Like the man himself they’ve been a pariah. Born in an era of cardboard excess, most Barry Bonds rookie cards have never been worth much. Every card show and hobby shop always had at least a few, maybe a dozen, maybe hundreds, stuck in a box. Your run of the mill Bonds rookie card still isn’t worth much; gaudy statistics don’t matter when you’re talking baseball cards spawned in 1986 and ’87. Believe it or not, though, they’re selling at a faster pace these days. Not at 1998 levels, but moving at a pretty good clip nonetheless, especially the highest graded copies.
The sudden influx of newcomers and speculators who have arrived–or returned–to the hobby has done something the last 30 years couldn’t: create at least some demand for junk wax cards. The hobby has ridden the wave of Michael Jordan and modern basketball rookies into into the pool of other 80s and 90s icons: Griffey. Maddux. Rice. Barry (Sanders). Bo. And yes, the needle has moved even on McGwire, Sosa and Bonds, once the unholy trinity of baseball’s artificially flavored home run numbers at the end of the last millennium.
“Never seen anything like it,” a dealer/collector friend of mine told me a couple of days ago. “I’m selling ’80s stuff like crazy. As fast as I can list it.”
Bonds in Brief
Fourteen years ago Wednesday, Bonds hit the 714th home run of his career, matching Babe Ruth for second on the all-time list. Five years earlier on the same day, he had become just the 13th player in history to hit a home run in four consecutive at-bats. Two red letter dates in a career full of them.
Bonds is second in career WAR behind Ruth. He won seven MVP awards, more than any player in history. Tainted? Perhaps. But all of it? 22 years worth? Surely not.
Bonds wasn’t just a bat. He won eight Gold Gloves including five in a row from 1990-1994, but we’ll leave the debate over the validity of his career stats and the all-time home run record (762) to baseball at large.
While Ken Griffey Jr., generally regarded as “clean” has remained popular with collectors, Bonds was largely shunned. The cartoon-like stats during part of his career and his often surly countenance combined with his earliest cards’ residence in the junk wax era produced a toxic cocktail of long-running yuck.
Now, with the passage of time, Hall of Fame voters starting to tilt back in his direction (at least a little) and some favorable editorials, there’s been a bit of a comeback. A Bonds-aissance, if you will.
He’s probably not getting into Cooperstown next year but collectors are realizing that putting a few bucks into some highly-graded Bonds cards might be worth more than a few U.S. bonds over the long haul.
Bonds Rookie Cards
Which issues constitute his rookie checklist is sometimes a matter of debate. We can tell you which have been the most challenging in high-grade and which might be considered the best value, all things considered. Which one is considered “the best” Barry Bonds rookie card is, as always, in the eye of the beholder.
The hobby’s official roster of Bonds rookie cards includes most (not all) of those below, but as a whole, collectors buy what makes sense to them. So here’s a look at all of his major issues from 1986 and ’87.
1986 Topps Traded #11T
Topps cranked these out in abundance. Bo is in there, too, and if you’re an 80s kinda guy (or girl), it’s probably a must-have set. Individual Bonds cards have jumped in price. Graded 9s and 10s have essentially doubled since last year. It’s also the most plentiful Bonds rookie… by far. PSA alone has graded over 46,000 of them as of this moment with over 4,600 rating 10 and nearly 40,000 rated 8, 8.5 or 9.
There’s a Tiffany version of the ’86 Traded set, too, that’s obviously in less supply. While it’s not an official rookie card, it’s treated like one by those who invest and speculate. Interestingly, the 1986 Tiffany Traded set was supposed to have a print run of 5,000 sets but over half of that total show up on grading company pop reports for Bonds. It’s been relatively easy to land as a 9 or 10.
1986 Fleer Update #14
Fleer snared Bonds in the batting cage for its rookie card photo in their 1986 Update set. It’s not a real exciting, quality pic but the card is in far less supply than the Topps Traded, with less than half the number on population reports. There are only about 28% of these in PSA 10 holders compared to the Topps Traded. In 2018, most were under $100. Not anymore.
1986 Donruss Rookies #11
Like the others, the 1986 Donruss “The Rookies” cards came in a boxed set. The total population of this one is the lowest among the three ’86 Bonds rookie cards. While the percentage of graded 10s is actually higher than the Fleer Update, it’s much harder in grades 8-10. “Tougher” being a relative term, of course, as these are also easy to locate with over 11,000 graded by PSA alone.
