5 Key Factors That Determine a Sports Card’s Value

Ryan Barone
(@ballcardgenius on TikTok, 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. Join his 8,600 followers on TikTok! 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. 

There are five key factors that determine how valuable a sports card is. The featured player, year/era of the card, type of card (base, rookie, parallel, etc.), scarcity, and current events all determine how valuable a card is on the open market.

Like most things, your card’s value is determined by a number of factors, with some of those factors being a lot more important than others.

  • Featured player
  • Year/era
  • Type of card
  • Scarcity/print run
  • Trends

And to be honest, typically, you need most of the factors listed above to be in alignment if you’re hoping for your collection to be worth much of anything.

For instance, you can have a great player’s card, but if it’s in terrible condition, that value is greatly diminished. On the flip side, though, you can also be holding a no-namer, but other present conditions might actually result in that card being a quite coveted piece of cardboard. Should you get your cards graded?, then? Well, maybe—that’s for another time!

Truth is, it gets complicated! Determining value is of increased importance when figuring out where to trade baseball cards or how to sell cards online. For instance, you might think holding a Hank Aaron or Willie Mays is akin to holding a $100 bill.

Well, it sometimes is – and sometimes more than $100 – but it’s not that automatic, and that’s what we are here to work through.

The most obvious factor when it comes to card value is the featured player—but it’s also the most misleading!

While there is no doubt if you’re holding a Hall of Famer, the chances of that card being something valuable increases, there are also many a Hall of Famer card that simply isn’t worth the cardboard it’s printed on—from a 1991 Score Ken Griffey Jr. to a 1988 Topps Nolan Ryan, and many, many more.

A few things here, too. The “player” factor doesn’t just mean “is this a Hall of Famer?” When we talk about players, we are really looking at a few different things:

Is it a Hall of Famer? Here is an alphabetical list of Hall of Fame baseball players.

Is it a future Hall of Famer? Here is a prediction article on who might soon be inducted.

Is it a Top Prospect? Here is a list of the top 100 prospects from mlb.com.

Is it a Trending Player? Meaning, is it a player on the cusp of doing something great? More on this point a few sections below.


I’ll assume that, if you’re wondering if baseball cards are worth anything, you’ve been out of collecting for a while, and thus, your collection is probably made up of pre-2000 sets, and more so, 1980s-1990s Topps, Donruss, and Score.

Here is a quick breakdown on what you can expect depending on the year of the cards you’re holding:


If you have cards of the pre-WWII variety, you’re in good shape for having something valuable in your possession. Just take a look at what pre-WWII cards are going for right now on eBay. (eBay, of course, being one of the best free baseball card price guides available.)

The problem is, with these older cards, it’s difficult to determine the year or set. Along with eBay, Dean’s Cards looks to be an authority on pre-war cards; it’s a good place to start your research.


Immediately beyond anything within 1940-1960, you’re still dealing with good chances of having something of value. You’re also entering an era of the first-print or rookie cards of some of the best to have ever played the game.

How do you know how old your card is?

It’s typically pretty easy to figure it out. Quickly, flip the card over and check a few things:

One, sometimes the year is printed clearly on the back of the card. Easy enough!

Alternatively, most cards have the player’s stats listed on the back. All you have to do is look down at the latest year listed, and then add one year to it.

Reason being, what you’re looking at is a player’s history. It would make sense then, that the last year listed on the card is the previous year played, and thus, the card in your hand represents the year of production.

So, with this one, the last year listed at the bottom of the stats list is 1958, and thus, it is a 1959 card.

Type of Card

As you thumb through the different cards of your collection, you’ll obviously notice the different players and years already mentioned above. But, you’ll also notice a few other differences, too, some being more subtle; all of which could combine to determine the card’s value.

Rookie Cards

It’s not hard to understand that a player’s rookie card is likely of the most valuable of all of that single player’s cards. If a Hall of Famer has an amazing 20-year career, that’s 20 years of cards; from regular issues to insert cards, subsets, and more. Thus, there are a lot of cards of just that one player floating around.

Read More: Best Sports Card Price Guides

But, out of all of them, there is only “one” rookie, or a handful of rookie cards depending on the year and the number of different card manufacturers at the time. For instance, there is only one Joe Namath rookie card, and yikes, is it beautiful.

How do you know if you have a rookie card? Using a process similar to identifying the year of the card as described above, you can see if you have an RC.

