As times and tastes have changed over the years, the baseball card collecting hobby has evolved. Types and manufacturers of cards have changed. Collectors’ interests in different inserts and base sets, players and eras has changed, too.
But while many gimmicks in the hobby have gone boom-and-bust (hologram cards, anyone?) there is one subset of cards for which collectors will seemingly always have an appetite: Rookie cards of superstars.
The best rookie cards of all time have maintained consistent appeal in the market through all of the turbulence the hobby has undergone. In this article (the second in a decade-by-decade series), we’ll examine the best rookie cards of the 1960’s, determining the best individual card of each year in the decade. It’s an all-Topps list, because Topps held a de facto monopoly on the industry during the 1960’s.
Click the title of each to see them on eBay.
Though “Yaz” would go on to be a household name – winning a Triple Crown, an MVP award, and eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame – you have to imagine that a young kid opening a pack of cards in spring of 1960 might have had some trouble pronouncing the name of this rookie from Boston. Listed here as a second baseman, Yastrzemski spent the bulk of his career patrolling the grass in front of Fenway’s Green Monster. He retired in 1983 as one of the most popular players in Red Sox history.
Because of Yastrzemski’s continued popularity, his rookie card has maintained consistent appeal to collectors. High-grade examples trade in the $800-$1000 range today.
(honorable mention: Topps #316 Willie McCovey)
For card collectors, the 1961 Topps set has never seemed to reach the level of appeal that some of the others of the decade have. Part of the reason, no doubt, is that the set is graphically simple and
Though overshadowed for much of his career by brighter stars in Los Angeles (Sandy Koufax) and Saint Louis (Bob Gibson), Juan Marichal was one of the finest pitchers of the pitching-dominated 1960’s. His distinctive windup and leg-kick aren’t on display in his rookie card, but the card is one of the more aesthetically pleasing examples in the set.
(honorable mention: Ron Santo, Billy Williams)
It took a trade to St. Louis for Brock’s talent to emerge (a source of continuing torture in Chicago). His 1962 Topps rookie card is a tough one to find in mint condition. In fact, out of more than 2,000 graded by PSA, there are only 21 9s and two 10s. Even a 7 is likely to cost $150-$200. It’s one of the key cards in any 1960s collection.
(honorable mention: Gaylord Perry, Bo Belinsky/Jim Bouton)
So it would now appear all but certain he won’t see the Hall of Fame in our lifetime. Not that we really expected it but it’s possible there would have been a significant Rose rookie renaissance if it had somehow happened. Either way, Pete’s rookie card (one he shares with three others) is far and away the top card in this set and one of the most valuable cards of the entire decade. Unless you’ve got a lot of spare change, an ‘8’ is about the best you can hope to obtain and even those are $6,000 or more now. For about 15% of that you can own a pretty fair looking ‘6’.
(honorable mention: Fleer Maury Wills, Topps Willie Stargell)
The 1964 Topps set is short on Hall of Fame rookies but you can have your Phil on this one. Niekro and Roof were there as the Braves closed out their brief but eventful tenure in Milwaukee. Niekro’s rookie card is fairly easy to find but a nicer NM example still runs close to $100. Topps put the young Niekro on a rookie card once again in ’65.
(honorable mention: Richie Allen, Tony Conigliaro)
Lefty was still hanging on as late as 1988 but he was pretty much toast when he passed the 300 win mark a few years earlier. Those rough years at the end shouldn’t diminish how dominant he was from 1971-1982. He wound up winning four Cy Young Awards, five strikeout titles and two World Series rings. Carlton’s shared rookie card probably isn’t as valuable as it should be considering his accomplishments but we never complain about cheap baseball cards.
(honorable mention: Joe Morgan double-print, Tony Oliva short-print)
With three Cy Young Awards and three World Series rings, Jim Palmer experienced personal and team success during his long tenure with the Orioles. He was still a teenager when the photo for his rookie card was taken. In ’66, he became the youngest pitcher ever to throw a World Series shutout. You can own a high-grade copy of his rookie card for less than $100, thanks in part to its abundance.
(honorable mention: Fergie Jenkins, Don Sutton)
You sail through the ’64,’65 and ’66 rookie card roster with relative ease and then take a 2×4 to the face in ’67 and ’68. The Seaver rookie card arrived in the last series as Tom Terrific began his meteoric rise to Amazing-ville. The Seaver rookie is $500 and up for respectable-looking, $5,000 and up for one of the few mint, graded examples that are out there. It’s harder to find than the double-printed Carew, but it’s quite a double whammy for anyone putting a set together.
(honorable mention: Rod Carew)
Few post-War cards–except maybe early Mantles and Clementes and Jordan rookie cards have appreciated as much lately as this one. It’s far from rare but Ryan is an icon to anyone who watched him pitch in the 70s, 80s and even the early 90s. The strikeouts, no-hitters and Texas toughness aren’t going to be duplicated. Demand for Ryan rookies outstrips the common nature of the card itself. The centering of this card is often imperfect so competition for mint, graded examples–even at the new five-figure price level– is strong.
You really couldn’t picture Reggie sharing a ‘Rookie Stars’ card, now could you? It is strange, though, that it took so long for Jackson to finally appear on a card. He’d made a strong showing over 35 games in ’67 and was clearly a big part of the A’s plan as they moved to the coast but Topps didn’t include him in the ’68 set. You can own a nice one for $200-$300.
(honorable mention: Rollie Fingers, Bobby Bonds)
No matter what decade you’re talking, it’s the classic baseball rookie cards like these that stand the test of time, whether your measurement is value or simple nostalgia.