He was a staple inside packs for over 20 years. Loved by some; despised by others. Respected by most even now, at least for the way he played the game. Every collector has a different idea about what would be on the list of the best Pete Rose cards. For those growing up in the mid-1960s through the mid-80s, it was rare to find anyone who didn’t have at least a few and the number of Rose collectors remains pretty strong in spite of his missteps.
Rose played hard, broke an astounding number of records and stayed healthy enough to call himself a big leaguer for nearly a quarter century. If only he’d stopped there.
Rose’s baseball cards proved to be a good investment thanks to his ever-increasing star power throughout the years, increasing in value during the 1970s and 80s. No matter what you think about Rose’s gambling issues and whether or not he should be in the Hall of Fame, Rose is treated like one.
Rose’s all-time hits record still stands at 4,256 and possibly will forever. He had a hitting streak of 44 games and won three National League batting titles. He was the 1973 season MVP and the 1975 World Series MVP.
Unlike players such as Barry Bonds, whose cards hit rock bottom lows after the steroid whispers grew into a roar, vintage Pete Rose cards are still pricey and graded ones can command big bucks. He’s still a fan favorite to many who are old enough to remember watching him in his prime.
If value is your primary measuring point, Rose’s 1963 Topps rookie card is his best card. With the centering and print quality issues that were common back then, it’s hard to find one in near mint and better condition. In 2012, a PSA 10 sold for $157,366. Today, it would likely bring quite a bit more. Cards graded 8 will run into five figures.
If you’re not able to afford the high-end examples, a nice VG-EX Rose rookie card can usually be found for $2,000-$2,500 or so.
1964 Topps Pete Rose
If you have trouble coming up with the cash to buy a nice rookie card of the all time hit king, his 1964 Topps second year card is a decent alternative. In fact, since it’s the first time he appears by himself on a Topps card, many like it better than the rookie card.
It carries the ‘All-Rookie Team’ logo on the front and is a nice head and shoulders shot of a smiling young second baseman wearing the old Reds pinstripes.
A 1964 Topps in NM/MT condition has risen to $6,000-$7,000 but prices quickly dip into lesser grades. You should be able to find an 8 for under $2,000 and a nice NM 7 remains a pretty solid buy at under $500.
Second year cards of Hall of Famers are often a value play.
Rose was a hometown boy and Kahn’s Weiners were a staple in just about every Ohio home. The company cranked out numerous sets distributed one at a time through its hot dog packages during the 60s. The beautiful color shot of Rose in ’64 isn’t cheap, but certainly among his best looking and most elusive cards.
If you’re chronicling his career through his cards, you can’t ignore the ’68 Rose. He started the season with a 22-game hitting streak and nosed out Matty Alou for the title. His 1968 card is in the second series and easy to find. Graded NM/MT examples run $200 and up but there are other alternatives.
While you’re at it, grab the giant 1968 Topps Poster. A separate issue from the regular card set, the posters are far tougher to find and the image of Rose in a defensive position is great.
Black Borders and the Big Red Machine
One of the hardest cards to obtain in a high-grade is the 1971 Topps regular issue. This is a real favorite of collectors. Many of the problems with quality have to do with the black border being worn or looking washed out. This one can also be tremendously off-center. A PSA 9 sold recently for $7,877. Prices dip considerably beyond that lofty level, though, and you can own a respectable copy for $25-50.
Overall, Rose cards from the 1970s are popular with collectors who remember him as one of the main cogs in the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati’s championship years.
A few other cards from that era stand out. The 1971 Topps Greatest Moments also has black borders and the oversized issue is very tough to find in high grade but it’s one of the coolest Rose cards around.
Rose is a semi-high number in the 1972 Topps set and has an In Action card that shows him joking around at home plate during an at-bat. Both are attractive cards and relatively inexpensive.
The 1974 Topps shows him laying down a bunt, illustrative of the many ways he was able to torture pitchers. The 1975 card is a must if you’re baseball fan. Perhaps Cincinnati’s finest team during the Machine era, the Reds held off the Red Sox to win it all and Rose won that MVP award. Nice, ungraded examples are still under $20.
1978: 3,000 Hits and The Streak
Rose turned 37 early in the ’78 season but he was far from finished. He reeled off the longest hitting streak since Joe DiMaggio (it still is) with a 44-game stretch that captivated the country. He also reached the 3,000 hit mark. His 1978 Topps card was double printed and as such, you can buy one today for next to nothing. Topps chose a dull photo of him on the bench but the gritty toughness is hard to miss on this card.
The Beginning of the End
The path to the moon can be paved with 1989 Topps cards and while you can buy the Rose card all day for a dime or two, the image of Rose as manager of the Reds exemplifies a time in which the pressures of betting on baseball were likely mounting. Shown with a dour expression as he takes his cap off to scratch his head, it’s one of the last cardboard images contemporary to Pete Rose wearing a big league uniform. And that, too, is part of the story.
The Tiffany version is often available for under $20.
You could certainly build your own list of the best Pete Rose cards from modern era issues, valuable and scarce early Topps test issues and regionally issued cards but if you’re trying to tell his story, the cards above are a good start and most ordinary examples are still attainable, whether you like him or not.
Thanks to a signing schedule that seems to know no end, Rose autographs and memorabilia remain within the reach of most fans, too.
You can see a current list of the ‘most watched’ Pete Rose cards on eBay below.
Have vintage Pete Rose cards to sell? You can do that on eBay (it’s easy to sign up and get started here).