Cal Ripken, Jr. is and always will be “The Iron Man” of Major League Baseball, but Ripken was much more than just his remarkable streak. He was one of the most consistent players of his generation-if not, the most consistent. He didn’t just show up. He produced. Not only could you count on him to get 600 at bats per year, he’d also add power, run production, and stellar defense at shortstop/third base. He was also a student of the game’s history and perhaps better than any other player, understood how important it was to interact and show his appreciation to baseball fans. Put it all together and there’s little reason why collectors have always had a special place for Cal Ripken Jr. rookie cards.
Of course, Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s long-standing streak for consecutive games played on September 6, 1995, pushing the record to 2,131 straight games. He’d finally finish the streak at 2,632. What started on May 30, 1982, ended 16 years later on September 19, 1998. It might forever be untouchable.
Baseball’s First Family
Ripken was born in the town of Havre de Grace in Maryland on August 24, 1960. His dad, Cal Sr., was a long-time player and coach in the Baltimore Orioles system. “I was lucky to have an Encyclopedia of Baseball for a dad,” Cal says. Cal, Jr. always around during Orioles’ workouts and games and picked up lessons from veterans like Brooks Robinson. Ripken eventually led Aberdeen High School to the state title in baseball. Ironically, it was his pitching that led the way. He had 17 strikeouts in the 1978 state title game.
It was apparent his talent was on a different level than many of his peers. “I’d prefer to play shortstop in the majors,” Ripken once said. “But I’ll play anywhere.”
In 1978, Baltimore selected him in the 2nd round of the MLB draft. The Orioles had no intention of employing Ripken as a pitcher. He’d start off his minor league career as a shortstop in Bluefield, West Virginia. He quickly recovered from a 33 error season in his debut to become an All-Star by the next year. By August of 1981, Ripken was headed to the big club.
Off To The Bigs
Ripken got off to a slow start as his rookie cards were being pulled from Topps, Fleer and Donruss packs in the spring of 1982, but it didn’t take long for him to adjust and the rest is history.
His major league career is as impressive as any other infielder or corner position player. He piled up many accolades like Rookie of the Year (1982), two AL MVP’s (1983 & 1991), 19 All-Star games, and a World Series title in 1983. He had every credential you’d need to be a first ballot entry into the Hall of Fame and he earned 98.53% of the vote in 2007–still the sixth highest vote total of all-time.
Of course, his streak is still one of the most celebrated achievements in baseball. In this age, players will be hard pressed to even surpass Lou Gehrig much less Ripken, Jr. Only a few players, including Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez, and Hideki Matsui have even surpassed 500 consecutive games played in the past 20 years.
Cal Ripken Jr. Rookie Cards
For an all-time icon, Ripken rookie cards generally aren’t expensive thanks to a strong supply. Collecting was hot by the early 1980s and Topps, Fleer and Donruss all made sure to print a good amount of product to meet increased demand.
Ripken has a pair of Topps rookie cards, one issued as packs were hitting store shelves in the winter of ’82 and another as the season was wrapping up. Which one is most desirable or popular is a long-running debate, but there’s no doubt which one is in shorter supply. We’ll quote some current prices for high-grade examples but NM/MT graded and “raw”copies will be even cheaper. If you’re buying for the long haul in hopes of seeing some appreciation, we’d suggest the high-end, however.