Alex Rodriguez is on nearly 18,000 cards
When Alex Rodriguez joins the 600 home run club -- whether it's this week or sometime in September -- he will already have topped the biggest feats of them all when it comes to baseball's elite sluggers.
He already has passed Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and the rest of the 600 club for the number of baseball cards he appears on.
In fact, he did it a long time ago.
A-Rod has graced more than 17,800 different cards since 1993, an average of more than 1,000 a season. Aaron has just 1,752 different cards, while Ruth appears on little more than 3,600 and Mays has roughly 2,400. The biggest irony to consider there? Unlike decades ago, retirement doesn't stop a player from having a baseball card.
It's a product of the post-1980s card explosion as well as other moves by manufacturers and MLB Properties, baseball's licensing arm. For a long time, more was better and cardboard gluttony ruled the land as several companies produced countless sets of cards each year. However, too much of a good thing has sparked a newer trend -- more different cards with fewer copies of those cards available, many times as few as one serial-numbered copy made. (See Stephen Strasburg and his $16,000 baseball card, which has since been re-sold for more than $20K.
Even still, A-Rod is still something different. He also has more cards than Bonds (11,592) and Ken Griffey Jr. (13,273), guys who also played during the "baseball card era." Ironically, A-Rod's card stats should be even higher as he didn't sign a contract to appear on a Topps card until 1998. At that point, he had already played in parts of four big-league seasons.
From the mid-1950s until 1980, there was mostly just one main set of cards made each year, Topps. In 1981, MLB authorized two more companies to produce cards -- Donruss and Fleer -- and by the 1990s there were even more companies making more sets than ever. This year, though, Topps is the lone fully authorized manufacturer of MLB cards and it will still release roughly 20 different products.
The overall baseball card production is down from a few years ago -- kind of like baseball and its home run totals after another "era" reportedly ended -- and that's probably a good thing for hobbyists. After all, A-Rod has more cards than Aaron, Ruth, Mays and even Sammy Sosa combined.
That, combined with low print runs for many, many cards, makes "collect 'em all" even tougher.
Actually, it makes it impossible, and where's the fun in that?
Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Check out Beckett.com -- and be sure to get the latest news on sports cards and memorabilia at The Beckett blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.