Vintage Treasures: Legendary Baseball Cards That Are Worth A Fortune

By Saptargha D March 21, 2024

The world of baseball cards is fascinating and insightful. Each card has a story of its own, elucidating a legendary player’s journey. From learning the history of the players of the bygone era to finding out what makes each card so unique, it is a deep dive into the glory of baseball. All of them have captured remarkable moments in sports history.

In this article, you will discover the ‘magic’ of collecting these baseball cards while learning about the players’ triumphs and challenges. Most importantly, we will highlight how much they are all valued currently. These cards are underrated treasures that could fetch you quite a fortune if you have them in mint condition. So, join us as we find out what each card holds for us!

1992 Mike Piazza RC #U-92

Ask any card collector of the 1990s about famous cards from that era, and they’ll surely talk about the 1992 Fleer aqua and teal-colored baseball card. Mike Piazza’s card belongs to this set and is often one of the most sought-after cards for serious collectors. Having the “Pizza Man” card meant finding a coveted piece.

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Although he spent 4 seasons in the minors, Mike Piazza burst onto the field in 1993. His 35 home runs, a .318 average, and 112 RBIs earned him the Rookie of the Year Award. Today, after 15 years, we finally got Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame with this 1992 Fleer update card that has an estimated value of $400.

1934 Lou Gehrig Baseball Card

The 1934 Lou Gehrig baseball card made by Goudey is indeed a treasure! With Gehrig’s face on the front, this card is not only rare but also memorable, timelessly honoring the baseball hero. Wonder why we called it a treasure? Well, this card can fetch a whopping $150,000 if sold at an auction!

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Lou Gehrig’s #37 card also features a quote from the legendary player. It expresses his deep affection for the game and gratitude for the fortunes it bestowed upon him. Thus, despite Gehrig’s eventual diagnosis with ALS and his heroic retirement, this card remains a cherished symbol of his enduring legacy and passion for baseball.

1979 Ozzie Smith RC #116

To all baseball fans, Ozzie Smith is the Wizard of Oz. You had to see him play just to believe how awesome he was. With close to 30 home runs and a .262 batting average, Ozzie made it into the Hall of Fame after retirement. He also received the Gold Glove Award over 13 times.

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Ozzie Smith became famous in Cooperstown while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, it was with the Padres that he flourished in his career. His fame is still evident today! His 1979 Topps rookie card would fetch you about $180 in current times. Quite a profit from the original price of $0.05.

1952 Mickey Mantle #311

Mickey Mantle, also known as “The Mick,” was a legendary figure of the Bronx Bombers and New York Yankees. He played 18 seasons of professional football and won 7 World Series Championships in the 1950s-60s. Mickey also got the all-star title 20 times, marking a significant milestone in baseball history.

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Apart from his personal achievements, many other reasons make his 1952 Topps card unique. 1952 was not only his first full season in baseball but also Topps’ first year of making cards. Naturally, not many of these cards are left now, which is a shame because one is currently estimated to be worth $5.2 million!

1895 Cap Anson Baseball Card

Cap Anson, a legendary baseball pioneer, is immortalized on the 1895 Mayo’s Cut Plug card, adorned with a “For Chewing and Smoking” label. Showcasing Anson’s enduring legacy in the sport, this collectible originally cost $0.01 but can fetch over $90,000 if sold today.

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He was known for his tenure with the Chicago White Stockings, steering the team to five NL pennants. Even at the time of his retirement, he held the nation’s premier record in doubles, runs scored, hits, and RBI. Post-retirement, Anson succeeded in vaudeville and different business ventures, cementing his legacy further.

1986 Roger Clemens #661

Roger Clemens enjoyed a successful career of 24 years in Major League Baseball, characterized by his 4,672 strikeouts, 354 wins, one MVP award, and seven Cy Young awards. No other pitcher holds this record in baseball history, which firmly earns him ‘legendary’ status.

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Thus, owing to his impressive stats, the Boston Red Sox released the Roger Clemens #661 card in 1986. It was originally priced at $0.25, but once the number of Clemens’ awards increased, so did the value of the cards. Today, the card can fetch more than $300.

