By Peter Schwartz
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To this day, Mickey Mantle remains one of the most iconic figures not only in Yankees history, but in all of baseball.
The popularity of "The Mick" not only stems from his on-the-field accomplishments, but also what he has meant to the sports memorabilia industry, particularly as it pertains to baseball cards. Mantle has meant so much to the baseball card industry and was honored posthumously in a very special way 21 years ago.
When Mantle passed away in 1995, Padres closer Trevor Hoffman was the No. 7 card in the Topps baseball card set that season. In 1996, Topps honored Mantle with the No. 7 card, as that was his uniform number. After that season, the No. 7 card was retired by Topps unless it was a Mantle card.
"The executives at Topps came up with a way to honor one of baseball's most beloved players," said Kevin Eger, Topps' brand manager. "Since then, card No. 7 had either been Mantle or no one, which meant a gap in the checklist."
That is until this year. Topps has decided to bring No. 7 out of retirement for the 2017 set, and they have issued it to Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
The 24-year-old backstop burst onto the scene last season, hitting .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 53 games. Sanchez garnered strong consideration for American League Rookie of the Year, and his play helped the Yankees stay in contention for a playoff spot.
Topps felt the time was right to bring back the No. 7 card for a player other than Mantle, and the feeling was that it should go to a Yankee.
"After more than 20 years, we wanted to offer the spot of card No. 7 to a young, emerging star," Eger said. "Gary Sanchez is part of a re-emergence for the Yankees, bringing that magic and mystique back to the team. Gary Sanchez seemed like the natural pick for card No. 7."
It's not his rookie card, but the Sanchez No. 7 card will certainly be an important part of a Yankee fan's collection. When it comes to rookie cards, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more iconic or sought-after card than Mantle's 1952 Topps rookie card. The reality is that any card with the image of Mantle is an important part of one's collection.
"Topps cherishes Mickey Mantle and celebrates his career to this day," Eger said. "Mantle was amazing player that we will always celebrate."
Today, Yankees fans are celebrating what they hope is the start of a brilliant career for Sanchez. If he should evolve into an All-Star player and help the Yankees return to their World Series-winning ways, he won't just energize the fan base, he will also create a market for his baseball cards.
Just like another Yankee that captured the imagination of the baseball card world.
It took more than two decades, but Topps finally found a player worthy of the No. 7 card. And the number stays in the Bronx.
Please follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @toppscards and @ElGarySanchez.
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