There’s little proof but plenty of circumstantial evidence and a lot of skepticism.
Performance enhancing drugs have tentacles that reach back to the rookie card market of the 1980’s, destroying values of power hitting record holders and at least one strikeout king. Even with the quantity of cards produced, the game’s records are typically popular enough to fuel some speculative buying on the part of modern era speculators.
Not like it once was.
Add to it the confusion over which rookie card to buy and collectors feel even better about returning to their roots.
Vintage baseball cards are unaffected by the headlines, unless you’re talking about a consistent increase in value. Where should you put your money, though, if you’re a fan of the game looking for blue chip buys? We’ve got some suggestions. Mantle and Mays rookie cards are the gold standard, of course, but you won’t touch respectable examples in this price range.
Behold our list of ten safe long-term bets. Post-War rookie cards of guys you can believe in–all for around $1,000 each or less.
1) 1948-49 Leaf Jackie Robinson: An historic figure, a Hall of Fame player. A set that’s not easy to find. Buy one of these and you’ll feel like you’re starting a museum. You should be able to find a nice VG condition Jackie for around $1000 if you are patient.
2) 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra: More than six decades after his rookie card came out of packs, Yogi is still with us. A true baseball icon and a heckuva clutch hitter. A very nice EX/NM example shouldn’t set you back more than $700 or so. Being a Yankee means you’ll never hunt hard to find a buyer.
3) 1954 Topps Ernie Banks: Baseball’s Mr. Cub hit over 500 homers and represents the spirit of a franchise like no other player. An EX/NM example will be around $700. Just holding this card will make you feel good. Almost a religious artifact for Cub fans.
4) 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax: It’s pure bliss that Koufax shows up as a rookie card in the year the Dodgers snatched a championship from the Yankees. A superstar on both coasts during his brief but brilliant time in the spotlight. You’ll love a nice ‘6’ grade for less than $700. You could also plug in Roberto Clemente’s 1955 rookie card here and feel very good.
5) 1955 Topps Harmon Killebrew: His 573 home runs look even more impressive knowing what we know now. Take away Bonds, McGwire and Sosa and the Killer stands sixth all-time. Pure power and a great guy to boot. What are the odds of two rookie cards of Hall of Famers back-to-back in the same set? Koufax #123. Killebrew #124. Harmon’s near mint rookie is about half of what Koufax will cost you.
6) 1957 Topps Frank Robinson: 21 years of excellence. Only player to win MVP awards in both leagues. Never tainted. Just a great player who had an impact on the game in some way his entire adult life. You can score a near mint, graded example for no more than $350 right now.
7) 1958 Topps Roger Maris: Not a Hall of Famer, just a shooting star who faced down his own demons and emerged with an unforgettable stamp on the game. Maris’ story is unique and captivating in a way we can’t imagine today. Watch the movie 61*…then go buy this card. You can buy a very nice one for around $400.
8) 1963 Topps Pete Rose: Pete had troubles of his own, but they didn’t have anything to do with substances. The all-time hits leader may never reach Cooperstown but won’t be forgotten by those who recall his amazing longevity and love for the game. Sympathetic fans have made him a positive figure again in the midst of the steroid talk. His rookie card remains among the most popular baseball cards ever made. A nice PSA 6 is $850-$950 but after that, prices soar.
9) 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan: More popular than Pete in some quarters–and without the baggage. Ryan was among baseball’s last true heroes who was really worthy of the label. Seven no-hitters, most K’s. Rarely said no to autographs. This card is plentiful but popular and prices have been on the rise. To anyone over 30, Nolan is still larger than life.
10) 1973 Topps Mike Schmidt: A big home run bat in an era when ‘big home runs’ meant 40, not 70. He didn’t look like a football player, but the ball still jumped off his bat. A feared slugger who didn’t forget there was a defensive side to the game. It’s a high number card and they’re not making any more. You can still buy a nice ‘8’ for $300-400 right now. That probably won’t be the case for much longer.