From 1982 until his retirement after the 1996 season, Ozzie Smith was the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. During that time, he was named as an All-Star in every season, save for 1993. Ironically, that season he batted .288, which was one of the highest averages of his career.
However, Smith’s earliest cards feature the defensive standout with the San Diego Padres, his first major league team. And 40 years later, his 1979 rookie cards still command attention. While Smith has rarer O-Pee-Chee and Hostess rookies, his 1979 Topps card is the most plentiful one and is the one most routinely bought and sold.
Now, those cards in raw condition aren’t worth too much these days. Half decent mid-grade raw 1979 Topps cards of Smith are easy to find for around $10-$15. Even raw ones advertised as near mint can be found for around $30-$40. But the real expensive stuff, as it is for just about anything, is found with the high-grade examples that have been graded and authenticated by third party companies, like PSA, SGC, and Beckett.
High-grade Smith rookie cards would already command a significant premium over his raw ones. Collectors are always more than willing to pay more for cards deemed perfect or near perfect by established graders. But in the case of Smith’s 1979 cards, that premium is heightened even more. That’s because Topps cards from that year are often off center or badly miscut.
Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself. Scanning hundreds of available Smith rookie cards on eBay tells a tale that is repeated quite often. The cards are often miscut, off center from left to right, off center from top to bottom, or in many cases, off center in both areas. That has made finding high-grade examples difficult.
Thanks to the population reports, the grading entities give us a clear idea of how difficult the card is to secure in high grade condition. To date, Beckett has not issued any perfect 10s for the card, dishing out 60 near-perfect 9 or 9.5 grades among the nearly 2,100 cards they’ve graded. SGC has been equally selective. They have graded an SGC 10 but have issued only 20 SGC 9 grades among 857 graded.
PSA has seen graded the most Smith rookie cards by far. To date, they’ve graded a little more than 8,700 of the card. They’ve given five of them a perfect 10 grade and 370 a PSA 9 grade. However, the centering and miscut issues are really seen in PSA’s population report as they indicate how many grades have received a qualifier.
Qualifiers and Centering/Miscut Woes
A PSA qualifier is added to a card’s grade in some cases. These qualifiers can indicate flaws with a card, such as ones with significant centering or miscut issues, ones that have been written on, stained, etc. Essentially, a qualifier denotes a somewhat serious problem with a card while still allowing PSA to assign a standard grade to it. A PSA 7 card with a miscut qualifier (MC), for example, means that a card would typically be a ‘regular’ PSA 7 if not for the miscut. Cards with qualifiers, of course, are not as valuable as cards without them.
In all, more than 1,800 of the Smith cards graded by PSA received a qualifier. Doing the math, that’s slightly more than 20% of all of the Smith cards submitted to them — a very high number when you compare that to cards in other sets with less known centering issues.
Now, we cannot say for sure how many of those cards with qualifiers had centering issues since the types of qualifiers are not broken out on PSA’s website. But given the large number of cards in this set with centering issues, my guess is that a good portion of those qualifiers are indeed related to centering problems.
But don’t just take my word for it. As a fun exercise, I decided to look deeper into this issue, reviewing cards recently sold on eBay. I counted a total of 26 Smith PSA rookie cards with qualifiers in eBay’s most recent completed sales listings. Of those 26, all but one had off center or miscut qualifiers. Only one had a non-centering/miscut related qualifier due to staining. I have little doubt that the majority of the qualifiers for Smith’s rookie card are related to centering or miscuts.
If you’re looking for a high-grade Smith rookie card, be prepared to pay for it. Near perfect PSA 9 examples are typically in the $800-$1,000 range. PSA 10s, of course, are even pricier. Those cards have been offered on occasion with the most recent ones selling for more than $30,000. One example from a 2017 Memory Lane auction nearly reached $39,000.