As I've done each of the previous few years here on the blog, I'd like to use my final post of this particularly horrid year to highlight the top cards to debut on this blog over the past twelve months. The rules for this countdown are just that simple, the card has to have debuted here on Shoebox Legends between January 1, 2020, and today.
Each card caption in the post is actually a hyper-link to the original post where that card debuted on the blog, in case you missed it the first time around and are incredibly bored or looking for some extra card-related reading material.
With that out of the way, here is my Top 20 of 2020 countdown...
#20 - 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente
You know it's the sign of a good year for my collection when the last-place card in the countdown is a playing-era Clemente!
One of my big trends this past year was selling off cards and downsizing my collection, and using the proceeds to pick up fewer, more significant cards instead. This Roberto is the first of many examples of the fruit of all of that labor in today's countdown. I picked up half a dozen graded HOFers from this iconic set with some sales funds, but Roberto here was the best of the bunch by far, and thus just squeaks onto this list.
#19 - 1995-96 Select Gold Team Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky seems to have at least one card in the countdown at the end of each year, and 2020 was no exception. This year he gets the #19 slot, with this obnoxiously shiny '90s insert. I pretty much went out and picked this up as soon as I heard about these golden beauties. I may have added some older Gretzky cards, and some more valuable Gretzky cards, to my collection this year, but this shiny gem is my favorite of the bunch.
#18 - 1964 Philadelphia Johnny Unitas
Using my Cardboard Keepers project as an excuse to pick-up some all-time greats outside my normal collecting wheelhouse has been quite successful so far. Case in point, this really great Johnny Unitas, which just so happens to be the very first football card to make one of these year-end countdowns. I'm hoping to (very selectively) continue to pick-up some NFL greats in the coming year, so maybe this will be the beginning of football having a place here on the countdown in future years.
This one's also great in that I picked it up at an antiques store just down the street from me that has plenty more great vintage to be picked through. I've been avoiding going back due to COVID, but will hopefully peruse again someday soon when conditions are better...
#17 - 2016-17 Fleer Showcase '92-93 Ultra Buyback Auto Ray Bourque (#'d /25)
I have seriously cooled off on collecting autographs over the years, and have been trending more in the vintage and shiny card directions of late. Nonetheless, there was no way I could leave this amazing on-card autograph of one of the NHL's all-time best defensemen off this list. I'd love to pick up a few more of these Ultra buyback autos, but at just 25 copies each they are tough little buggers to track down in the wild.
#16 - 2011 Topps Chrome Atomic Refractor Freddie Freeman RC
This gorgeous Freddie Freeman rookie card kicks off a streak of shiny cardboard here on the countdown. This was a satisfying pick-up because I'd been after an affordable copy for oh so long, yet finally hauled one in just months before Freeman won the NL MVP, decreasing the odds of finding a cheap copy even more. I'm determined to complete the 2011 Topps Chrome set in Atomic Refractor format someday, and this card was a huge win on that particular front.
#15 - 2014-15 O-Pee-Chee Platinum Traxx David Pastrnak RC
Feels like it's been forever since we saw any NHL hockey, doesn't it? Well, things are going to start back up in a couple of weeks here, and one of the players that I'll be most excited to watch is David Pastrnak, who shared the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in last year's abbreviated season with the great Alex Ovechkin. Still just 24 years old, David has already established himself as one of the elite scorers in the league. I flat out stole this card at under $40 last winter.
#14 - 2018 Panini Prizm World Cup Mosaic Lionel Messi
Arguably the world's greatest soccer player over the last 15-20 years, in the top 2-3 players by anyone's account. This is also one of my favorite soccer sets ever, and just a gloriously shiny, retail-exclusive parallel. These Mosiacs are really tough to find, much more so than many of the other great colored parallels from this release. I stumbled upon it as a Buy-It-Now just minutes after it was listed, and I'm glad I did because at the bargain price that it was listed at, it would not have lasted very long.
#13 - 2015 Topps Buybacks 1968 Topps Manager's Dream Oliva/Cardenas/Clemente
Roberto Clemente makes his second and final appearance in today's countdown. 2020 was another steady year for my long-running Buyback Franken-set project, and the best buyback that was added to the set by a country mile over these past twelve months was this 1968 Manager's Dream card. '50s and '60s combo cards are just amazing, and to get one with Clemente into my project was more than I could have hoped for when I started it. There's no way that this card ever gets bumped from the franken-set binder as far as I'm concerned.
#12 - 2005 Upper Deck Baseball Heroes Emerald Auto Carl Yastrzemski (#'d /99)
I know I said that I've cooled off quite a bit on autograph pick-ups, and I truly have, but it's more that I seek out quality over quantity I guess. My first ever Yastrzemski autograph certainly fits the definition of quality! What a bold, amazing signature it is, too! Pretty amazing that it took me this many years of collecting to finally add Yaz's name to my autograph collection, but I'm happy that when it finally came it was from one of my favorite baseball autograph sets ever.
#11 - 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle
The first nine cards were great, but I have to say that the top eleven cards this year really took my collection to a whole new level. I used a lot of my downtime during the pandemic to sell unwanted or under-appreciated cards from my collection on eBay, using the proceeds to land some big fish instead. It worked out amazingly, as this card and basically everything that come after it could have easily fit into the top three in any of the previous years' countdowns.
One of my biggest long-term collecting objectives is to complete a run of Mantle's playing era Bowman and Topps cards. While I cannot afford the 1951 or 1952 Bowman cards, or the insanely expensive 1952 Topps release, I'd like to get all of his other flagship Bowman and Topps cards from '53 through '69. This is a lifelong project to be sure, but I'm pleased to say I came one card closer in 2020 with this nicely centered '68.