One, look at the front of the card. Does it have any markings that would lead you to believe you have a rookie card on your hands? For instance, any “RC” (which stands for “rookie card) shields or rookie logos like “rated rookie”?

Then how about the back of the card? Remember the list of previous year stats? Well, if there is only one line of stats present, there is a good chance you have a rookie.

Especially with the more modern cards, though, this gets a little cloudy in dealing with prospects yet to make their big league debut, draft picks, etc., in which case you aren’t dealing with a “rookie card” but the first ever to be seen of the player in question, which still makes it valuable. I won’t get into distinguishing between a true rookie card and something similar, as Cardboard Connection has a nice breakdown on it for your reference.

Error Cards

This will flow into the next section on scarcity, because that’s what makes the error card so valuable. Yes! A mistake can actually be good, as shown in this case. In fact, it can even lead to a card being one of the best baseball cards of the 1980s.

How do you know if you have an error card on your hands? The astute collector can usually spot an error, if that error has to do with a misprint regarding the player’s name, stats, and other factual information.

For instance, the Frank Thomas NNOF (No Name on Front) is one of the most known, coveted errors cards that was ever printed. And then, as mentioned, the Barry Bonds 1987 Donruss Opening Day card is one of the most popular of the 1980s, because as you might have noticed, that’s not Barry Bonds on the card!

Anyway, while an error card is rare, they come around more than you’d think. And, believe it or not, errors are still being discovered even years after the cards are put through production.

Scarcity/Print Run

I put this close to last because it’s really the culmination of all of the above—scarcity makes value. Cards of Hall of Famers are valuable because the player, but also because they are sought after, and thus more scarce than other players’ cards. Same with older vintage cards; there are less in existence, which also applies to error cards.

Beyond that, what hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that some cards are intentionally printed with lesser quantities. For instance, take the 1952 Topps Set. The “High Series” of cards was released after the season, when there was less interest in baseball from the fan’s standpoint, and thus were printed in lesser quantities, which is pretty standard practice.

Thinking about basic supply and demand, those higher series cards are going to be more highly sought after, and thus, more valuable.

Additionally, as collectors of the last few years are accustomed to, there are certain inserts, subsets, autos, and jersey  cards printed in lower quantities, with those serial numbers actually stamped on the card, ranging most commonly from runs of #/750 to #/100 or #/50 and even #/1.

By looking for a printed serial number on the front or back of the card, you can easily discover the printed quantity. For instance, on the card below you see “21/30” on the top left. That means there were 30 copies of this particular card printed, and this is the 22nd. 

dylan carlson 2020 bowman auto /30

Depending on the set, you might find higher serial numbers like /2019, which is typical of Topps gold parallels over the years (golds in 2018 would be /2018 and golds in 2020 would be /2020, etc.).

Trending Players

This is one of my favorite things about card collecting, as it is one of the many instances where selling cards, buying, and trading follows the everyday performance-based ups and downs

Meaning, while a player is hot, their card values also rise. As those players cool, those values decrease. At times, such trending is more pronounced than that, and can spike on a single day thanks to a pitcher throwing a no-hitter or a player hitting four home runs in a game (or winning a dunk contest).

For instance, look what happened when Sean Manaea of the Oakland A’s pitched a no-hitter earlier this year against the Boston Red Sox. His card sales peaked wildly on April 21, 2018 but have since come back down to what is considered normal.

Of course, you really have to be in-tune with the day’s slate of ball games in order to spot and take advantages of trends while they’re unfolding, that is, if you’re wanting to sell your cards at peak price in real time versus going through the process of getting them appraised, etc.

Why Is Finding Baseball Card Values Difficult?

If you’ve been collecting for a while, transport yourself back to the 90s—no internet as we know it today, which means no eBay. Definitely no mobile devices. It was you, your cards, and a Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. Sure, card life was good; card life was simple. But card life was also a little more cumbersome.

Fast-forward today and think about all of the different data sources we have at our fingertips! I mean, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, it’s almost too much.

So how do we get to the middle? Where we open one of the best pack of cards from 2022, or pick up a lot from OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace, and while thumbing through, we set aside a stack of 100 or so that might be worth something and then quickly look up their value?

Well, while we might not yet be there, we are getting close—thanks to a number of different baseball card value apps that allow us to point, click, and receive a card value in just a few seconds. Not to mention the many free guides, data sources, and more that help us price our collections.

