It’s one of the great debates in baseball fan history. Who’s better: The first man to hit over 700 homeruns in his career or the man who surpassed his lifetime total? If you buy vintage baseball cards, you probably have your favorite.
While you can find many ways to compare these two players — and their statistics are examined below — the fact is they were very different men playing in very different eras. Both are obvious Hall of Famers, and both mean a lot to a sport that has essentially changed very little since the early 20th century. Picking one over the other may be like trying to pick between a hundred-dollar bill and two fifties.
Babe Ruth changed baseball forever. In the 1920s, after the Black Sox scandal, he started hitting homeruns at such a rate that he brought fans back to the ballpark. What most people don’t realize is that he hit for average as well as power. In 1921, for instance, he hit .378 with 177 runs scored and 168 RBIs. Among his 204 hits were 44 doubles, 16 triples and 59 homeruns. Dynamite, but that wasn’t even his MVP season.
When Ruth retired in 1935, he held the record for career homeruns, RBIs and total bases, among several other high-water marks. In addition to his single-season record of 60 homers in 1927, he set a record in 1923 by walking 170 times, which stood until 2001, 78 years later. In 1921, he amassed 457 total bases, a record no one has ever broken. The Babe stood head-and-shoulders above his rivals as the greatest player in the 1920s, if not of all time.
“Hammerin’” Hank Aaron also changed baseball. He proved that modern-day players could be every bit as good as the nostalgia-tinted players of yesteryear. Although he never hit more than 47 homeruns in a season, he did what no one else thought possible: broke Ruth’s career homerun record. In 1959, he hit .355 with 116 runs scored and 123 RBIs. Among his 223 hits were 46 doubles, 7 triples and 39 homeruns. Amazing, but that wasn’t even his MVP season.
He hit 30 or more homeruns in 15 different seasons, 40 or more in eight seasons. He hit .300 or better in 14 seasons. In 1963, he hit 44 homers and stole 31 bases while driving in 130 runs. No, that wasn’t his MVP season either. He was a consistent threat at bat from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s while playing a more grueling season and facing tougher opposition. Aaron redefined what a power hitter could be.
When You Buy Vintage Baseball Cards
While both Ruth and Aaron were stars in their respective eras, baseball cards were very different. Topps was firmly established in 1954, when Aaron was a rookie. Meanwhile, baseball cards were still rare when Ruth burst onto the scene. If you’re looking to buy vintage baseball cards, Aaron’s rookie card in mint condition recently brought in more than $62,000 at auction.
Of course, there aren’t many options to buy vintage baseball cards of Babe Ruth. According to Beckett.com, the 1933 Goudey #144 is the most expensive Ruth card at $4,000. A minor league card — Ruth’s first — with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League sold for about $450,000. His first major league card, as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, was the 1916 M101-5, which sold for more than $130,000.
Don’t start your collection with Ruth or Aaron when you buy vintage baseball cards, but they’re goals worth dreaming about. Ruth’s cards are rarer, making Aaron’s cards more accessible. Which would you prefer?