The baseball card industry had a sea change in the 1980’s as the Topps Company no longer had exclusivity with regard to MLB licensing. Fleer & Donruss entered the market in ’81, followed later in the decade by Score, Upper Deck, Bowman & others. This led to a glut of cards on the market and multiple versions of the best players. Rookie cards dominated the demand by collectors and each of this writer’s extended top ten falls into the RC category. Included in the description of each card is the current price of that collectible in Near Mint + condition.
#1) 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson (#482, $60) – The final year of the Topps monopoly and the rookie card of the game’s greatest lead-off man…many of these cards are off-center, as quality control was inconsistent.
#2) 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. (#1, $30) – A new card company with the first of the upscale cards made the historic decision of having “Junior” be the first card in the set and he became one of the best all-round players in history…you will also find his rookie card in four other ’89 brands, but this is the one to have.
#3) 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. (#T98, $80) – Even though the “Iron Man” was in three regular sets in ’82, this is the card that is most valuable due to picture quality & scarcity….his regular issue Topps card from ’82 (#21, $20) has him sharing the front with two other players.
#4) 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly (#248, $20) – Of the three Mattingly rookie cards, this one of “Donnie Baseball” is visually better and slightly scarce compared to the others.
#5) 1983 Topps Tony Gwynn (#482, $15) – “Mr. Padre” and eight-time batting champion on the great format of this issue…each card front features a large action shot with a small cameo portrait at the bottom right.
#6 A&B) 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens (#U27, $75) & Kirby Puckett (#U93, $75) – This was the first time a competing company had taken the Topps idea of issuing a supplemental set a the end of the season…Fleer tested the market with a limited production run and caught lighting in a bottle with the first cards of two legendary players…all their other rookie cards are from 1985. Dwight Gooden’s rookie card from this set (#U43, $35) is also gaining traction due to scarcity.
#7) 1985 Topps Mark McGwire (#401, $10) – Even though “Big Mac” wasn’t really a rookie until 1987, this set included the 1984 USA Olympic Baseball Team, so it is McGwire’s first standard issue card…other members of the team who eventually made the “show” included Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Cory Snyder and Billy Swift. In the late 90’s, this was the hottest card in the hobby.
#8) 1981 Topps Traded Tim Raines (#816, $20) – After finally making the Hall of Fame, the cardboard value of the 2nd best lead-off hitter in history is starting to climb.
#9) 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux (#36, $4) – The beautiful black-bordered rookie card of the legendary Pitcher and 300-game winner. Over-production, not lack of popularity, impacts the value.
#10 A&B) 1983 Topps Wade Boggs (#498, $12) & Ryne Sandberg (#83, $12) – These two great Hall-of-Fame infielders joined Gwynn in this historic set.
Some additional rookie cards that didn’t quite make the cut include the ’81 Topps card with both Fernando Valenzuela & Mike Scioscia, the Kirk Gibson card from the same set, Darryl Strawberry from ’83 Topps Traded, Barry Larkin from ’87 Fleer and Randy Johnson out of the ’89 Upper Deck set.
Hope your favorite was included…thanks for reading.