First, a word of caution…Nothing is yet perfect, and as mentioned, while we might be further along than we have ever been before when it comes to technology and data availability, I always encourage you to check, double-check, and even triple-check—especially if you are new to cards and think you might have something special.

How to Find Out How Much Your Cards Are Worth?

So, without further ado, here are three easy ways to figure out how much the card you’re holding is worth using some of the best sports card price guides available.

Check Sold Listings on eBay

For a classic, straightforward approach, eBay is always a great go-to. There is plenty of data which helps you easily find the card you’re researching.

Honestly, it’s such a straightforward answer, and I’d say nine times out of ten you can find how much your cards are worth based on past sales comps and even current sales listings. Of course, there is the rare occasion when you’re trying to find the value of a 1/1 card, or something that is so rare that a similar card hasn’t been sold in the last 365 days, but even then you might be able to piece together an idea of value.

Here is how to do it:

If you’re on eBay.com on your desktop, just go to “sell” and then click the “research” tab. From there, simply type in your card and you’ll be presented with sales from the last 365 days.

On the mobile app, search for your card and then click the button at the top to “track the value of your trading cards.” From there, you’ll see the last 50 sales in the past 365 days.

Now, if you’re not sure what to type into the search field, start with the player name, which is visible from the front or back of most cards.

Then, note the card brand, which could vary depending on the year. These could include brands like:

  • Topps
  • Panini
  • Optic
  • Bowman
  • Upper Deck
  • Leaf
  • Fleer
  • Donruss
  • Score

The brand name could be prominent on the front of the card, or, in the small print on the back of the card. Check out these examples:

2019 Bowman Draft - Chrome - Refractor #BDC-85.1 - CJ Abrams (Fielding) - Courtesy of COMC.com 1989-90 NBA Hoops - [Base] #310 - David Robinson - Courtesy of COMC.com 2021 Panini Mosaic - [Base] - Silver Prizm #369 - Rookies - Jabril Cox - Courtesy of COMC.com

(Here you see Bowman Chrome, NBA Hoops, and Panini Mosaic.)

If a newer card, also check if it is serial numbered as this could drastically alter the value you land on. When looking at the numbers on the back of the card, the serial number is usually stamped on the card if it is present. Other than that, you’ll probably just see the card number.

Scan Your Cards with the Collx App

If you aren’t as well-versed on the cards you’re researching and thus might not even know where to begin when it comes to typing in keywords and search queries, the Collx app offers a more visual approach based on image recognition. That said, if you don’t in fact have great card knowledge, you’ll want to double check your results through other means.

It doesn’t get much easier than scanning a card, right? With Collx (“collects”), all you need to do is snap a picture of your card or upload a picture you’ve already saved to your phone to get an “instant market price.”

And if you want to take things a step further, you can do that as well by adding cards to your collection and then tracking your portfolio’s value over time.

One thing I really like—while the app isn’t perfect and won’t return the right card or value every time, it does present options for you to manually choose and make corrections.

For instance, I scanned a slabbed Kevin Durant McDonald’s All American and the app didn’t recognize it was a graded card. But, even so, it did allow me to choose a graded option, and upon doing so, the app immediately recalculated the worth, which was pretty much the amount the last few cards had sold for on eBay.

Here is a TikTok review I recently posted:


Reply to @positivewaveskeertyeet #greenscreen Just tried out the @collxapp! Really cool and fun.

♬ Aggresive Urban Trap Beat / Hard Rap Instrumental – EMolluskBeats

And here is where to download the app:

Google Play
App Store

Use the Alt App for Graded Cards

Last, if you’re dealing with graded cards, Alt is also a pretty nice option. It’s going to function similarly to the Collx app mentioned above, but offers a more robust portfolio and market place experience. If you’re not yet an Alt user, you can also grab a $25 credit to the marketplace with the info listed below.

Alt is a marketplace for graded cards only, but still offers a few pretty usable valuation features. Similar to Collx above, all you need to do is upload a photo first—in this case, I uploaded a picture of this 1992 Bowman Gold Mark McGwire PSA 10.

I was then quickly redirected to this page – as you can see the info for the correct card – along with options to choose from different card ratings, PSA population, and more. From there, if I scroll down a little more I can see a market graph along with a list of the most recent sales.

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