When seemingly every card is worth hundreds of dollars, and prospects who haven’t even taken a major league swing have cards commanding thousands of dollars, doesn’t it seem like pretty much every card is sought after these days?
So, while one could easily say a Julio Rodriguez rookie card, say a 1/1 superfractor is a sought after baseball card, I’d place it more in the, “yes, that would be tremendously sweet” category, as it isn’t a card people are saving their eBay searches for or ripping pack after pack for.
Same thing goes for a Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron rookie. They are 100% iconic cards deserving to be on any most valuable or “best” list, but I just don’t see the average collector of today springing to grab one. Not to mention that, I think many new collectors today already know of the legends and their lore, but the ones who might get glossed over and potentially forgotten are those who came after them, or those who filled up the junk wax era.
All that said, consider the list below a mix of the above—cool and yes, still valuable cards, but those that people actually think they have a realistic chance of pulling when ripping their sealed wax or wanting to pick up any day of the week.
1980 Topps Rickey Henderson RC
Rickey Henderson is one of the greatest to every play the game, and did you know he played for so many teams? Well, obviously one of those teams was the Oakland A’s, for multiple stints, but all starting here as a rookie.
The 1980 banner design, the colors, and what I’d say is a close to perfect action shot of the best leadoff hitter of all time makes this one of the most sought after cards from any era.
1983 Topps Tony Gwynn RC
I talked about this card in my best cards of the 80s, as I did with many of these mentioned above and below, but this one sticks out because I don’t think people appreciate just how good Tony Gwynn was, and how great of an athlete he was (for instance, he placed college basketball).
So, just the idea of a young Gwynn ripping a single up the middle and heading to first on this card just does it for me. The 1983 headshot plus action shot design isn’t bad either.
1986 Topps Traded Barry Bonds XRC
I’m not here to debate steroids, and as someone who isn’t a huge fan of the San Francisco Giants, I have no problem saying Barry Bonds was something we might not ever see again on the baseball diamond. Hands down one of the best and most feared hitters ever.
So, if you want Bonds’ first rookie year card (not a true RC but an XRC), here it is. And if you want to kick things up a notch, opt for the Tiffany version (here is more about Bonds Tiffany cards) given its limited quantity.
1991 Topps Chipper Jones Desert Shield
If you’ve collected baseball cards at any point since 1991, this card probably looks really familiar. But, before you get too excited, look again at the top right-hand corner and note this is the Desert Shield version. If you aren’t familiar, you can learn more here, but basically, these parallels were intended for Operation Desert Shield soldiers to enjoy overseas.
For me, an honorable mention here is 1991 Upper Deck Michael Jordan, but an easy swap for key card to seek out instead of Chipper is anything from 1991 Stadium Club. For me it might be a nostalgia thing, but wow, what a set. The photography, feel of the packs, and the cards themselves got a lot of people into card collecting, I’m sure. Jeff Bagwell is a key rookie, and the second-year Frank Thomas isn’t shabby.
1982 Topps Cal Ripken
The only “shared” card on this list, it is a shame that one of the game’s greatest main rookie cards was paneled with other players. But if Nolan Ryan get persevere, so can Ripken in this case! And sure, if you really wanted you could opt for the solo 1982 Topps Traded.
1984 Donruss Don Mattingly RC
Of the many cards on the list, I think people will be surprised at just how much this card still sells for. Of course, there are plenty of factors at play, but if a card sells well, it usually means it’s sought after. And in a world of who knows how many of this card exists (a lot) it must still be a popular option among collectors. And hey, count how many non-Topps cards are on this list—not many!
1985 Topps Mark McGwire
Back in the 80s and 90s, this card was “it.” Now it seems to be talked about more in terms of whether or not it’s McGwire’s rookie card or not (with the other option being 1987 Topps, of course), but it still holds it own. As an A’s collector, the fact that it’s a USA card actually takes something away for me, but it definitely adds something for those who don’t root for Oakland.
Honorable mention here would be the 1985 Topps Kirby Puckett RC. Maybe not for the card, but for Puckett himself.
1986 Donruss Jose Canseco RC
I told you, not many cards on here that aren’t Topps, but unlike Mattingly in 1984, Jose Canseco doesn’t have a true Topps rookie, which is unbelievable. Meaning, his 1986 Topps card is from Traded, and is thus considered an XRC, and his 1987 Topps card is the Rookie Cup, which causes a lot of confusion.
So, that leaves us with this beauty from Donruss. And while you might not enjoy the photo chosen, the classic Donruss “Rated Rookie” logo is something card collectors dream of. There is also a 1986 Fleer Canseco, but again, it’s from Update and not part of the main set.
