“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball,” Roger ‘The Rajah’ Hornsby Sr once said. “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Baseball card trading gave fans something to celebrate in the long empty winter, and in the 80s they saw an explosion in popularity.
Baseball trading cards today are graded by the Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) on a scale of one to 10, indicating how well they’ve been preserved over the years. This grade can have a massive impact on the value of a baseball card – along with various errors and quirks that you can find in the list below.
25. Rickey Henderson Topps Card – $180,100
Rickey Hendrickson, also known as the “Man of Steal”, is one of baseball’s greatest baserunners and leadoff hitters. Not only was he ranked among the top 100 all-time home run hitters, but he also holds the Major League record for career stolen bases, runs, unintentional walks and leadoff home runs, and has been a baseball Hall of Famer since 2009.
Topps cards are notoriously difficult to preserve, and Rickey Henderson’s offerings were no exception. A perfect-condition Henderson Topps rookie card is an extremely rare find, and one model sold for a whopping $180,100 in February 2021.
24. Mark McGwire Topps Tiffany – $27,800
A force of nature, Mark David McGwire holds the all-time record for the lowest at-bats per home run ratio (10.61), with the legendary Babe Ruth coming in at second (11.76). He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 1984 June Amateur Draft, picked from the University of Southern California.
His rookie card of 1985, made by Topps, is a particularly popular collectors’ item. It earned $27,800 in an April 2021 sale on eBay.com. Likewise, it fetched $16,101 in another eBay auction that same year, and it went for $11,685 at the Summer Premium Card and Memorabilia Auction at Goldin Auctions, also in 2021.
23. Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck #1 Card – $23,100
Nicknamed “the Kid”, Ken Griffey Jr. played as an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and, for a short while, with the Chicago White Sox. One of the most prolific home run hitters and a thirteen-time All-Star, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Like their inspiration, Ken Griffey Jr baseball cards knock it out of the park. In March 2021, a 1989 Upper Deck rookie card earned $23,100 thanks to this figure’s renown. In fact, this card predates Griffey’s rise to fame, as he became one of the sport’s most beloved figures in the 90s.
22. Roger Clemens Topps Tiffany – $15,000
Nicknamed ‘The Rocket’ for his superb fastball – which often reached 95 miles per hour – William Roger Clemens was another baseball hero of the 80s. He was selected for All-Star 11 times; The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year picked him five times, and he was a two-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees.
But in 2007, he was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs and indicted on charges of lying to Congress in 2010. These more recent revelations, however, haven’t damaged his trading card value too much. His Topps Tiffany card of 1985 has sold for $13,878, $11,700 and even $15,000 in 2021 and 2022 sales.
21. Bo Jackson Tops Traded Tiffany – $12,300
A unique sporting talent, Bo Jackson is the only professional in history to become an All-Star in both baseball and football. In 1982, he was chosen by the New York Yankees in the second round of the Major League Baseball Draft, but he instead went to Auburn University to fulfil a promise to his mother that he’d be the first in their family to attend a major college. On a football scholarship, he excelled at both college baseball and football, and later played in Major League Baseball for the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels.
His baseball career lasted until 1994. At the height of his career, his 1986 Topps Traded Tiffany card was a simple portrait, which continues to enchant collectors. A PSA Grade 10 copy sold for $12,300 in November 2021.
20. Barry Bonds Topps Traded Tiffany Card – $8,911
Barry Bonds, an all-around player with seven NL MVP awards and 14 All-Star selections, would have been a textbook Hall of Fame candidate, were it not for the 2003 BALCO scandal. A key figure in these doping trials regarding an undetectable drug known as “the Clear”, his image has been undeniably tarnished to the eyes of baseball fans and has so far kept the sought after accolade just out of his reach.
In August 2022, a Barry Bonds Topps Traded Tiffany Card reached $8,911 in an eBay auction. It was in pristine condition and the PSA has set its price guide value at $10,000. The seller in question was based in Passaic, New Jersey.
19. Don Mattingly Topps Tiffany Card – $5,600
Donald Arthur “Don” Mattingly broke the single season record with six grand slams in 1987. He rose fast through the ranks of the New York Yankees, spending his entire career – which lasted till 1995 – with the team. He later became manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, and currently manages the Miami Marlins.
Mattingly’s 1984 Topps Tiffany card has fetched $5,600 when in prime condition, whereas a PSA Grade 7 has previously made $230 on eBay – showing once more that the value drops fast with damage such as frayed corners, scratched surfaces, as well as defects like off-centre printing.
18. Cal Ripken Jr Topps Traded Card – $4,726
The son of a long-time baseball player and coach, Cal Ripken Jr. became an icon over an illustrious career that spanned 20 years. Nineteen times an All-Star, twice named the American League’s MVP, and holding the record for most consecutive games played at 2’632, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 with nearly 99% of the vote on the first ballot.
Sure enough, this Ripken brother offered a suitably popular card to boot. A PSA Grade 10 version of his 1982 rookie card with Topps fetched an astonishing $4,726 at auction on eBay in August 2022. It’s one of many highly popular Cal Ripken cards, which featured in 27 different sets over the decades.