1987 Topps #320
Bonds’ first pack-pulled cardboard arrived with the ’87 season and gave us the first game-action Bonds rookie card. Topps produced a massive number of cases that year, but somewhat surprisingly there are far fewer of these graded than the ’87 Fleer or Donruss. The ’87 Topps numbers are actually pretty similar to the ’86 Fleer Update or Donruss Rookies. All things considered, I’d probably rather have the ’86s.
While the ungraded market remains fairly soft, graded 10s have more than doubled in a few months and even the 9s are up a little.
The Topps Tiffany Bonds card may not be an official rookie issue but it’s really the king in the eyes of those who’ve been buying. Even with 30,000 sets made, it’s still far more rare than any other card issued in ’86 or ’87 and prices reflect that.
Only a few thousand have been graded and PSA has only handed out 231 10s as of now. There are only 17.6% as many Tiffany 10s compared to the flagship ’87 Topps card. A reasonably priced 9 or even an bargain-priced 8.5 would seem to be a pretty good value.
1987 O-Pee-Chee #320
Canadian kids found Barry in packs, too and while quite a few boxes made their way across the border, this one is surprisingly tough in graded form. Only four percent of these exist compared to their Topps cousins. PSA has graded only 34 as Gem Mint 10 and only 130 at Mint 9.
While OPC cards in general have never garnered a lot of respect in the U.S. for some reason, if you follow collecting principles, they should. This is a junk wax era card with a remarkably small population of high grade examples. That’s pretty rare.
1987 Donruss #604
The ’87 Donruss set has those black borders that easily show even a tiny touch of wear but the different style card stock also came out a bit cleaner at the printer. The Donruss and Fleer ’87 Fleer Bonds cards are roughly the same in terms of pop numbers but the Donruss is easier to land in a 10 grade.
The Canadian version, under the Leaf brand, is in far less supply with a population of only about 5.6 percent compared to the Donruss Bonds. There are only 92 PSA 10 1987 Leaf Barry Bonds cards and only 441 9s. It’s not as popular as the standard issues, though and prices reflect that– for now.
1987 Fleer #604
Back in the day, the Fleer Bonds rookie was the one to get. Fleer’s boxes were just harder to find in at the time and in the few years that followed. As mentioned above, the 10 population is lowest among any of the official ’86 or ’87 Bonds rookie cards. Consider that when comparing prices. If you can find one in the same grade for less than the others, it’s the better buy. That’s not the case with Mint 9-rated cards, though, which are super bountiful and thus, super cheap.
The 1987 Fleer Glossy Bonds was part of a higher quality version of the set sold in tins to dealers later in the ’87 season. Around 100,000 sets were produced with graded populations falling under the ’86 Donruss and ’87 Topps right now. The manner in which they were sold makes them less challenging in high grade overall but the population is less, of course. Prices for 10s have skyrocketed but those in 9 holders shouldn’t cost too much more than an ’87 Topps or ’86 Donruss Rookies, based on population.
1987 Donruss Opening Day #163 (Corrected)
Not considered “official” but definitely worth a paragraph or two. These are similar to the flagship Donruss issue but have a maroon-colored border and came in a boxed set.
Donruss first used Johnny Ray’s picture on Bonds’ card, then quickly corrected what was a major gaffe. The error is rare, but even the corrected version of Bonds’ card is worthy of attention, even though there are plenty out there as well as numerous complete, sealed sets you can own for about $30. Maybe selling prices to this point have discouraged anyone from paying to have them sent to PSA, SGC or BGS, but did you know fewer of these have been graded than the Topps Tiffany? Did you know there are about the same as many 10s and about 400 fewer 9s on PSA’s pop report?
Now you do.
There were other Bonds cards issued in ’86 and ’87, too, including:
- 1986 Sportflics and Sportflics Rookies (boxed set issues and very inexpensive)
- 1987 Topps Mail-In Glossy All-Stars
- 1987 Revco Baseball’s Hottest Stars; 1987 Toys-R-Us (both from boxed sets)
- 1987 Classic
Check out a live list of the most watched Barry Bonds rookie card auctions on eBay below.