1909 -11 Walter Johnson Rookie Card (Portrait)

The T-206 1909-1911 set prominently features Walter Johnson, widely known as “The Big Train.” In the 1900s, he dominated baseball with an ERA of 2.17 and 417 wins. Like many others, this card had a very affordable price of $0.01 originally.

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Johnson’s hands-at-chest portrait is exceptionally rare. The mint value of this card can likely fetch you over $110,000. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, with big names like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, Johnson’s rookie card remains a prized collectible among enthusiasts.

1992 Nomar Garciaparra RC #39T

Nomar Garciaparra is a well-recognized name among baseball enthusiasts. If one had to describe him, calling him a hitting machine would only be an introduction to his skills. As such, his rookie card was quite a big find among collectors. People were sure he would one day make it into the Hall of Fame.

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On it, Nomar can be seen with his trademark heartwarming smile. However, things were not always on his side, as an injury greatly hindered the second half of his career. With that, his fans’ hope for his induction into the Hall of Fame eventually disappeared, decreasing the value of his 1992 Topps card to $55.

1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth Rookie Card

In mint condition today, the M101-5 Babe Ruth Sporting News Rookie Card can fetch a staggering value of $1.35 million. It features the famous player in his Red Sox uniform. Also known as the Sultan of Swat, he had a remarkable career with a 2.28 ERA, 94-46 win-loss record, 714 home runs, and 2.213 RBIs.

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His 1916 baseball cards were slightly off-center and mostly had blank backsides. However, some had advertisements from renowned companies like Tydol Ethyl and Quaker, making them more unique and expensive. The M101-5 Babe Ruth Sporting News cards were already rare; hence, finding the versions with imprinted advertisements was even harder.

1992 Kenny Loften RV #5

Kenny Loften’s baseball career was characterized by diversity. He was an All-Star outfielder for 2 decades, held the top position in the American League Central standings as a Cleveland player during the entire ’90s, and then went on to play for the Houston Astros. This elite base stealer’s career shone brightly wherever he went.

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Although the 1992 Kenny Loften RC #5 card by Donruss is the only one with Loften as an Astros member, it’s sad that the card has a low value of $10. However, as the importance of base stealing seems to diminish, rookie cards of such worthy players are expected to draw more attention from collectors.

1954 Ted Williams

In 1954, the Ted Williams Topps baseball card not only started the set of cards with #1 but also ended it at #250. Although this set doesn’t have big stars like Mantle and Musial, finding a perfect Ted Williams card is particularly hard.

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The #250 variant of the card is even more challenging to find than #1. With regard to their appearance, they are not perfectly centered. They also have small chips on the back. However, PSA says such nicks do not change the card’s grade much. With one of these, you can get about $32500.

1914 Ty Cobb (Cracker Jack)

Next, we have another card from Cracker Jack that features Ty Cobb, an iconic figure of modern-day baseball. Thanks to his skills, he was often referred to as “The Georgian Peach.” He made his arrival in the league in 1905. His baseball skills were top-notch, and he brilliantly used them in his 24 seasons.

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Cobb won 12 batting championships, earned MVP honors once, and ranks only second to Pete Rose in career hits. Thus, most collectors ardently wanted his 1914 Cracker Jack card, estimated to be worth about $150000. PS: People say it’s almost identical to its 1915 successor, just that the former has a vertically inverted reverse side.

2014 Jacob deGrom RC #US50

If there’s a player in the history of baseball who turned out to be better than the forecast, it’s undoubtedly Jacob deGrom, or ‘The deGrominator.” Though his draft selection in the 9th round suggested otherwise, he became a star player.

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The Mets got more than they had expected from deGrom, who won multiple Cy Young awards and a perennial all-star title. Even though card collectors largely ignored his 2014 Topps Update when it came out, it’s a sensation amongst them today, thanks to his stats. It’s currently valued at $280.

1909-11 Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson, also known to his fans as “Shoeless Joe,” played outfield for the Chicago White Sox in their early glorious days. Although his career was short, it was characterized by a remarkable 356 batting average, 54 homers, 1,772 total hits, and 785 runs.