17. John Littlefield Pitching Lefty Card – $2,198
Error cards can receive plenty of attention among collectors. John Littlefield – who began his career at Brigham Young University – was snapped up by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 37th round of the 1988 Amateur Draft. The right-handed Littlefield appeared to be left-handed on some of his playing cards, because the image had been reversed.
One such card sold for $2,198 in August 2021. But this card also varies widely in price – even at PSA 10 quality. Other examples have sold for $351, $250 and even $172 in recent years. One auction saw a lot of 100 copies sell for $4,406 in 2009 – meaning that each copy made a mere $44.
16. Billy Ripken ‘F*** Face’ Card – $600
With a mediocre batting average of .247, Billy Ripken’s only claim to fame should have been the fact that his older brother was baseball Hall of Fame inductee Cal Ripken Jr. But two stray words on a baseball bat would launch his card from bottom of the heap to top of the pile.
The photograph that featured on Billy’s cards was unusual for its not-so-hidden message. On the base of his bat, the words “F*** Face” are written in bold black marker pen. Publishers variously obscured this message with a black box or erased it from the picture altogether. But one of the most sought-after versions shows the words repeated in red, in a classic example of an error card. This version has sold on eBay.com for $600.
15. Wade Boggs – $2,000
Wade Boggs was a professional third baseman, enjoying a Major League Baseball career that spanned 18 seasons. He played for the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the New York Yankees – and it was with the Yankees that Boggs won the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves.
A popular figure to this day, Wade Boggs appeared on at least 14 baseball cards over the course of his career. The 1983 Topps Base card for Boggs is a classic, showing the star poised on the field. It has earned as much as $2,000 at auction, according to Sports Card Investor.
14. Ryne Sandberg – $1,850
Best known by the nickname Ryno, Ryne Sandberg hailed from Spokane, Washington. The son of a nurse and a mortician, he was a football star at school and later had his school playing field named after him. In professional baseball, he was a second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs, and later worked as a manager and coach.
Topps honoured Ryne Sandberg with a rookie card in 1983. Mint-condition copies of this item can be particularly valuable today. In August 2022, one copy on eBay sold for a whopping $1,850, thanks to its mint condition. The seller, based in Fishers, Indiana, noted that the item had a PSA rating of 10 and wrote in the item’s title, “Perfection!”
13. Pete Rose – $1,800
Peter Edward Rose Sr, also known as Charlie Hustle, wowed crowds from 1963 to 1986, mainly playing with the Cincinnati Reds. In the mid- to late-80s, he also became their manager. He is the all-time MLB leader in hits and games played. He later confessed to betting on baseball games, which brought an onslaught of demands that his various honours should be removed.
Topps manufactured a striking Pete Rose card in 1980, featuring an intense close-up shot of the player’s face. After an eBay auction that ended in October 2022, one copy sold for an impressive $1,800. This seller was unusually experienced on the auction website, with 1056117 reviews under their belt. They were based in Passaic, New Jersey.
12. Greg Maddux – $1,700
Gregory Alan Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas in 1966. He came from a military family that moved to Madrid, Spain for his father’s Air Force career. Maddux and his brother Mike both showed youthful talent for baseball, and both later became professionals. Greg Maddux spent most of his career with the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs, joining the Braves for their 1995 World Series victory.
Greg Maddux’s 1987 rookie card from Leaf has proven particularly popular. In September 2022, one copy sold for $1,700 on eBay.com. With an impressive 22351 reviews to their name, the seller – with the username gm_nos_muscle – was based in the USA and offered priority shipping to the UK for $53.68.
11. Tim Raines – $1,000
Tim Raines earned the nickname ‘Rock’ – and his force in baseball was unstoppable. As a left fielder, he played for six different teams over a two-decade career, although his 13 most famous seasons were with the Montreal Expos. He is one of the sport’s greatest baserunners, and earned his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.
Topps produced a famed Expos Future Stars card in 1981. It featured two other stars alongside Tim Raines: catcher Roberto Ramos and outfielder Bobby Pate. Unsurprisingly, this item has gathered plenty of attention in online sales. In September 2022, one seller based in Statesville, North Carolina earned $1,000 from this item.
10. Daryll Strawberry – $900
Daryll Strawberry started out as a high school baseball star, playing alongside Chris Brown at Crenshaw High in California. His big brother Michael likewise entered professional baseball. Strawberry became a spectacular ‘slugger’, standing at 6 feet 6 inches, and he scooped three World Series Championships with the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. His career was marred by three suspensions relating to substance abuse.
A 1984 Topps Tiffany card honoured Darryl Strawberry, photographed in full swing. It has since sold for $900 on eBay, offered up by a seller based in Rockwall, Texas. This item was just a shade under mint condition – it was listed as ‘used’ on eBay, and it received a grading of 9.5 from Beckett Grading Services.
9. Eric Davis – $750
Eric Davis joined the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 till 1991, earning the nickname Eric the Red. He made a majestic comeback in 1996 with the same team, even as he suffered from colon cancer and retired with various injuries in 2001.