1987 Donruss Greg Maddux
Talk about an undervalued card, and underappreciated talent. Greg Maddux was the definition of filthy, and collectors should have so much more respect for a guy who didn’t have the stuff to “blow away” batters but yet relied on movement and deception to sit them down.
Add in the fact that 1987 Donruss is a design to be reckoned with, and as just mentioned, the “Rated Rookie” logo was to junk wax cards as the 1st Bowman logo is to today’s prospectors (maybe not quite, but you get what I’m saying).
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.
Now, you have to remember that back in the late 1980s, card life was pretty much standard card stock finishes until Upper Deck came around and introduced something new, fresh, and much different feeling. Pair that with another “game changer” in Ken Griffey Jr. and I don’t know if there is any way this card isn’t the 1989 entry. Sure, Fleer tried their hardest with Billy Ripken, but it’s got to be Griffey.
Either way, it’s Griffey! 1989 Donruss is another great one to grab.
1990 Topps NNOF Frank Thomas
Yes, believe it or not, the “no name on front” was an actual error card long before the gimmicks of today’s modern card variations like those from Gypsy Queen and the like. And, it just happened to happen with the biggest rookie name of that same year in Frank Thomas.
And I won’t even call it an “honorable mention” here because I will gladly swap out anything from 1990 Leaf, which itself was an iconic and game-changing set, not to mention a set of many rookies like Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, a fun second-year Griffey, and more.
1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera RC
I think this is the only card on this list that pictures the player in street clothes? And really, it makes sense for Mo, who to me, stood out as an unassuming “get the job done” type. Especially compared to Yankees closer of today who throws the ball harder than just about everyone, Mariano was a “carve you up” type, and I love how this card just captures what seems to be a laid back character.
1993 SP Derek Jeter
One of the first premium releases coupled with a Hall of Fame rookie who just happened to play his entire career with the New York Yankees—how could this not be on the list? 1993 SP brought foil cards to the forefront, and while Jeter has a handful or rookies out there across the different sets of the time, this is the one to chase (in addition to the 1993 Jeter Upper Deck Gold Hologram, of course).
1994 Upper Deck Mickey Mantle Ken Griffey Jr. Dual Auto
This is the most expensive card on the list, and kind of flies in the face of what I was talking about in the intro, but it’s just that amazing, and one card that needed to be included. (I mean, what else am I going to choose for 1994? An Alex Rodriguez SP Foil RC?).
So, I’ll let the picture do the talking, but a card featuring signatures from both Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr.? Wow, just wow.
2009 Bowman Chrome Auto Mike Trout
If any player is deserving of being on this list twice, it has to be Trout. Well, that and the fact that anything pre-Bowman Chrome only had one big “rookie card” chaser, but I digress.
And yes, again, I know I wouldn’t be including these highly-valuable cards for the most part, but there are a couple of exceptions. While Bowman Chrome autos are all the rage today, and most of the time for players that many have never heard of, that wasn’t the case in 2009, and this card was easily passed over by many, I’m sure.
2000 Topps Chrome Traded Miguel Cabrera
This card and the 2001 Pujols mentioned next stand out among the list because 22 years later, we are around the time of many of the early-2000s favorites calling it a career.
So, while Cabrera definitely doesn’t get the hobby love he deserves, and might not have a lot of big and flashy cards out there, his 2000 Topps rookie is still one to seek out.
2001 Bowman Chrome Albert Pujols
You could say I’m being swept away by the fact that the day I’m writing this, Pujols just smashed two home runs in order to move into second all time on the career total bases list, but I don’t care. It’s Albert Pujols, a name talked about since day one, and still making headlines as he moves up the ranks and toward 700 career home runs.
2011 Topps Update Mike Trout
What can I say about this card that hasn’t already been said. I mean, I even blogged about why this Mike Trout rookie card was so expensive. There are a number of reasons, but in terms of being a card you want in your collection, it’s difficult to pull from a pack given not many packs still exist given their Update status. So, you’ll probably have to go the singles route, and for me personally, I’m not going to trust any card to be authentic unless it is a slabbed card.
2016 Bowman Chrome Juan Soto Auto
Juan Soto doesn’t have a base 1st Bowman Chrome card, if you can believe it. Not to say that the presence of one would make this card any more sought after! Either way, it’s on the list as the ultimate chase card for who could be one of the game’s greatest when all is said and done. (By the way, can you believe Soto is still only 23 years old?)
Quick note since it’s relevant. It’s almost like we are seeing something similar in terms of value but due to the opposite being true with Brewer’s prospect, Jackson Chourio. That’s a confusing sentence, so let me explain. Chourio’s 1st Bowman cards are sky high right now, but besides his status and outstanding play, one potential reason for that is that he doesn’t have a 1st Bowman Chrome auto at the moment. So, all of the prospect money might be pouring into base, parallels, etc.