You’ve got a young man in street clothes. A 25-year-old prospect sitting on a dugout bench. A posed shot of a pitcher in a minor league uniform. Some of the rookie cards of the 2019 Hall of Fame class are not exactly artistic gems but they won’t cost you much either.
All of them date from the “junk wax” era of the late 1980s and early 90s, when there seemed to be a card shop on every corner. They’re generally found in abundance and generally don’t cost much. The anticipation over this year’s election has generated some interest. If you put a few away years ago, you’ve probably already seen a little more appreciation–especially if they’re graded 10s–but they won’t pay off your mortgage either. Most collectors and dealers will tell you that seeing a player take on Hall of Fame status does tend to create a small but lasting market and that’s usually a good thing no matter which side of the transaction you’re on.
Earlier this year, the Today’s Game Committee elected Harold Baines and Lee Smith, who each have rookie cards from Topps, Fleer and Donruss (Baines in ’81; Smith in ’82). Most are inexpensive but Topps Baines rookies in PSA 9 grade have moved past $150 in recent weeks.
Here’s a look at some of the rookie cards (and minor league cards) of this year’s Hall of Fame class as elected by the Baseball Writer’s Association on Tuesday.
Mariano Rivera Rookie Card
Mo rewrote the reliever record book and was considered a first ballot lock long before his career ended. His rookie card is considered to be the one issued in 1992 Bowman, the home of some decidedly unusual photos. Chipper Jones is in shorts, a long sleeved shirt and a cap; Rivera in white slacks and a polo shirt. He was a late-blooming prospect and images of him in a baseball uniform apparently weren’t available to Topps.
Rivera’s card has pushed upward lately and most are worth grading now. 9s have now pushed into $100 territory with 10s moving past $400. It’s best to buy authenticated/graded cards of Rivera as fakes have filtered into the market.
Rivera’s first Topps cards as an active big leaguer, a dual player rookie card with Lyle Mouton issued in the 1995 Traded set and another in the Stadium Club set that year, seem grossly undervalued. Most are ungraded and available for under $10. Even high-grade, encapsulated copies don’t cost much more.
Mo is prevalent on minor league cards in the 1990s as he worked his way up through the Yankees system. His first appearance in the 1990 Tampa Yankees set issued by Diamond Cards is extremely popular. He’s a skinny little 20-year-old in the photo. The card isn’t hard to find but demand is strong and you can expect to pay more than you would for his ’92 Bowman card.
Edgar Martinez Rookie Cards
Topps didn’t have him on their radar at all early on, but he appeared in both the 1988 Fleer set (#378) and 1988 Donruss “The Rookies” issue (#36). Ungraded examples of each are still under $5. Those in PSA 10 holders have climbed over $50 with the Donruss issue a bit less. Fleer issued a Glossy factory set in 1988 and you can expect to pay at least double for his card from that set.
Martinez appeared in minor league sets prior to finding his way to MLB with the 1986 Pro Cards among the most notable. Prices are all over the board but like Rivera, you’ll pay a lot more for a high-grade copy than you will for one of his first MLB-licensed cards.
Roy Halladay Rookie Cards
Halladay’s life was cut short in November 2017 when he crashed his plane into the Gulf of Mexico but his accomplishments on the mound won’t be forgotten. He authored a perfect game in 2010–then followed it with just the second post-season no-hitter in MLB history. He also won two Cy Young awards, one in each league.
Halladay’s rookie cards are in 1997 Bowman products, just before his big league arrival. He’s in three different issues–Bowman, Bowman’s Best and Bowman Chrome. While most ungraded base cards are still very inexpensive, the availability and prices on some of the parallel cards associated with those products make it clear that we’d moved well beyond the overproduction era. Bowman Chrome in high-end holders are among the most popular, with values moving upward in recent months.
Mike Mussina Rookie Cards
Mussina’s career was split between Baltimore and New York, but no matter where he played, he was among the most consistent pitchers in history. He joined the Orioles out of Stanford and first appeared on big league cards in 1991.
Mussina’s standard rookie cards can be found in the 1991 Bowman (#97); Score (#383); Upper Deck (#65) and Fleer Ultra Update (#4), making them among the most heavily produced cards of any recent Hall of Fame candidate. Most are available in ungraded form for just a few dollars. Graded examples have increased in value as his Hall of Fame support grew but only the Bowman and Ultra Update sell for significantly more than the grading fee in mint and gem mint. The ’91 Upper Deck card pictures him in his Hagerstown Suns uniform, where he’d made his pro debut a year earlier.
Mussina is also in the 1991 Leaf Gold Rookies insert, which thanks to its black borders is a little tough to find in high-grade with 10s already well over $100.