Baseball’s Hall of Fame Class of 2007 will be revealed January 9. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. appear to be locks while Mark McGwire’s clouded past may keep him out of Cooperstown for now. Still, prices for the trio’s rookie cards seem to indicate McGwire hasn’t been forgotten.
7-8 years ago, no player’s rookie card was hotter than the 1985 Topps Mark McGwire. Pictured in his Olympic uniform a full year before his Major League debut, McGwire had collectors paying big money for quality examples–graded and ungraded. The card was so popular that counterfeits popped up–many produced and confiscated from the ring eventually known as Operation Bullpen.
Since his retirement, McGwire’s stock with fans and the writers who elect Hall of Famers appears to have dropped like a bloated Cardinal. But maybe not. Strange as it may seem, an examination of the major Topps rookie cards for the three players would seem to indicate collectors still have a strong interest in McGwire’s first card while Gwynn appears to be a bit of a bargain.
McGwire’s card, #401 in the ’85 Topps set, is a popular card for grading. As of early this week, PSA had graded a total of 45,344 McGwire rookies compared to just 17,825 1982 Topps #21 Ripken rookies and 14,106 Gwynn ’83 Topps #483.
The numbers, of course, don’t reflect all of the rookie cards on the market. McGwire’s first cards picturing him in an Oakland A’s uniform didn’t appear until 1987 while Gwynn had 1983 cards in the Donruss and Fleer brands as well and Ripken was featured in the 1982 Topps Traded set. Yet, the three cards from the mainstream Topps sets are generally considered the primary rookies for all three players–affordable to collectors at all levels.
PSA’s population report shows 226 ’85 Topps McGwires have been graded Gem Mint 10, while 4372 were graded PSA 9 (no qualifiers) and a whopping 26,196 PSA 8 McGwires had entered the market. The rest were PSA 7 or lower. While the numbers would indicate that there are nearly three times as many PSA 8 and 9 McGwire cards on the market as Gwynn cards of the same grades, auction prices realized for the two seem to favor McGwire.
PSA 8 McGwire cards have been selling consistently for $10-16 on eBay. PSA 8 Gwynn rookies have been selling for $7-10 each. A comparison of PSA 9 McGwire and Gwynn cards show McGwires selling for slightly more than Gwynn although the numbers are similar. PSA 9 McGwire cards had been selling consistently at $30-40 in December. Yet with the Hall of Fame election approaching, 4 of the last 5 McGwires sold for between $50 and $59. Coincidence or speculation that McGwire will be elected somehow or attain Pete Rose-like cult status?
Prices on Ripken rookies have been relatively stable. PSA 9 copies continue to hold at $50-60 each while PSA 8s can be had for $20-30 each. Both have a higher value than their graded Gwynn counterparts. While PSA 8 modern-era rookie cards are seldom seen as sexy, $10 for a professionally graded and authenticated Hall of Famer card that is now over 23 years old seems like a bargain to us.