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The player’s baseball journey started when Nike endorsement deals were yet to see the light of the day. Though his short career did not yield many baseball cards, owing to its rarity, his American Caramel E90-1 rookie card sold for $600,000 at auction.

1940 Joe DiMaggio Card

Today, the 1940 Play Ball set from the Gum, Inc. manufacturer has become very fragile. Nevertheless, that doesn’t reduce the value of the cards. The 1940 Joe DiMaggio card, along with the Joe Jackson and Ted Williams cards, are particularly noteworthy, with DiMaggio’s going for about $85000.

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DiMaggio had an outstanding season in 1940. He led the league with a .352 batting average and became a true champion by smashing 31 home runs and driving in 133 runs. DiMaggio’s remarkable consistency is evidenced by his 1:1 ratio of home runs to strikeouts, a feat still uncommon today.

1991 Michael Jordan

Famous as an NBA star rather than a minor baseball player of the Birmingham Barons, Michael Jordan’s star status in itself is enough to tempt considerable value to his card. Thus, his 1991 rookie card is not only expensive but also renowned as the decade’s best card. It can fetch about $400 now

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Jordan’s all-around athletic abilities earned him a career in the Minor Leagues, where he held a batting average of .300. His MLB entrance was a short stint as he later joined the NBA and led the Bulls to a row of wins. After that, he was never seen playing baseball again!

1914 Joe Jackson

One of the rarest gems from the early 20th century is the 1914 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson card. Made by the famous American Confectionary company Cracker Jack, this rookie card was included in the packaging of their gooey, messy candied popcorn. It’s currently valued at $200000.

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The 1914 Joe Jackson card is exceptionally scarce compared to its 1915 counterpart. PSA considers finding the 1914 card “virtually impossible,” seeing as no Mint 9 1914 card has surfaced yet. 1915 cards are considered more available and have consequently fetched higher auction prices.

2005 Nelson Cruz RC #210

The epitome of a late bloomer, Nelson Cruz was 28 years old when he became a star player in the MLB. He hit 459 home runs throughout his career, but his journey to becoming a leading power hitter in his mid-30s is the most memorable thing about this player.

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The reason why his Topps Chrome Update rookie card enjoys great value is that he served as proof that age doesn’t matter when it comes to following your passion and achieving your dreams. On the card, which is currently valued at $600, Cruz can be seen making his signature swing in the Milwaukee Brewers uniform.

1971 Bert Blyleven RC #26

After playing around 22 seasons in the big leagues, Bert Blyleven won 2 World Series Championships and racked up the 5th-most strikeouts (3701) by a pitcher. Bert was the only Hall of Fame awardee whose rookie card was featured in the 1971 Topps card set.

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Thus, the card currently has an estimated mint value of $138,000. That said, there is another reason for its high value, and that is its fragile black border. That feature makes the Mint 10 Blyleven rookie card the costliest of the decade.

1953 Willie Mays

The 1953 Topps Willie Mays card may not be as iconic as his 1951 Bowman one, but it commands a high price if found in mint condition. The card features stunning artwork and is unique due to its short print run. As such, it could fetch you about $130000.

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Willie Mays appeared on numerous cards spanning three decades and some are more elusive than others. However, the 1953 Topps card in mint condition is rare primarily due to its black border at the bottom; this design element makes it highly desirable among collectors.

1980 Rickey Henderson RC #482

Rickey Henderson lifted the championship trophy twice — first in 1989 and again in 1993. He also received the MVP award in 1991. Today, fans all over the world fondly remember him for his ‘art of the steal.’ His career spanned over 25 seasons, and he has 1406 stolen bases.

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Even before achieving all these outstanding accomplishments, Rickey had been giving poses for his first baseball cards since he was 20. However, only 15 perfect 1980 Rickey Henderson cards got the Gem Mint Grade. Currently, each is worth over $180,000.

1968 Nolan Ryan Rookie Card

Hitting a staggering strikeout of 5,714, Nolan Ryan’s Major League Baseball career stretched from 1966-1993. He even pitched one of the fastest fastballs of 108.5 miles per hour and made a 324-292 win-loss record. All these achievements earned him the nickname “The Ryan Express.”

