If the sports collecting hobby had a vintage rookie card Hall of Fame, it would be a familiar roll call. Depending on your era of preference, you’d hear names like Ruth, Mantle, Koufax, Rose or Brett.
Collectors have established their preferences thanks to personal choice, scarcity or the player’s own accomplishments. They’ve proven to be attractive targets for investors, at least those considered to be among the best quality available. Some may still have room to grow. Demand exceeds supply when it comes to Babe Ruth rookie cards and probably always will.
Aside from the usual suspects and their five figure prices, though, what post-World War II vintage rookies might actually be a bit underrated?
There are some rookie cards that have already established themselves but for one reason or another might not only hold their long term value quite well, but might actually be ready to garner a little more respect in the coming years.
While the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle isn’t technically his ‘rookie card’ it is his first Topps card, more aesthetically pleasing than his ’51 Bowman. The same goes for the ’52 Topps Willie Mays. While Mays also made his cardboard debut in 1951, he starts his Topps run with the company’s first set and compared to Mantle, it’s a huge bargain.
Mantle’s 1952 Topps has the scarcity factor but these days finding any 1952 Topps baseball cards in near mint condition usually means an online auction. While the ’52 Mantle easily reaches into the five figure range in excellent to near mint, the 1952 Topps Willie Mays still sits at around $3500-7500 for a near mint or near mint-mint, graded copy. With Mays the subject of a hot-selling new book, his career and his struggles in the immediate post-integration era make for a compelling story. The Say Hey Kid’s profile will increase as time goes on and his ’52 Topps card has nowhere to go but up.
The 1954 Topps Aaron rookie card is a hobby icon, but in the post-steroid era, Aaron’s 755 home runs still have not lost any of their luster. Toss out the home runs and Aaron was still among the top five or ten players of all-time. His rookie card is a steal at $1500-4000 for 7 or 8 quality.
Yogi Berra didn’t play in every World Series during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, but it sure seemed that way. His malapropisms have earned him a great post-baseball living in commercials, books and appearances, but Yogi the player is why the 1948 Bowman Berra card sells for around $1,000 in high grade. That’s still a bargain for one of the top catchers and greatest Yankees of all-time. The old Bowmans are scarce in high grade, too.
Roger Maris isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but his single-season home run mark now stands as a beacon of truth and honesty. Maris, too, had his issues to deal with and his early death from cancer makes him a bit of a tragic figure. His iconic status as a man’s man and a home run champ like no other have enamored collectors for years. Even though he doesn’t technically hold the home run record, there is no danger of Maris being forgotten. High grade 1958 Topps Maris rookie cards are always in demand and that won’t stop anytime soon.
Some who were actually pretty good ballplayers became better known as managers. Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel are two near the top of that list. A more modern example is Joe Torre. While not quite the character of the earlier duo, Torre’s calm captaincy in the manager’s office in New York (and now L.A.) led to great success and has made him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He was one of the National League’s best hitters in the late 1960s and early 70s too. His 1962 rookie card should be on every collector and investor’s list, even though it’s not likely to reach stratospheric levels. At $50-150 in high grade, it’s a combination great card, great bargain and conversation piece.
Nolan Ryan was defying time as the baseball card boom of the late 1980s and early 90s was into its full court press. Ryan was the symbol of the vintage card market for several years, his 1968 Topps rookie cardshooting up in value with each of his record-setting no-hitters and strikeouts. It’s now worth $500-1000 in a high grade slab. But that’s a price that’s remained so steady, it’s almost strange. No one will pitch eight no-hitters or strike out as many hitters as Ryan. No modern era pitcher is as popular. He’s one of the game’s most legendary players and there aren’t many collectors who don’t want a top grade Ryan rookie. Kids who grew up as Ryan was winding down are now of the age when they can actually afford one.
If you’re over the age of 30, you were witness to the greatest leadoff hitter ever. Rickey Henderson’s career offensive numbers are mind-boggling. He loved himself, but looking back it was part of his charm, too. Teammates were in awe of his game. There simply has never been a player like Rickey in the top spot of a batting order. The all-time leading base stealer doesn’t even begin to tell his story.
Henderson’s 1980 Topps rookie card is often off-center and even though a lot of them were produced it’s tougher than you think to find a beauty. At $40-175 or so for an ‘8’ or ‘9’ and a generation of 1980s and 90s kids now grown up, we’re thinking it’s in the top five on their want lists if they come back to the hobby…and many will.