From 1930s sluggers to overlooked Astros, we've got a list of ten Rodney Dangerfields for you.
by: Garrett R. Monaghan
No matter if you’re a modern or vintage sports collector or dealer, rookie cards have evolved into the heart and soul of the hobby. They’re almost always the most valuable and most collectible of a player’s cards, and can command impressive prices. Of course, everybody wants a Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth rookie card, and the prices for these rarities can put them outside most budgets. So where are the underpriced rookie cards? Where can a collector find a great card of a great player at a great price, without breaking the bank? Here are a few suggestions. We’ve grouped them into two categories: vintage and contemporary.
While some may be out of the price range of a casual or budget-minded collector, these can be a great investment. The prices referenced are from online price guides and don’t take into account the premium costs associated with top level graded cards.
1933 Goudey Jimmie Foxx
1933 wasn’t Double X’s technical rookie year, but the ’33 Goudey set is one of the earliest large run card sets, and is considered the rookie year for a number of players. It might be hard to consider a card priced at $400-$700 ‘underpriced,’ but this card is. Foxx was one of the game’s most feared hitters during the 20s and 30s, but was overshadowed by his contemporaries, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. As a result, while Ruth and Gehrig’s cards from this set can command between $3000-$8000, Foxx is a relative bargain. Immensely popular in Boston, and a member of both the Hall of Fame and the 500 home run club; Foxx’s rookie card is seriously undervalued. There are actually two Foxx rookie cards in this set; #29 and #154. Both are valued at the same price.
1934 Goudey Hank Greenberg
Like Foxx, Hank Greenberg is another power-hitting Hall of Famer who was largely overshadowed by players of the same era because he played in a less visible market. Still, Greenberg easily smashed his way into the Hall. From a collectible standpoint, however, he still doesn’t get quite the respect that he deserves. His rookie card from the 1934 Goudey set is valued at $400-$700 making it, like Foxx’s rookie card, greatly underrated when compared to the $2000-$3000 Gehrig cards in the same set. An icon both in Detroit and among the Jewish athletic community, Greenberg is another seriously underpriced rookie.
1955 Topps Harmon Killebrew
Killebrew was active at the same time as fellow Hall of Fame greats like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. Often overlooked, Killebrew still slugged his way to a Hall of Fame career, and his 1955 rookie card ($200-350) makes a nice, relatively inexpensive alternative to some of the bigger names from the 50s and 60s. Killbrew is one of the few Hall of Famers to go in wearing a Twins jersey, and he’s immensely popular in the Upper Midwest.
1961 Topps Ron Santo
Will the Veterans Committee ever put this guy into the Hall of Fame? If it does, expect Santo’s collectability to finally rise to meet his already enormous popularity—particularly in the Chicago area. Santo’s 1961 rookie card is currently valued at $15-$40, and PSA-certified Santo rookies have sold for over $300 on eBay. Santo cards are pricey in Chicago so if you can pick them up cheap elsewhere, you might consider flipping them in Illinois. Even if he never makes the Hall, Santo will remain hugely popular thanks to his broadcasting career.
Moving on to our selections from more recent times, you’ll notice a sharp decrease in pricing. Most, if not all, of these cards are from the “Era of Overproduction” and consequently are relatively cheap. Most of the players on this list, however, have at least a reasonable shot for the Hall of Fame in the next 5-10 years, which should substantially increase their value over time. Consider these long term keepers.
1977 Topps Andre Dawson
With his recent induction into Cooperstown, don’t expect Dawson to stay on the underpriced list for very long. His 1977 rookie card is currently listed at $15-$25 but as with Ron Santo, certified examples can go for much more, particularly in the Chicago area. Dawson’s rookie card is one of the best cards in the
’77 Topps set, but still underpriced as a Hall of Famer. That will soon change.
1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson
The Big Unit didn’t win a boatload of friends on or off the field during his 22-year career; but he won pretty much everything else, including five Cy Young awards and over 300 games. Due to its place in one of the more overproduced sets of all-time, Johnson’s rookie card is currently valued at $3-$8, making it a pretty nice bargain. As possibly the best left-handed pitcher of all-time, Johnson is certain to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he’s eligible in 2015. Even with zillions of them out there, look for this card to steadily creep up in value over time, especially with the kids who grew up on Upper Deck cards and are just now re-discovering them as adults.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey
From the same set as Johnson’s first issue, we get one of the most collectible rookie cards of the modern era. Griffey was baseball’s golden boy during the ‘90s, and like Johnson he is a lock for a first-ballot entrance into Cooperstown. Unlike the Big Unit, Griffey’s rookie card is already in the $15-$40 range. With his retirement and eventual Cooperstown induction to follow, demand for Griffey memorabilia is going to be climbing, and this card won’t stay low for too much longer. Don’t underestimate the nostalgia factor with Griffey, who was revered by millions of kids and now stands as a shining example of unquestioned greatness in the steroid era.
1987 Donruss Rookies Greg Maddux
From a memorabilia standpoint, Greg Maddux might be one of the most unappreciated players of all-time. A 300-game and multiple Cy Young award winner, Maddux also has so many Gold Gloves that he may have to store them in Fort Knox. Because he wasn’t a flashy power pitcher and didn’t play in New York or Boston, he’s never had a high profile off the field. Maddux is a much more sure Hall of Fame bet than the two contemporaries who stole some of the spotlight—Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. The ’87 Donruss Rookies boxed set followed the much more common regular issue and at some point, this card should grow in appreciation among collectors of modern era material. You’ll see them in the $15-20 range in high grade. This is a great price for one of the game’s best pitchers, and a must have for collectors.
1989 Upper Deck Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio never had any truly eye-popping seasons, but he’s baseball’s newest member of the 3000 hit club and thus a virtual lock for Cooperstown. His 1989 rookie card is currently listed at $2 -$5, making it drastically underpriced for a potential Hall of Famer, even though they are easily obtained because of the quantity produced. Biggio has other first year cards, but to many, this is his true rookie.
1989 Topps Chrome Traded Adam Dunn
Dunn just turned 30 years old in November. You can focus on his batting average, which has been less than stellar at times, or you can look at his incredibly consistent power numbers. From 2004 to 2008, he hit 46, 40, 40, 40 and 40 homers. Last year his batting mark went up and his home run total dropped--to 38. If he plays ten more years and averages 30 homers a year--not a stretch for a player who rarely gets hurt--he'll wind up with more than 600 for his career. With a few big years in his 30s, 700 isn't out of the question and thus far, Dunn has avoided any link with performance enhancers. Put him on a better team and get him to hit a few more big flies in the clutch and he's a mega star in the making.