Best Nolan Ryan Cards for Any Collection

Ryan Barone
(@ballcardgenius, Card Expert) is a lifelong member of the hobby. He has been quoted in PSA Magazine, and his content has regularly been mentioned in “Quick Rips” (the Topps RIPPED Newsletter) and across other hobby publications. hello@ballcardgenius.com; Last Time Ago LLC dba Ballcard Genius.

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. As I am a part of the eBay Partner Network and other programs, if you follow these links and make a purchase, I’ll receive commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Not that you need a refresher, but let me tell you about Nolan Ryan—the guy threw absolute gas on the mound during a time when it wasn’t so commonplace, thus earning himself the nickname “The Ryan Express,” and firing 7 no-hitters and tallying over 5,700 strikeouts across a 27-season career while pitching for the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers.

Suffice to say, Ryan was far from the norm. And as if his pure mound presence and velocity weren’t intimidating enough, he didn’t shy away from confrontations on the field either—just ask Robin Ventura, who got into a bloody brawl with Ryan during a game in ’93.

All in all, Nolan Ryan was a true legend of the sport, and any collector should consider themselves lucky to have any of his best cards as we detail below.

(Don’t forget, though—Nolan Ryan has nearly 20,000 different cards according to the Trading Card Database, and picking out, say, 10 of the best is near impossible. These are a few of my personal favorites, but I encourage you to check out the checklist to see if you like any others.)

1. 1968 Topps #177

No surprise that we begin with Nolan Ryan’s most coveted card, his 1968 Topps rookie. Now, what makes this card unique in the world of rookie cards is the fact that it is “shared,” as in it’s a rookie card of both Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman (who wasn’t a bad pitcher himself).

It’s not something you see a lot of with modern issues, but wasn’t so uncommon when you think about the late 60s and 70s, where valuable cards like Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, and others also had shared rookies.

Anyway, the card apparently has the lowest gem rate of any card in existence according to the tweet below, meaning that finding it in PSA 10 quality is nearly unheard of.

Nolan Ryan would pick up the first of his amazing 300+ wins in 1968. This particular set from Topps also included Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.

2. 1971 Topps #513

Are there other, more expensive Nolan Ryan cards than his 1971 Topps card? Sure. I mean, usually the older the better when it comes to vintage cards, meaning 1969 and 1970 might be better options if you’re looking for the most expensive Nolan Ryan cards.

All in all, Nolan Ryan was a true legend of the sport, and any collector should consider themselves lucky to have any of his best cards as we detail below.

But, there is a lot to like about this 1971 card, so let’s talk about it.

First, while we talked about the shared RC of 1968, we didn’t talk about the photo itself, which (because it was relegated to a much smaller square) only featured a headshot. Then, in 1969, we got a posed Ryan who looked like he was just finishing his windup, and then another posed shot in 1970 where it looked like he was just starting his windup.

Point being…bring on the action!

1971 Topps was Nolan Ryan’s first true action shot card, and while at the time you might have thought “The photo is so far zoomed out I can’t even tell who it is,” looking at it now, there is no mistaking that wind up.

3. 1972 Topps #595

Ok, I’m not a hypocrite, I promise. Having just stated the 1971 Topps card was so great because it was the first time we got to see the Ryan Express in action, we couldn’t get any further from the action in 1972.

That said, the card itself offers so much that more than makes up for the lack of activity in my opinion.

First of all, if you’re a California Angels fan and collector in 1972, you’re absolutely stoked to see Nolan Ryan putting on your favorite team’s uniform. That’s right, the Mets traded Ryan away in December of 1971, and if you’re having trouble remembering the “haul” they must have gotten in return, it’s because Jim Fegosi was the player going the other way.

In all fairness, Ryan wasn’t yet the pitcher we now knew he would come to be, and Fregosi was a great player at the time. Even so, many are quick to call it one of the worst in the franchise’s history.

Second, and more to the card itself, welcome to the 70s! Especially coming off of the all-gray 1970 Topps look and of course the all-black 1971, the colorful 1972 Topps design offered great appeal.

4. 1975 Topps #500

Coming off his third consecutive year of striking out more than 300 batters, you can tell by the look on Ryan’s face on his 1975 Topps card that he was coming into his own, and means business. This expression became known as the Nolan Ryan stare, and all of the great and intimidating pitchers had one (with a favorite of mine being Dave Stewart).

In addition, who doesn’t like a good facsimile autograph? Nolan Ryan has one of the finest signatures in the hobby, so to see it scribbled here across the front of such a cool card makes this one a must in my books.

Bonus: while I won’t be highlighting Ryan’s 1977 Topps card, if you like the look and feel of this 1975 entry but prefer something a bit brighter, 1975 might be the card for you.

5. 1980 Topps #580

If you were waiting for me to talk about my favorite Nolan Ryan card, here it is. And if you’ve read this piece to this point and take a look at the card below, it’s not hard to see why…

Action shot. Check. Facsimile signature. Check. Bright and colorful. Check. Not to mention that 1980 Topps is one of my all-time favorite card designs (it doesn’t hurt that my favorite player’s rookie, Rickey Henderson, is part of the 1980 Topps set, either).

Bonus: Remember when I mentioned Ryan playing for the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers? Well, it was in 1979 that Nolan Ryan signed with the Astros as a free agent. I bring it up now because yes, this 1980 Topps Nolan Ryan is among the best, but if you’re an Astros fan and collector, you’ll be thrilled to know the 1980 Burger King version offers Nolan Ryan in his new uniform.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top