In 1985, the Topps Tiffany brand came out with a new Eric Davis card, showing the star gazing into the distance, in front of baseball field netting. This item has remained popular over the decades. One seller in Indio, California listed this item on eBay.com and earned $750 for it in August 2022.
8. Jose Canseco – $700
Jose Canseco Capas Jr played as an outfielder and designed hitter in Major League Baseball. He broke records in 1988 by hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in a single season. His lengthy home runs lent him the nickname ‘Parkway Jose’, but best of all he was known as El Cañonero Cubano (the Cuban Cannon), as he hailed from Havana.
With 1792 reviews in their pocket, the eBay seller purnotioncards – based in Riverside, Illinois – earned $700 for a Jose Canseco card in August 2022. Despite its used condition, this 1983 rookie card from the manufacturer Frisch had a PSA rating of 10, indicating that it was in immaculate condition after decades of loving preservation.
7. John Smoltz – $650
The unforgettable John ‘Smoltzie’ Smoltz spent 22 seasons in Major League Baseball in the 80s, 90s and 00s. He spent almost his entire career with the Atlanta Braves and earned the All-Star title on eight occasions. Among his many records and accomplishments, for a decade Smoltz was the franchise record holder for career saves.
In 1989, Upper Deck released a John Smoltz Rookie card that has captured the imaginations of fans. In another autographed offering, one copy was listed on eBay and sold for $650 in August 2022. The seller, with the username jbukley, was based in Largo, Florida.
6. Gary Sheffield – $595
The talented Sheffield played for various teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers. “I can’t imagine there has ever been a scarier hitter to face,” Joe Posnanski wrote of this formidable figure. However, his career has not emerged untainted by scandal. He was implicated in the 2004 BALCO scandal, which saw various stars accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Gary Sheffield remains a popular figure among baseball fans and card collectors. In July 2022, one eBay user based in Wisconsin Rapids was offering a 1989 Upper Deck card, with a PSA grade of 10. Thanks to its autograph and mint condition, the seller ultimately earned $595 from this treasured item.
5. Tony Gwynn – $479
The left-handed Tony Gwynn secured eight batting titles in the sport, and became a 15-time All-Star. He had both his first and last Major League Baseball appearances with the San Diego Padres, and won the nickname ‘Mr Padre’ for his efforts. His battling average was .338 and he completed 135 home runs in his career.
The 1984 Donruss Base card for Tony Gwynn is of particular interest to collectors. According to the website Sports Card Investor, this item can fetch sums as high as $479.99, but they range all the way down to $29.95. This variety is largely due to differences in quality, as these cards can be found with a wide range of PSA gradings.
4. Barry Larkin – $400
Barry Larkin was born in 1964 to a family in Cincinnati. He attended Archbishop Moeller High School and won a football scholarship to the University of Michigan – but pretty swiftly realised that baseball was the only sport for him. He had careers in both minor and major league baseball, playing shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for just under two decades.
A PSA 10-graded example of a classic Barry Larkin card sold for $400 on eBay.com in July 2022. Shipping alone cost $38.13, with International Priority Shipping to the UK. The seller was based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Beautifully autographed, this Topps card was Larkin’s Rookie, dating to 1987.
3. Ozzie Smith – $330
Ozzie Smith’s quick reflexes were spotted early in his childhood in Los Angeles, and he first joined Major League Baseball in 1978. As a fielder, he celebrated with spectacular backflips mid-match and he eventually joined the St Louis Cardinals to win the 1982 World Series.
A 1983 Topps card featuring Smith shows the star in a lively, twisted position. It is beloved to this day, with one copy selling for $330 in August 2022. With a perfect PSA grade of 10, this item was nevertheless in a used condition. It came from a seller based in Paso Robles, California, with the eBay username gretzkyfan.
2. Craig Biggio – $296
In a career spanning 19 years, Craig Biggio stuck loyally to the Houston Astros. He is a seven-time National Leauge All-Star, and formed a trio known as the Killer Bs with fellow Houston players Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman. After his retirement in 2007, he was honoured with the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship and community service.
One lucky seller in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, managed to pocket $296 for a 1988 Craig Biggio card. The item in question included a flamboyant autograph, and it sold in September 2022 with the best offer accepted. It came from the sports card manufacturer Score, first distributed by Major League Marketing in the same year as this card’s release.
1. Randy Johnson – $76
Born in 1963 and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Randy Johnson was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 1982 MLB draft, just after he completed high school. But he rejected the offer, instead taking a baseball scholarship to the University of Southern California. He joined the MLB in 1988 and played for six different teams. His enormous height of 6 feet 10 inches won him the nickname ‘The Big Unit’. Johnson graced the field for a surprisingly long era as a pitcher, playing into his 40s.
A mint-condition 1989 Randy Johnson card from Topps sold for $72 after attracting 28 bids on eBay in August 2022. The seller, located in Passaic, New Jersey, added few details to the offer page, but notably the item was encased in a PSA-assured protective plastic container.