In 1963, Topps started using “leaders” cards to kick off their sets on a strong note. These cards featured players who had led the league in some statistical category the previous season.
It’s worth noting that these cards, in graded form, can be in slightly poorer condition than other cards in the set due to their frequent handling, rubber banding, and the incentive to grade more cards featuring star players. So, here’s a summary of the seven times Topps included a leaders card to kick off a set in the post-war vintage era emphasizing typical card conditions.
1963 Topps #1 National League Batting Leaders
The 1963 set is really popular because of its design. Topps kicked off the set with big-time star power on the National League Batting Leaders card, including the floating heads of Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, and Hank Aaron. PSA has graded a little over 1000 of the cards, most commonly in the 6/7 range, when average grades for most cards in this set are in the 7/8 range. Also, there is yet to be a 1964 Topps NL Batting Leaders card #1 encapsulated as a Gem Mint 10.
1964 Topps #1 National League ERA Leaders
Sandy Koufax fans gobble up this first card from the 1964 Topps set. PSA has graded more than 800 of them, most commonly in the 6/7 range, while this set’s typical grade for cards is in the 7/8 range. Like the 63s, there aren’t any PSA 10s of the 64 leaders card either.
1965 Topps #1 American League Batting Leaders
The 1965 American League Batting Leaders Card features Tony Oliva, Brooks Robinson, and Elston Howard. PSA has graded almost 900 of them, most commonly in the 7/8 range, which aligns with the overall set’s population norms. There are there Gem Mint 10 card 1s.
1968 Topps #1 National League Batting Leaders
Topps would skip a few years before they kicked off a set with a Leaders card again, and they came back in 1968 with a monster, my favorite on this list, that features Roberto Clemente. Clemente’s star power in the hobby is undeniable, and PSA has graded over 2000 of these cards, most commonly as 7s and 8s, which is a little lower than the norm for 1968 Topps baseball cards. There are eight Gem Mint 10 examples of this Clemente/Gonzalez/Alou card.
1969 Topps #1 American League Batting Leaders
Carl Yastrzemski highlights the first card of the 1969 Topps set. Around 900 of these batting leaders cards have been graded by PSA, most commonly as 7s and 8s, the same as the overall set, to go with three Gem Mint 10s.
1977 Topps #1 Batting Leaders
There would be another long wait for Topps to kick off another set with a Leaders card, but in 1977 Topps pivoted a bit when they included the Batting Leader, from each league, for the first card. Nearly 500 have been encapsulated by PSA, most commonly as 8s and 9s, similar to the overall set, to go with eight PSA 10s.
1979 Topps #1 Batting Leaders
Rod Carew and Dave Parker, who led baseball in batting in 1978, highlight the first card of the 1979 Topps baseball set. PSA has graded fewer than 400 examples of this card, but that’s a lot, population-wise, compared to the other cards in 1979 Topps. Most commonly, the Battling Leaders card returns from PSA as an 8, but there are also a lot of 7s, with 9s being the third most common grade. There are just three PSA 10s. Collectors commonly find cards from 1979 Topps baseball at the PSA 9 level.
Wrapping up, Topps used these leader cards as the openers to get collectors excited about the set. These cards recognized the players who excelled in specific statistical categories the previous season and remain a popular choice among collectors. I think the 1968 and 1963 cards are the standouts among the seven, but let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter. Happy collecting!