987 Donruss issue was especially popular.
17. 1962 Topps Jim Kaat – MLB Network
The marathon approach to playing and broadcasting lands Jim Kaat at #17. His career spanned 4 different decades and featured 283 wins, 2461 strikeouts, a World Series championship, 3 All-Star game appearances and a mind-blowing 16 Gold Glove awards (tied for second all-time with Brooks Robinson and second only to Greg Maddux). Although Kaat debuted with the Washington Senators in 1959, he had to wait until 1962 for Topps to honor him with a baseball card – the first time the Minnesota Twins achieved baseball card prime time.
16. 1966 Topps Mike Shannon – St. Louis Cardinals
Mike Shannon busts into our #15 space by sticking a beautiful landing in the broadcast requirement. He has become synonymous with St. Louis Cardinals radio broadcasts since 1972. Shannon also put together a nice 9 year playing career highlighted by 2 World Series championship and 68 career home runs. His 1966 Topps card has Shannon doing his best Ted Kluszewski “big guns” imitation with the extra short sleeves.
15. 1984 Donruss Ron Darling – NY Mets
Ron Darling rises to #14. While he achieved a solid career highlighted by 136 wins, more than 1500 strikeouts, an All-Star game appearance and World Series championship, Darling overachieved in the baseball card popularity criteria. As the 9th overall pick in the 1981 MLB Draft who called the bright lights of New York City home as a member of the 1986 Mets, baseball card collectors swooned to Darling rookie cards. In addition, in 1984 Donruss overtook Topps as the more desirable issue with more limited print runs and superior card stock quality.
14. 1988 Fleer Tom Glavine – Atlanta Braves
With his dazzling playing career, Tom Glavine coasts into our #14 position. The first ballot HOFer collected 305 wins, 2607 strikeouts, 2 Cy Young trophies, a World Series MVP award and double digit All-Star game appearances. A few more laps around the broadcast track should propel Glavine into the top 10 before too long. This 1988 Fleer Glavine rookie card was a staple in any collection for those of us that were collecting at the time. The card, however, under-achieves in terms of value as the 3 major manufacturers were all in full gear in terms of overproduction in 1988.
13. 1981 Topps Kirk Gibson – Detroit Tigers
Kirk Gibson is seemingly good at everything he does and well-roundedness earns him the #13 ranking. His list of accomplishments include 255 career home runs, 2 World Series rings, National League Manager of the Year, enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame and a successful career in the broadcast booth for the Detroit Tigers. Oh yes, he hit one of the most iconic, story book home runs of all-time. This 1981 rookie card in “Gem Mint” condition should set you back more than $1,000.
12. 1971 Topps Bert Blyleven – Minnesota Twins
Bert Blyleven’s HOF playing career and work in the Minnesota Twins broadcast booth earns him the #12 ranking. The two-time World Series champion compiled 287 wins and 3,701 strikeouts (#5 All-time). The boyishly skinny Blyleven graces this popular 1971 Topps issue. The cards black borders makes it incredibly to find it in elite condition as any slight flaw with the card’s corners or edges are seemingly accentuated. As a result, Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), the pre-eminent 3rd party grading service, has only ever awarded one 1971 Blyleven card with the “Gem Mint” designation. That “Gem Mint” card last publicly sold in 2012 for more than $15,000.
11. 1973 Topps Mike Schmidt – Philadelphia Phils
Mike Schmidt and his 548 career home runs crush 2 of our 3 ranking criteria, but his part-time broadcaster status has him settle for the #11 ranking. Schmidt shares his rookie card with Ron Cey to create perhaps the most elite rookie card tandem (perhaps rivaled only by the 1968 Topps combo of Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman). The 1973 Schmidt rookie has recently established new record prices with a haul of more than $30,000 for a “Gem Mint” copy.
10. 1978 Topps Jack Morris/Larry Andersen – Minnesota Twins
Jack Morris edges into our Top 10 with a little help from Larry Andersen. Morris reached 254 wins in his HOF career that featured 5 All-Star game appearances and 4 World Series Championships. This 1978 Topps Rookie Pitchers card uniquely showcases two staples in the broadcast booth. Morris pushes the card to a $500+ value in “Gem Mint” condition.
9. 1986 Topps Update John Kruk – Philadelphia Phils
John Kruk sits at #9 in our rankings. A lifetime .300 hitter and 3-time All-Star selection, Kruk ramped up quickly and had his best season as a second year player in 1987 with a .313 batting average, 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. His immediate success fueled Kruk rookie card interest and speculation. This 1986 Update issue was a special late-season issue that Topps put out to capture rookies called up to the majors after the initial issue and players subsequently traded – the idea was partially to get in front of the other card manufacturers with the first rookie card issue for key prospects. The card shows a considerably more svelte, pre-mullet Kruk in a generic brown shirt.