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His rookie card, A Topps production, was released in 1968. On it, he shared the spotlight with his New York Met teammate, Jerry Koosman. The card was sold at an auction for $25,000. Today, those in absolute mint condition can sell for thousands of dollars on eCommerce sites like eBay.

1952 Andy Pafko

PSA rated the 1952 Topps Andy Pafko card as the “most important” #1 card of the “World War Two era.” Among baseball card enthusiasts, he is considered an idol. Pafko’s lifetime batting average was .218, and he hit 213 home runs. His 1952 card is estimated to be worth about $150000.

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Thus, collectors know the 1952 Pafko card’s worth very well. In Gem Mint 10 condition, it was sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars when a collector unknowingly came across it in a five-card pack. In fact, it is the sole baseball card with a higher grade than PSA NM-MT 8.

2011 Mike Trout

Mike Trout’s talent in baseball is unquestionable. Rarely does a player with such natural talent emerge; hence, today’s baseball fans always look forward to seeing him doing his thing. Trout is only 30 years old but already boasts a remarkable record, including 346 home runs and about 1,500 hits.

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Some may find spending $1 million on Mike Trout’s 2011 Topps rookie card excessive. However, the collector who bought it regards it as a good investment. If Trout continuously manages to place himself among the top candidates for MVP each year, the collector can get a brand-new Ferrari selling that one card.

2001 Albert Pujols Rookie Card

Albert Pujols, a $25 million-earning star, currently plays for the Los Angeles Angels. To date, he has won the Coca-Cola Rookie Award and numerous accolades. Thus, it is no surprise that his rookie cards are always in demand. However, his 2001 card is more unique.

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It not only has an aesthetic look but also an autograph of Bowman Chrome. Besides, this limited-time rookie card got only 500 copies, which makes it quite a rare find. As for the card’s current monetary value, it was sold for $40,590 in one auction and $12,950 in another.

2001 Ichiro Suzuki RC #T266

After moving from Japan, Ichiro Suzuki started his MLB career with the Seattle Mariners. He made more than 200 hits during the first ten seasons, breaking the 84-year single-season hit by George Sisler in 2004 while tallying 262 base knocks.

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Topps soon issued an Ichiro Suzuki rookie card as an addition to its Chrome set. It now sits on the wishlist of several card collectors as one of the top prizes. In mint condition, this card has a high value of about $2000.

1995 Vladimir Guerrero #2

Fans had huge expectations from Vladimir Guerrero heading into the 1997 campaign. He had performed outstandingly in the previous year in the minors with a .360/.431/.618 slash line. His intelligence, big-league-level power, and speed transcended his age, astounding all baseball fans.

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Guerrero was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018 despite finishing his career with 51 home runs short of 500. As a result, Vladdy Sr.’s rookie cards grew in value over time. Nevertheless, there are only two editions of these cards. The one from the 1995 Bowman’s Best collection is more valuable at $900.

1952 Eddie Mathews Rookie Card

1952 Topps #407 is one of the most prized cards that features Eddie Mathews. It hails from the renowned post-WWII Topps set, highly esteemed by collectors. Positioned as the final card in the set, it shares space with the iconic Mickey Mantle.

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This #407 rookie card often has imperfect centering. Additionally, its scarcity in mint condition is exacerbated by the use of rubber bands in its packaging, which causes abrasions. No wonder the card has previously fetched up to $175K at auction!

1992 Manny Ramirez RC #532

Manny Ramirez’s baseball journey was marked by controversy and brilliance. Emerging from Cleveland, he quickly became a powerful hitter over 7 seasons. His tenure with Boston and his role in breaking the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ made him quite popular among fans.

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Despite his impressive career, 12 all-star titles, and 555 home runs, Ramirez’s late-career controversies kept him out of the Hall of Fame. This tarnish likely affected the value of his 1992 Bowman rookie card, reducing it quite significantly. It’s currently worth $100.

