Rookie cards are among the most desired and widely collected of all sports cards. To many collectors, the rookie card represents the ultimate in both challenge and potential. Many rookie cards of the all-time greats are extremely rare, especially in high grades, because no one knew that future greatness was in store for the likes of that wild fire-balling lefty named Koufax or that gangly kid from San Diego named Ted Williams.
Demand for the "first issue" is not unique to sportscard collecting. In the world of books, it's the first edition. In the world of coins, it's the first year of type. In comic books, it's the number one issue of "Superman" that creates the excitement. Whatever area of collecting is involved, there seems to be a magic to that "first one made," a special mixture of rarity, desirability, and nostalgia.
While 2000 will undoubtedly produce a rookie card of some future great-another Musial, Snider, Kiner, or Mantle?-here's a look at some of the most important rookie cards from the past and a few of the current hot rookies (all values are for cards graded PSA Gem Mint 10).
Notable Baseball Rookie Cards
- 1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio #250 and #274 ($40,000 and $41,000 respectively) - There are two rookie cards for "Joltin' Joe" in this set. Both cards are incredibly popular. His 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is a record that still stands-and may stand for generations to come.
- 1939 Play Ball Ted Williams #92 ($16,000) - The first issue for "Splendid Splinter." Unquestionably one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, and the last .400 hitter in major league history.
- 1948 Bowman Warren Spahn #18 ($2100) - One of the greatest pitchers of all time, and the winningest lefty in history, with 363 career wins. He pitched his first no-hitter at age 39, his second at age 40.
- 1949 Bowman Robin Roberts #46 ($1500) - The first card of this Phillies Hall of Famer. He was a key to the "Whiz Kids" pennant of 1950, with three pitching starts in the final five days of the season. He was 28-7 in 1952 with a fourth place team, and won the MVP award.
- 1949 Bowman Duke Snider #226 ($7700) - A high number rookie card of this Dodger great. He hit 40 or more homers five years in a row, and is the Dodgers' all-time home run king.
- 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle #253 ($55,000) - The first card of "The Mick," and his true rookie card. The key card of the 1951 Bowman set and the most valuable Bowman baseball card.
- 1951 Bowman Willie Mays #305 ($21,000) - This is one of the most popular post-war cards. Mays is one of only three major leaguers to hit more than 600 home runs, and many experts regard him as the best all-around player ever.
- 1952 Topps Hoyt Wilhelm #392 ($8000) - Wilhelm was the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame. As a spot starter, he pitched a no-hitter against the Yankees in 1958. He pitched in 1,070 games and hit one home run-in his first major league at-bat.
- 1954 Topps Ernie Banks #94 ($7500) - Back-to-back MVP awards, 512 career home runs, five grand slams in one season, "Mr. Cub" could do it all. Amazingly popular player, and his rookie card is in high demand.
- 1954 Topps Hank Aaron #128 ($20,000) - The all-time home run leader with 755, "Hammerin' Hank" is continuing to grow in popularity.
- 1954 Topps Al Kaline #201 ($4000) - He won the American League batting title at age 20-the youngest ever to do it-and ended his career with over 3,000 hits.
- 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax #123 ($9750) - He pitched four no-hitters, and was almost untouchable near the end of his career. In the four years from 1963 through 1966, he won 97 games, pitched 31 shutouts, and posted an ERA under 1.90 three times!
- 1955 Topps Harmon Killebrew #124 ($2000) - He won six home run titles and cracked 573 career home runs-awesome power-and he walked 1,559 times!
- 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente #164 ($20,000) - A rare high number rookie card. Incredibly popular, he garnered exactly 3,000 hits. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, only months after his tragic death in a plane crash.
- 1957 Topps Frank Robinson #35 ($2400) - The only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, this Hall of Famer hit 586 career home runs.
- 1958 Topps Roger Maris #47 ($4000) - The MVP in 1960 and 1961, and the man who hit "61 in '61" to break Babe Ruth's single season record.
- 1959 Topps Bob Gibson #514 ($2450) - A scarce high number rookie card. In 1968 Gibson posted at 1.12 ERA with 13 shutouts! His lifetime ERA was an outstanding 2.91.
- 1960 Topps Carl Yastrzemski #148 ($700) - The first card of this Red Sox great. Yaz was the last major leaguer to win the Triple Crown (1967).
- 1960 Topps Willie McCovey #316 ($800) - He hit 521 career home runs, and every one of them was a B-L-A-S-T!
- 1963 Topps Pete Rose #537 ($4800) - Baseball's all-time hit leader, and a subject of great controversy even today.
- 1965 Topps Steve Carlton #477 ($525) - "Lefty" had an incredible career, with 329 wins, 4,131 strikeouts, and four Cy Young awards. He's the only man to win a Cy Young award with a last place team.
- 1967 Topps Rod Carew #569 ($700) - This scarce high number card is the first for this great hitter who won seven batting titles and hit .388 in 1977.
