The Babe really was just a Babe when he first appeared on baseball cards in a big league uniform.
Babe Ruth baseball cards have never been cheap. Not unless you’re one of a dwindling number of collectors who remember the days before price guides, when a Babe Ruth was considered no different than a Bob Roth.
The rookie card craze of the 1980s brought renewed focus on a player’s first appearance on a trading card and the gold standard in that category is Ruth, an iconic symbol of the game itself.
There is some debate about what constitutes the Bambino’s rookie card. His first appearance on cardboard appears to have been the 1914 Baltimore News premium issue. A few copies have emerged from storage in recent years, generating six-figure bids for auction houses lucky enough to feature them.
Yet by today’s standards of what constitutes a ‘rookie card’, the 1916 issues would seem to be a match. Ruth’s first card showing him in a Major League uniform comes on a 1 5/8" by 3" black and white card issued as a promotion by The Sporting News in the summer of 1916. Ruth is part of an exhaustive 200-card set produced by the St. Louis-based publication.The front pictures Ruth at age 21, a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. He was still 17 years away from his first appearance in widely distributed gum cards.
Yet while The Sporting News may have printed the cards and utilized them as a mail-in promotion, they also distributed them to stores that wanted to do the same. Baseball was already a popular part of American culture and pictures of ballplayers were in high demand in the days before electronic media. Globe Clothing Stores, Gimbels Department Stores, Famous & Barr, The Boston Store and Weil Baking Company all put their advertising on the back of the cards and Ruth rookie variations can be found among their branded sets. A Weil card, graded VG, sold for over $23,000 in May.
Ruth rookie cards are among the most prized in the hobby–and the hardest to find. Supply simply can’t match demand and nicer examples regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Approximately 60 1916 Ruth rookie cards have been professionally graded and authenticated.
Babe Ruth cards on eBay