1990 Nolan Ryan #659 “5000 K’s”

“The Ryan Express”—Nolan Ryan’s rookie card earns another spot in this list, showing how great a player he was. He holds a record of 5,000+ strikeouts (precisely, 5,714) in his career. He is the only pitcher to enjoy this number in MLB history!

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Popular to this day, the 1990 Nolan Ryan card was released by Donruss to commemorate the player’s achievements. The unlikeliness of any other pitcher coming close to Ryan’s legacy of 5K makes this card highly valuable. Though its current value is $50, it’s set to increase in future years.

1991 Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones had a flourishing career with a .303 average batting rate and 468 home runs. Thanks to his amazing stats, his rookie cards have enjoyed a high value. Some are still easily accessible, while others are extremely rare. His 1991 Topps Desert Shield #333 Chipper Jones card belongs to the latter category.

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It has historical value as it was created during the Iraq war as a gift to the troops abroad. This also means it was a limited production. Also, the tiny, foil-made, gold logo on the front gave the card a distinct appearance and also added to its rarity. Its estimated value is close to $125000.

1989 Ken Griffey Jr RC #1

The Greatest of All Time, Ken Griffey Jr., was the #1 prospect in baseball. Playing in around 22 big leagues, he made 600 home runs throughout his career. His father, Ken Griffey Sr., was also a famous baseball player. They are one of the only father-son duo that spontaneously hit home runs in a game.

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His 1989 Upper Deck rookie card was a hype for ’80s-’90s baseball fans. It was the first year Upper Deck entered the trading card industry. Around 160,201 cards were made, but due to high demand, even these fell short, eventually making the card rare and adding to its worth. Griffey’s is worth $3000.

1954 Hank Aaron

A household name, MLB player Hank Aaron boasts a successful career with an MVP honor, a World Series Win, and three Gold Glove Awards. Known to his fans as Hammerin Hank, he was an all-star for more than 20 seasons.

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With a batting average of .305 and 755 home runs, he is renowned for his low strikeout number, 3,771 hits, and 2,297 RBIs. All these achievements earned a value of $300,000 for his 1954 Topps baseball card in mint condition.

1933 Napoleon Lajoie

PSA considers the 1933 Napoleon Lajoie card “one of the great rarities,” similar to the T206 Honus Wagner. Lajoie was a standout player of the early 1900s. He claimed three batting titles and amassed 3,242 hits with a .338 average, earning him the honor of owning the title of the best defensive baseman.

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Due to a printing error, this card was excluded from the 1933 Goudey set. However, the collectors were so fond of Lajoie that they wrote to Goudey to mail them the cards individually. This made the 1933 Napoleon Lajoie card one of the “true symbols” of the baseball card collection hobby. It’s worth $200000.

2011 Freddie Freeman RC #173

As an Atlanta Braves player, Freddie Freeman was a former 2nd-round draft pick who progressed to play for the Dodgers before the 2022 season. With a batting average of .300 and making almost 30 home runs per year, he always strived to maintain a stable career.

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If there’s a card that has aged like fine wine, it’s Freeman’s Topps Chrome 2011 card. It’s his determination and consistent performance that made his rookie card draw attention from collectors even today. It’s clear why this card is worth $400 in mint condition!

1991 Jeff Bagwell RC #388

Jeff Bagwell had a remarkable 15-year career. The one thing that stood out about him was his consistency. You could count on him doing 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs each season. He dedicated his entire career to the Houston Astros, the only team he played for, from 1991 to 2005.

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In 2017, Jeff Bagwell’s MLB journey culminated with his induction into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. However, it all began in 1991 when he posed for his debut baseball card. While his Topps Premium Club rookie card may not fetch as high a price as others ($52), its elite look certainly stands out!

1985 Mark McGwire Rookie Card

Amongst the many recognizable names in baseball history, Mark McGwire certainly made a name for himself in the game. With 9 home runs in 1998, the player broke the home run record. It led companies like Rawlings, Disney, and General Mills to offer him endorsements worth $25 million in the same year.

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When his 1985 rookie card was published, he had a .263 batting average, 583 home runs, and 1,414 RBI. It reached its peak price in the 1990s, and even today, its mint-condition copy still enjoys a prominent position at an auction price of about $1000.