- 1967 Topps Tom Seaver #581 ($1650) - "Tom Terrific" was the main ingredient in the success of the "Amazin' Mets" of 1969. Seaver was 25-7 that year, and won his first Cy Young award. He won 311 games in his career.
- 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan #177 ($4000) - Over 5,700 strikeouts, seven no-hitters, and one of the greatest fastballs of all time.
- 1968 Topps Johnny Bench #247 ($525) - The leader of the "Big Red Machine" of the 1970s and one of the greatest catchers of all time.
- 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson #260 ($2000) - "Mr. October" is a playoff and World Series highlight film. Reggie hit over 500 home runs in his career (he called them 'taters').
- 1973 Topps Mike Schmidt #615 ($665) - A scarce high number and the key card of the 1973 set. With over 500 homers, many experts call him the greatest third baseman ever.
Other Notable Greats to Remember
- 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan #177 ($4000)
- 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson #260 ($1250); and 1969 Topps Supers ($745)
- 1978 Topps Eddie Murray #36 ($1825); and 1978 O-Pee-Chee #154 ($1800)
- 1979 Minor League Rickey Henderson #9 ($900); and 1980 Topps #482 ($300)
- 1979 O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith #52 ($1800); and 1979 Topps #116 ($1825)
- 1980 Minor League Cal Ripken #17, Charlotte AA ($5000); 1980 Minor League #16 WBTV, Charlotte AA ($4000); 1981 Minor League #15, WTF, Rochester AAA ($1750); 1981 Minor League #15, TCMA, Rochester AAA ($1500); 1982 Donruss #405 ($925); 1982 Fleer #176 ($925)
- 1982 Minor League John Elway #13, TCMA, Oneonta A ($2250)
Rookie Cards of Current Stars
- 1983 Topps Tony Gwynn #482 ($2800); 1983 O-Pee-Chee #143 ($1225)
- 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens #27 ($1500); 1984 Minor League #22 ($1900); 1984 Fleer Update #27 ($1500).
- 1985 Topps Tiffany Mark McGwire #401 Olympic -- The January Collectors Universe Price Guide (CUPG) lists this card's current value at $7200 in Gem Mint 10 (only 8 graded at that level), this is probably the most highly sought after of the McGwire Rookie cards, along with the 1985 Topps #401 Olympic rookie ($2800). Others to look for include: 1985 Minor League, Chong, Modesto A Mark McGuire #17 (note the misspelling), valued at $2500; 1985 Minor League, Chong, Modesto A Mark McGwire #17 ($1500); 1982 Minor LeagueAnchorage ($1600);1986 Minor League (Huntsville, AA) #33 ($675); 1986 Minor League #3 (Djennings, SL All Stars AA), valued at $400; 1987 Leaf #46 ($400); and the 1987 Fleer Update #76 ($350).
- 1987 Minor League Sammy Sosa (ProCards, Gastonia A) #1789 -- Currently listed in the CUPG at $3200. Other hot Sosa cards include: 1990 Bowman Tiffany #275 ($1600); 1989 Donruss Baseball's Best #324 ($1500); 1990 Leaf #220 ($750); 1990 Bowman #312 ($350); 1990 Donruss #489 ($375), and 1988 Minor League #692 listed at $900.
- 1987 Donruss Opening Day Barry Bonds #163, Johnny Ray, ($2500) and the #163 with white jersey ($900); 1987 Fleer Glossy #604 ($750); and 1987 Fleer #604 ($700).
- 1988 Minor League Ken Griffey Platinum #1 (Best, SB A) -- This card is a whopper, valued at $5600 in the current CUPG, along with the Minor League #1 (Best, San Bernardino A) listed at $2000. Other great Griffey cards to watch for include: 1989 Bowman Tiffany #220 ($4500) #259 with Griffey Sr. ($650) 1989 Fleer Glossy # 548 ($4000); 1989 Upper Deck #1 ($2100); 1989 Donruss Baseball's Best #192 ($1650); 1989 Donruss Rookies #3 ($1500); 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany #41 ($1500).
- 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF #414 -- Currently listed at $4100, and $1550 in Mint 9 condition. Other Thomas Rookies to keep in mind include: 1990 Bowman Tiffany #320 ($500); 1990 Topps Tiffany #414 ($350); and 1988 Minor League #126 ($200).
Other rookie cards to keep an eye on include rising stars and current heroes such as: Don Mattingly, Greg Maddux, David Cone, Matt Williams, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Rafael Palmiero, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Juan Gonzalez, Mo Vaughn, ALbert Belle, Tony Gwynn, Bernie Williams, Chipper Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Perdro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez (whose 1994 SP #15 is currently listed at $7800 for the die cut version and $6300 for the regular rookie!), Vladimir Guerrero, Sean Casey, Kevin Millwood, J.D. Drew, and Maglio Ordonez, and others.
To check values for cards in your collection, you can look at the Collectors Universe price guide (updated weekly), by clicking on Sports Card Price Guide.