Night Owl's perspective of what makes a great card stands in welcome contrast to Topps plan of reprint every Mantle one...more...time. And even if they do keep Mickey on the payroll, why leave out this legitimately great card? Topps bought out Bowman's assets back in early 1956!
1951 Bowman #253
Thick-lined borders make The Mick jump off this card and I love the cloudy sky. Doesn't matter to me that it's his first card, but it should to Topps and Bowman, as "Home of the Rookie Card!"
Picking "best ever" cards means more than "most expensive" and "most popular." Subtle combinations of pose, design, and context can make for awesome results. Even my focused group of #5s includes several choices that improve on Topps' nominees--the following handful of players represent my top 5.
1934 Batter-Up #5 Carl Hubbell
Poses like this turn a single moment to something iconic. Hubbell's windup is Evel Knievel's motorcycle flying over 20 cars or Bo Jackson running out of the Kingdome.
1952 Bowman #5 Minnie Minoso
This wonderful piece of art happens to be 5-decade player Minoso's rookie, but I just love its post-swing detail and optimistic look over the collector's shoulder.
1956 Topps #5 Ted Williams
The best cards remind you of complete baseball stories, like Ted Williams' career in Fenway Park. Its unusual dimensions helped The Splinter thrill fans year after year, even if Boston could never deliver a title. 1956's whole set is a wonderful collection of cards, driven by competitive pressure from then-rival Bowman.
1964 Bazooka #5 Warren Spahn
Topps should include Bazooka sets in their retrospective--after all, they've owned the gum brand from day one! Smaller cards don't have to mean lousy pictures, as this Spahn amply demonstrates.
1971 OPC #5 Thurman Munson (front and back)
What a great action shot! You could pick Topps' own #5 based on the front alone, but I wanted OPC's lemon-flavored back and its invitation to learn "Rookie of the Year" in French.
This barely scratches the surface of awesome cards. Got some favorites of your own?