On this day in 1934 in Mobile, Ala., Henry Louis Aaron was born — and 20 years later he made his big-league debut for the Milwaukee Braves.
Twenty-two years after that? Hammerin’ Hank’s career ended — in the uniform of the Milwaukee Brewers — with him atop the all-time home run list. All of this is a simple but impressive stat-sheet reality that you can revisit here but should know.
What some younger collectors may not realize, though, is that one of his baseball cards arrived noting his new record before it actually happened and before it was on the back of his card, instead of the year after as it really should have been. (It’s actually among my favorite Aaron cards, too, making the birthday the reason you’re reading this.)
Aaron finished the 1973 season two home runs short of breaking Babe Ruth‘s career record of 714 but he tied The Bambino on Opening Day in 1974 and took the record home for himself on April 8 with a shot off of Los Angeles Dodgers veteran Al Downing.
Topps felt that the new record was a given and the 1974 Topps set arrived before those games — all in one series — and it’s card No. 1 where this Aaron is found. Then there are five cards after that — the Hank Aaron Specials — that show all of his past cards four at a time from 1954 to 1973. (It’s also a move Topps whipped out in 1986 for new hit king Pete Rose.)
This particular card is not an easy find in top condition because of the notoriously sloppy printing conditions of the time — one reason a 2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites re-do of this card is also one I like a lot — and that’s proven by a look at the PSA pop report. Just one card out of nearly 2,400 slabbed has graded a PSA 10.
Only 96 copies have received a clean PSA 9. Meanwhile most copies grade out at an 8 (608) and even more are in grades below that. Rough cuts, diamond cut, chipped edges, color spots, ink blotches — there are many ways this classic can be derailed.
Meanwhile, the Special cards have more PSA 10s despite far fewer cards being slabbed — another sign of this card’s toughness in top grade and another way you can gauge its popularity. (It’s not just me.)
This card isn’t that expensive — unless you want it graded and a PSA 9 will run you more than $1,000 on eBay — and it’s commonly sold in lesser grade for less than $5 in lesser condition. Ironically, Topps double-dipped on the record making sure that Aaron got a ’74 Highlights card in the 1975 set — also card No. 1 — while his main card that shows that impressive stat sheet total for the first time shows him in a Brewers uniform. That makes it a little bit of a bummer for me along with a bad photo that’s been airbrushed for the team change.
On Hammerin’ Hank’s 84th birthday, this simple 1974 card is clearly one to own if you don’t.
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