The baseball card industry was in full blown over-production mode by the start of the 90’s. There were at least 7-8 companies in the marketplace and collectors were reaching the point of frustration. How could you collect everything? And, if not, how did you choose the product to collect? In retrospect, it is easy to see why many people left the hobby…but to quote James Earl Jones, “Baseball is the constant” and many great players made their debuts in this decade. As with our visit to the 80’s, each of these choices represent the rookie card of the player and included in the description is the current price of the collectible in Near Mint + condition.
#1) 1993 SP Derek Jeter (#279, $150) – There are at least half a dozen rookie cards of the Yankee Captain and you can still find some in the $15 range. SP was an upscale product produced by the Upper Deck company and the rookies in the set had a “foil” coating that was easily damaged but looked great.
#2) 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera (#302, $30) – One of the few products in this era with a limited production run, Bowman had the first true rookie card of this pitching legend three years before he made his actual major league debut.
#3) 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza (#92, $30) – The rookie card of the greatest hitting Catcher in history, this was in a boxed set with a limited run…from regular issues, his ’92 Bowman card ($15) is a good alternative.
#4) 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez (#15, $20) – Once again, there are many rookie cards of “ARod” in the $5-$10 range but this foil issue is in higher demand. With that being said, his admitted use of PED’s has negatively affected the value of his cards.
#5) 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas (#300, $15) – This was the first year of the modern Leaf brand and its high-quality photography, as well as somewhat limited production, had collectors clamoring for the rookie card of “The Big Hurt”. Other rookies in the set included Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, David Justice & John Olerud.
#6) 1997 Fleer Ultra David Arias-Ortiz (#518, $35) – The Red Sox slugger known as “Big Papi” actually came up with the Twins and his name was David Arias…later changed to Ortiz. So, if you come across a David Arias rookie card in a bin of penny cards, you’ve made a find.
#7) 1992 Bowman Trevor Hoffman (#11, $15) – Imagine the only two Pitchers with 600+ Saves having their rookie cards in the same set? He is actually pictured in a Reds uniform but never appeared in a game for them before being taken by the Marlins in the November 1992 expansion draft.
#8) 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones (#333, $400) – A limited production set made during the first Iraq war, it includes the rookie card of the great Braves switch-hitting 3B…a very tough card to find. His regular issue cards from ’91 Bowman & Topps are about $5.
#9) 1995 Bowman’s Best Vladimir Guerrero (#B2, $25) – Just inducted into Cooperstown, this popular slugger is the first player to have the Angels cap on his HOF plaque. In 16 seasons, he produced a .931 OPS.
#10) 1997 Bowman Chrome Adrian Beltre (#182, $15) – Still getting it done in his 21st big league campaign, he passed the 3,000 hit mark in 2017. Along with five Gold Gloves at 3B, he’ll be a Hall of Famer when first eligible.
The decade also produced many other outstanding players on their first card including Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Kent, Roy Halladay, Lance Berkman, C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Josh Hamilton & Matt Holliday.
If you desire Ichiro Suzuki’s actual Rookie Card, it is from the 1993 BBM (Japan) set and books for $120.