This was the first of five cards that I acquired in my greatest card flip ever, funded by a $5 soccer pick-up, if you can believe that!
#10 - 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee Mario Lemieux RC
It just so happens that the next two cards came in the same flip as the Mantle. In retrospect I should have ranked this particular card higher, as Lemieux is a top-10 hockey player all-time in my opinion, and his rookie is also one of the most iconic hockey cards of the 1980s. When I acquired this, I commented that I thought Super Mario's rookies were criminally under-priced. I guess I was correct, as they've skyrocketed in the months since, as have many sports cards to be fair. A definite case of "I'm sure glad that I picked this up when I did".
Yet another card that came in the epic $5 soccer card flip. I'd love to complete both the 1955 and 1956 Topps sets someday, but I've been pursuing '55 with more vigor to date. The price was right on this '56 though when I had the flip funds to spend, and I knew I wanted to add a significant Willie Mays card to my collection, so here we are. I still get a smile on my face that's similar to the one Willie is flashing here whenever I look at this card.
#8 - 1971-72 Topps NHL Goalies Win Leaders Auto Esposito/Johnston/Cheevers/Giacomin
This year's highest-ranking autograph card is easily one of the most unique autographs in my entire collection. I just think it's beyond cool that somebody put in the effort to have this one signed by all four subjects, and it helps that it's from one of the most iconic hockey sets ever produced and features multiple HOFers. I may not be as into autographed cards as I used to be, but I'll always appreciate a unique collectible like this one!
The sports card market was an insane place, full of ups and downs this past year. Sure, there were negative aspects to this, like the fact that I didn't see any retail packs available even once after early March. On a positive note though, there were ways to capitalize on the insanity.
Case in point, I sold a 1993 Finest Michael Jordan when his cards went bananas. Not the refractor or anything, just a plain ol' base card. Got enough money for it that it funded this second year Hammerin' Hank, one-for-one. Yep, that's just plain crazy. Since even a relatively beat Aaron RC is a four figure card now, this is likely the oldest Aaron I'll ever own, and I effectively traded a '90s basketball base single for it. 2020 was a crazy year, indeed.
This was the fourth of five cards acquired from my epic $5 soccer flip, and to date is my oldest card of The Splendid Splinter. I probably should have had this ranked behind the Hank Aaron that we just looked at a moment ago, but I guess my Red Sox bias bumped this one up a spot. As with the Hank Aaron, once I had this card in hand I felt like my 1955 Topps set pursuit was truly starting to get serious.
Here's the final card from my $5 soccer card flip, and honestly the one that I was most excited about out of that grouping. I've adored this card since I was a kid, as I just love the image of the game's greatest catcher. I'm a total sucker for 1950 Bowman as well, since the set provided the first truly vintage card I ever owned as a kid (a Maurice McDermott, given to me by my dad). This card would have placed #1 in either of the last two years of these countdowns, but in 2020 it only ranked #5. Yep, some truly special cards are coming up here.
Completing a '50 Bowman set feels like a pipe dream still, especially given what guys like Jackie Robinson go for, but even if I never get there I'll always treasure this beauty. Speaking of Jackie Robinson...
#4 - 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson
The top four cards in this year's countdown are a cut above the rest in my mind. Each of them is very special to me for a particular reason, and in this case it's because this is my first playing-era Jackie Robinson card! A vintage Robinson is a great cornerstone to any baseball card collection, and I was pumped to clear out some cards I no longer appreciated to make space, and to finally acquire my first one with the resulting funds. My 1955 Topps set is in hyper-drive mode after landing Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Jackie here all in the past year!
#3 - 1968 Topps Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan RC
2020 saw me pick up another card that I've coveted since childhood, the Nolan Ryan rookie. This purchase is special to me for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it was funded by gift cards provided by my parents and my mother-in-law, which I'll always remember. I'm 100% certain that I will keep, and treasure, this card for the rest of my life.
When I posted it all the way back in January, I predicted that it might finish in the top spot on this here countdown, and it certainly would have been a fitting choice. Amazingly though, I ended up with two others before the year was out that I'd put above even this wonderful RC!
#2 - 1940 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio
The first of those would be this 1940 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio. I never in my life thought I'd own a playing-era card of Joltin' Joe. Once again though, the craziness that was the sports card world in 2020 allowed it to actually happen. I sold a soccer card that I pulled myself from a pack in 2018, that had no patch or autograph on it, and wasn't even serial-numbered, and made enough off of it to buy this Joe D straight-up. I really question whether we'll ever see some of the insanity in sports cards that we saw this past year ever again.
What on earth could top an authentic vintage card of The Yankee Clipper?
#1 - 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan RC
Arguably the most iconic basketball card ever produced, that's what. This was the pinnacle of my mantra of selling quantity to fund quality this past year, as I spent many hours over many weeks, and many trips to the post office listing, selling and shipping over three dozen separate graded singles to fund the purchase of this one card! My timing was perfect too, as I picked this up just weeks before Jordan cards went bat-shit crazy as far as prices on the market. The greatest basketball card I have ever owned, or will ever own, and a very fitting choice for the top spot in this year's countdown.
So, that's a wrap for the Top 20 of 2020. Looking back at the past twelve months like this makes it pretty clear that this was the single best year for my collection to date. 2020 was a trying year in both my professional and personal life, but it sure was a good one for sports cards.
As nice as all these acquisitions are, what I appreciate more is the great camaraderie that exists between collectors, and in our sports card blogging community in particular. In addition, I'm more grateful that ever to have my family happy and generally healthy, even if I don't get to see them much of late. Let's hope 2021 is a brighter year ahead on many counts.
Thanks as always for stopping by, and I hope you'll join me for yet another great upcoming year here on Shoebox Legends!