In 2015, PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) put together the Mount Rushmore of Cards for each segment of the hobby. The four cards weren’t necessarily the most valuable, but the ones that best represented each sport in the hobby. The four cards they selected for baseball were 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner, 1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, and 1954 Topps Hank Aaron.
I remember having no issue with the first three but disagreed with the 54 Aaron. That’s an iconic card for sure, but I can think of at least three I would put ahead of it: 1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson, 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., and 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout. If they didn’t want to choose cards that were as recent as the Trout or even the Griffey, I still feel the 48 Jackie is clearly a more important issue than the 54 Aaron. Personally, I would choose the Griffey. Of course, these sorts of lists are designed in part to create discussion, so well done, PSA.
I was reminded of the Mount Rushmore discussion recently, and it got me thinking about a Cubs-only list. What are the four most iconic Chicago Cubs baseball cards? Two of them were obvious immediately: 1954 Topps Ernie Banks and 1983 Topps Ryne Sandberg. No Cubs collector needs those two explained to him. Those are two popular, beautiful Topps sets, and Banks and Sandberg are top 4 all-time Cubs. Easy. But what of the other two? Somewhat less obvious, but in my opinion a card that definitely belongs, is the 1887 Old Judge Cap Anson. Old Judge was the first comprehensive set of trading cards ever produced, being inserted in packs of cigarettes between 1887 and 1890. It’s a legendary set, and Cap Anson was arguably the biggest star of 19th century baseball. So that makes three.
The fourth one is more difficult. Who are the great Cubs we haven’t mentioned yet? Ron Santo, Gabby Hartnett, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Stan Hack, Sammy Sosa, Three-Finger Brown, to name a few. Ron Santo is the 3rd or 4th greatest Cub ever, so his 1961 Topps seems like a good choice. But his teammate Billy Williams also had a rookie card in 1961 Topps, and the 1961 Topps set is not exactly iconic. If I could pair the Santo and Williams together it would be a simple choice, but that seems too easy.
Gabby Hartnett played in that strange era of the 20s and 30s where there weren’t many nice cards made for him early in his career, but then 1933 came along and trading cards exploded again. His true rookie card is 1922 American Caramel (left), but by far his most memorable card is 1933 Goudey (right). That set reinvigorated card collecting after the many dull sets of the 1920s, so the 33 Goudey Hartnett is in the running.
The famous infield trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance appeared on one single card together, the 1912 Hassan Triple Folder. But that set is rather obscure and not heavily traded. Like Santo and Williams, if I could link together the T206 portrait cards of all three it would be a great choice.
What about modern cards? Sosa’s rookie cards are all White Sox cards, so we can’t have that on the list. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are the two stars of the modern Cubs era, who seemed to be destined for the upper ranks of historic Cubs, if not for management’s inability to recognize it. Bryant’s 2013 Bowman Chrome Autograph is one of the most popular Cubs cards of the last 30 years. I’ve got him at #28 on the list of all-time greatest Cubs so I’m not sure he, on his own, merits inclusion on this list, and Rizzo’s rookie card is a Padres card. But there is one card that captures both players as Cubs, as well as the most important game and moment in the history of the franchise.
Topps Now began in 2016, a set that captures the big moments in baseball as they happen. And the moment that brought the 2016 season, and the Cubs’ championship drought, to an end is captured on this exquisite card. Featuring autographs from each star, and a piece of one of the bases used in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, this card has become a modern grail among Cubs collectors. Including this one would see our list cover practically the entire history of baseball cards.
The best candidates for the fourth selection are therefore 1912 Hassan Triple Folder Tinker/Evers/Chance, 1933 Goudey Gabby Hartnett, 1961 Topps Ron Santo, and 2016 Topps Now World Series Base/Autograph Bryzzo. Each would be a fine choice, but I like the idea of presenting cards from four different eras of collecting. Finally then, the Mount Rushmore of Chicago Cubs baseball cards, with these examples coming from my personal collection:
What are the collecting pillars of your favorite team?