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Forgotten Second Cards: 1952 Topps Pete Runnels

Introduction

James Edward “Pete” Runnels MLB career spanned from 1951-1964 as a player with a short stint as the Boston Red Sox manager from 1965-1966. He was a solid hitter who finished his career with a .291 Batting Average while twice being the AL batting champion and earning five trips to the All-Star game.

Pete found himself on the second card in what is one of the most iconic baseball card sets, 1952 Topps. And while the Andy Pafko card has reached iconic status as card #1, it was often damaged by collectors who put cards in numerical order and rubber-banded the stack. The Pete Runnels card was usually damaged in this process as well. Either because the rubber band impacted a few cards through, or because some collectors didn’t have a Pafko and Runnels was on top.  

While the Andy Pafko rightfully commands big dollars, the Pete Runnels is more manageably priced, but often forgotten, undervalued, and under-appreciated while being just slightly less condition-sensitive.

Population

The 1952 Topps PSA Population report is a bit misleading since PSA didn’t initially differentiate the red and black back varieties. But, there are about 800 graded Runnels cards and about 2000 graded Pafko cards. The break down by grade is:

PSA 8: Pafko 0.4%, Runnels 2.5%

PSA 7: Pafko 1.9%, Runnels 6.75%

PSA 6: Pafko 4.5%, Runnels 14.5%

PSA 5: Pafko 11.4%, Runnels 18.8%

PSA 4: Pafko 15.7%, Runnels 22.6%

It’s important to consider that the proposition value of grading any Pafko card (including those that would grade a PSA 1) is significantly higher than a Runnels increasing the total Pafko population count.

In pure numbers, the population report shows:

PSA 8: 9 Pafko, 20 Runnels

PSA 7: 39 Pafko, 54 Runnels

PSA 6: 92 Pafko, 116 Runnels

PSA 5: 234 Pafko, 150 Runnels

PSA 4: 323 Pafko, 181 Runnels

So it’s harder to find a high-end Pafko (PSA 7 and greater) than a Runnels, but it’s more challenging to find a mid-grade (PSA 4/5) Runnels than a Pafko.

Price

The 1952 Topps Pete Runnels card still carries a relatively high price tag though. Recent sales reports show Runnels selling for approximately:

PSA 8: $5500

PSA 7: $1000

PSA 6: $400

PSA 5: $150

PSA 4: $50

But, the PSA 4 Runnels sells at 10% of the Pafko, even though far fewer cards exist. Likewise, the PSA 7 Runnels also sells at 10% of the PSA 7 Pafko. For mid-grade PSA 5s and PSA 6s, the Runnels is about 25% the cost of a Pafko.

Conclusion

The 1952 Topps Pete Runnels card is certainly one to consider if you don’t have a big bankroll and want to own a key card from the 1952 Topps set. There is a lot of value in this “Second Card”. The Runnels is nearly as condition-sensitive as the Pafko but costs significantly less. Additionally, Pete Runnels was solid All-Star and is an important part of the most iconic post-war baseball set.

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