1992 Pedro Martinez RC #18

With a World Series title win, an 8x All-Star with 5 ERA title wins in 7 years, and 3 Cy Young Award wins in the span of 4 years — no one has done baseball like Pedro Martinez. What a monumental career to envy and be proud of!

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Racking up 200 wins, this Hall of Fame star’s Upper Deck 1992 rookie card was not given much weight when he was a Dodger. However, his dominant career in the following years proves why the same card has become one of the most popular among collectors today. It can fetch about $25 today.

1951 Mickey Mantle #253 Rookie Card

Although one might think Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is the real deal, his Bowman #253 card deserves equal mention. In fact, it is the only recognized Mickey Mantle rookie card. Due to its rarity, it currently possesses a staggering value of $700,000 in mint condition.

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The #253 card is indeed beautiful, but it falls behind the 1952 Topps card thanks to misaligned centering, prominent print lines, and wax stains. However, all these flaws add to its uniqueness and worth. That’s why even if Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card is widely available on e-commerce platforms, #253 is nearly impossible to find.

1992 Mariano Rivera RC #302

For baseball fans, Mariano Rivera is a Yankee legend. He was signed by New York in 1990 but took 5 years to reach the big leagues. Opponents from other teams also took advantage of his mistakes as he had a bad rookie campaign. However, in the ’96 season, he corrected his command issues.

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The following 18 years were glorious for him. “Mo,” as he was affectionately called, saved 652 games. He was also the first baseball player to be unanimously chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He retired as the all-time MLB saves leader. Perhaps this is why his 1992 Bowman card has a $900 valuation.

1933 Benny Bengough

In mint condition, there exists only one 1933 Goudey Benny Bengough baseball card that fetches $100,000. The set it belongs to holds the top position among the most prized baseball card sets in trading history. And since Bengough started this set, it made the card even more alluring.

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Bengough was a member of the iconic 1927 Yankees. He played alongside legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. While the card often shows aging spots known as foxing, its association with baseball royalty ensures its status as a coveted collectible.

1986 Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds’ 1986 Topps Traded Tiffany RC #11 was an all-time top card among collectors. It was produced in the decade when baseball cards were being cheapened by mass-printing. Thus, the company published a bulk of 5,000 Tiffany versions of this card.

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Having played for the Giants and Pirates, Bonds’ baseball career features 1,996 RBIs, 762 home runs, 2,935 hits, and a .298 batting average. Well, his statistics prove why Barry Bonds’ Tiffany cards have a value of as high as $875 in mint condition.

1990 Sammy Sosa RC #220

‘Slammin’ Sammy Sosa rose to prominence in 1998 thanks to the epic home run chase with Mark McGwire. They smashed Roger Maris’ 27-year record of 61 home runs in a season. Sosa extended his remarkable record with two more seasons of 60 home runs. A feat no other player has achieved to date.

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The 1990 Sammy Sosa rookie card in mint condition had a value of around $75. However, after the famous 1998 home run chase, it is said to have gone up to $500. This speaks of Sammy Sosa’s stature as a respectable baseball player of his time.

1971 Steve Garvey RC #341

Any 1970s Dodgers fan will be familiar with the kind of baseball player Steve Garvey was. He spent the first 14 seasons of his 19-year career in ‘Blue and White’ and progressed to being a Dodger, where he won the World Series in 1981 and the MVP Award in 1974.

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His 1971 Topps rookie card is worth $1000, and finding one in top-notch condition can be difficult. Although Garvey enjoyed a glorious career, finding his card is a matter of luck, mainly because he played quite a long time ago.

1984 Stolen Base Leaders #134

The 1984 Stolen Base Leaders #134 card from the Topps set features two legendary players — Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. It pays homage to both of them as the leaders of stolen bases in the previous league season. Henderson swiped an astonishing 108 bases, while Raines did 90 bases.

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The card featuring these undisputed base stealers cost $0.25 originally. But today, it holds a value that could range from $15 to $50, based on the card’s condition. For an upgraded mint condition copy, a collector could even get over $150.