8. 1975 Topps Keith Hernandez – NY Mets
The slick fielding Keith Hernandez holds down the #8 spot. Aside from 11 Gold-Glove Awards, Hernandez achieved a .296 lifetime batting average, knocked in more than 2,000 runs, won 2 World Series championships and made 5 All-Star game appearances. Hernandez shares his mustache-less rookie card with four others, including former Astros manager Phil Garner. A “Gem Mint” version of this card sells for more than $1,000.
7. 1994 Upper Deck SP Die Cut Alex Rodriguez – ESPN
But for longevity on the broadcast side, Alex Rodriguez would likely find himself in a more elite ranking. There is no other full-time announcer who can flaunt 696 career home runs, 3 MVP awards or J-Lo as a girlfriend. This 1994 Upper Deck rookie card features the 19 year-old A-Rod preparing to set new hitting standards for the shortstop position – the card sells for north of $5,000 in “Gem Mint” condition.
6. 1985 Fleer Orel Hershiser – LA Dodgers
Orel Hershiser holds down our #6 post. The National League Cy Young award winner and World Series hero timed his MLB debut well to match the “heyday” of baseball card popularity and rookie card speculation. Accordingly, Hershiser’s 1985 Fleer issue welcomed an influx of investment and price surge following his 1988 59 scoreless inning streak.
5. 1989 Upper Deck John Smoltz – Fox
John Smoltz’ rookie card ranks the highest on our list of all cards issued in the last 50 years. His HOF career featured 213 wins, 3,084 strikes, 8 All-Star game appearances, a CY Young Award and a season leading saves total. Since his 2008 broadcast debut, Smoltz has quickly risen to the industry’s elite ranks. His rookie card coincides with the first year that Upper Deck manufactured baseball cards, adding to its popularity.
4. 1966 Topps Don Sutton – Atlanta Braves
Don Sutton has been a paragon of consistency and longevity. The HOFer accumulated 324 wins and 3,574 strikeouts in his 23 seasons. In addition, Sutton has been a staple in the broadcast booth since 1989. While baseball card investors often assign more value to players who are elite players in the game for a shorter period of time than they do for players like Sutton who achieve consistency and longevity, Sutton’s rookie card has amazingly reached a final hammer price of more than $10,000 for 1 of the 4 “Gem Mint” copies. The 21 year-old Sutton shares his rookie card with fellow prospect Bill Singer. If you look closely at Sutton’s cap, you will notice that Topps had not yet mastered Photoshop technology so it essentially paints a blue, logo-less cap on Sutton in lieu of an actual photo in his Dodgers uniform.
3. 1963 Topps Bob Uecker – Milwaukee Brewers
Dubbed “Mr. Baseball by Johnny Carson, Bob Uecker checks in at #3 in our rankings. While his 6 year playing career with a lifetime .200 batting average and 14 career home runs can be generously categorized as “below average”, Uecker did manage to win a World Series championship. Uecker’s humor paved the way for a Hollywood career highlighted by iconic Miller Lite commercials, a starring role in the sitcom Mr. Belvedere and memorable role in the big screen hit Major League. Uecker’s accomplished broadcasting career gained him the much deserved 2003 Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the broadcaster making “major contributions to baseball.” Despite limited success on the diamond during his playing days, Uecker’s personality and popularity fueled much interest in his baseball cards. This 1963 Topps rookie card has sold for as much as $1,000 – perhaps giving Uecker one of the greatest card value to career home run ratios ever for non-pitchers.
2. 1962 Topps Tim McCarver – St. Louis Cardinals
Tim McCarver falls just short of our top slot and checks in at the #2 ranking. Not only is he one of the greatest color commentators ever to put on a headset, but he also compiled a 21 year career featuring two World Series championships and two All-Star game appearances. While his seasonal offensive statistics may have been deemed slightly above average, McCarver served as the backstop for an incredible 121 shutouts. The 1962 Topps Tim McCarver rookie card presents many challenges in terms of finding the card in elite condition – in fact, only one card has ever received the “Gem Mint” designation from PSA. 1962 Topps cards are notoriously associated with damaged printing plates, poor quality control and easy border chipping/corner damage because of the issues wood grain borders. The lone “Gem Mint” McCarver rookie card last publicly sold in 2012 for $2,257. If that card were to hit the market today, it would undoubtedly fetch five figures.
1. 1966 Topps Jim Palmer – Baltimore Orioles
Jim Palmer crowns our list of the top current broadcaster baseball cards ever made.As a first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher, a 5 decade elite color commentator and the subject of a premium investment rookie card, Palmer crushes all of our criteria. He amassed an incredible 3 American League Cy Young Awards and owns 3 World Series championship rings. Palmer begin his broadcasting career as an active player when ABC featured him as color commentator for the 1978 American League playoffs. He even garnered additional fanfare as a model for Jockeys. The 1966 Topps issue captures a boyish-looking Jim Palmer embarking on stardom. Amazingly, no 1966 Topps Jim Palmer has ever achieved the “Gem Mint” designation from PSA. So, collectors and investors are left to bid for one of the 77 cards grading out at “Mint” – expect to pay a few thousand dollars.