10 modern era baseball players whose cards are still worth collecting

2010-12-28   5 Comments  

Chris and I collected baseball cards all our lives.

Translation: We wasted all of our allowance, first job money, and birthday dollars on pieces of paper that are now utterly worthless.

Or at least most of them are.

The problem is that the biggest stars of the 90s and early 2000s were the ones that made the biggest headlines at the time — Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Roger Clemens — and their baseball cards are worthless. None of them will even be in the Hall of Fame, baring some amazing acts of forgiveness by the media and the fans.

Rookie cards worth around $100 and amazing memorabilia cards and serial numbered short-print cards from these players have bottomed out. I have a 2001 Upper Deck Pros and Prospects Then and Now Game Jersey Roger Clemens dual jersey card, hand numbered to 117 and re-inserted into 2003 UD Bonus packs. I paid $100 for it in 2005. I’m not sure what it’s worth now, but the non numbered version of the dual jersey card is on eBay for $2 if you’re interested.

I was finally able to write a news story about baseball cards last year, and I discussed the death of “investment-grade” cards. The hobby, however, is still out there, and people are still interested in collecting cards.

Vintage cards will always be worth money. Mantle, Ruth, Williams, Aaron and Mays will always draw good dollars if you really want to try your luck at making money. Truly vintage cards — hall of famer cards from before 1950 — are often priceless.

If you’re still a fan of the steroid bunch players, then that’s fine. If you’re a big Barry Bonds fan, rejoice, because his cards are ridiculously cheap right now.

Nearly all cards from 1980-present are “cheap” right now, but if you want to stick with collecting as both a hobby and something that may one day be valuable, here are 10 modern era players that are still “worth” collecting.

10. Grady Sizemore

Sizemore is a risky choice. On one hand, he’s really young and has a lot more years left. On the other, two years of injury make a baseball card collector nervous. He has not been linked to juicing, however.

Write off 2009 and 2010 for a second. In 2008, Size had his fourth straight 20/20 year and won his second Gold Glove. He is a three-time All-Star who has at least 10 more years to show what he can do. His stock is low now, so it might be a good time to buy. Or not.

Sizemore is a post-2000 baby, so there are a ton of autographed and memorabilia cards of him, including some nice-looking autographed first-year cards. But if you want a rookie card, you need the 2000 Bowman Draft Picks card. It’s the only true Sizemore rookie card.

9. Mark Teixeira

Teixeira is another “let’s see what happens” guy, but not nearly as much as Sizemore. Tex is an established star, and the fact that he’ll probably spend the rest of his days as a Yankee only raise the stock options on this guy.

At $27 on eBay, a 2005 Leaf Limited autographed card, numbered to 100, is a great buy, and there are plenty more for sale.

8. Ryan Howard

Another potential stumbling point. Howard’s best year was 2006, when he won the Silver Slugger, Hank Aaron Award, and the NL MVP. He is a career .278 hitter with 253 home runs very quickly in his five year career.

He also strikes out more than anyone else in Philly, including Michael Vick at a feminist animal rights conference.

But if Howard keeps pace (and assuming he’s clean) he’ll undoubtedly be a post-2000 baseball legend.

There are some insane Howard cards out there, including 1/1 numbered cards with 4-5 pieces of his bat/jersey and his autograph.

7. Rickey Henderson

Baseball’s biggest thief is a valuable commodity. The stolen base champion was just plain fast. No one suspected him of cheating or juicing.

Gems, like his 1979 Ogden A’s minor league card, can fetch $100 if they are in mint condition. You can also get a game used bat or jersey card for $10. Get whatever looks good in your display case if you’re a hobbyist. Investors should look for numbered relic cards like his 2010 Sterling Quad Jersey card, which is numbered to 25.

Rickey is also a first-ballot hall of famer, who was inducted in 2009. There are some great New York Yankees cards of him from back in the day, too.

6. Kirby Puckett

Like artists, when a legendary baseball player dies, his stock skyrockets.

Few players shaped the modern game the way Kirby Puckett did. He didn’t do it with a million home runs or a 600-foot dinger. He didn’t do it with steroids.

A career .318 hitter with 2,304 hits, Pucket’s career was ended early when he developed glaucoma. He retired at 36.

Many will say that Kirby wasn’t Kirby without baseball. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, on his first ballot, but got into some trouble in 2002 for allegedly groping a woman.

The March 17, 2003 Sports Illustrated column by Frank Deford called “The Rise and Fall of Kirby Puckett” tells the tale well.

Nonetheless, Puckett remains a solid collector’s item. I just bought his 1985 O-Pee-Chee rookie for $5.

5. Ken Griffey Jr.

We are confident that Griffey never did the drugs. Had he, he might not have gotten so banged up later in his career.

Rarely does a player come to symbolize a decade of sports in the way that Ken Griffey Jr. did in the 1990s. He has 13 All-Star games, the 1997 AL MVP, 10 Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger Awards.

The Kid will be a hall of famer without a doubt, so right now is the time to stock up.

Griffey’s rookie card year was 1989, which is also the first year Upper Deck started making baseball cards. It’s the card to have, and if you have it in mint condition, it’s very valuable.

4. Albert Pujols

The 2001 Topps Traded set is one of my favorites. It was stacked full of chrome inserts, gold-bordered serial numbered cards, refractors, and game used cards. It was also a great set for people wanting to collect Ichiro or Albert “The Machine” Pujols. If you have a chrome Pujols rookie in mint condition, it’s as good as a hundred dollar bill right now.

Pujols is a (so far) clean player, and he dominated the 2000s in the same way that Griffey dominated the 90s.

He has nine All-Star selections and three NL MVP Awards in his career, which may have another 10 years left.

He has a career .331 hitter, and as long as he’s squeaky clean, he’ll not only be in the Hall of Fame, but he’ll go down as a true baseball legend.

3. Nolan Ryan

Nolan is the guy that I collect. You can go into any hobby shop in Connecticut, and they’ll know who “the Nolan Ryan guy” is.

When you talk about pure talent, Nolan Ryan had it. There was nothing running through his veins except Texas DNA.

He is the no-hitter king with seven and the strikeout king with 5,714 — two records that may never be broken. His near unanimous 1999 first-ballot Hall of Fame selection was no surprise.

I used to try to collect every Nolan Ryan card that there was, but with all the short-print and 1/1 cards out there now, it’s impossible. Avoid memorabilia cards that aren’t serial numbered — because there are millions out there. Get something limited edition to whet your whistle.

But, if you are going to collect Nolan, the card to have is his only rookie: the 1968 Topps Mets Rookie Stars with Jerry Koosman. It’s an ugly card, but if you can find one in decent condition, go for it. The prices have come down from more than $1,000 in the 90s to about $200 for a decent one today.

Nolan retired after 27 years in 1993, but his involvement with the Rangers raises his stock. Companies also make more cards of him currently than many other modern stars.

2. Cal Ripken Jr.

Baseball’s Iron Man was never linked to performance enhancing drugs, which makes his consecutive games streak of 2,632 games all the more impressive.

Take a look at his bio. No controversy. No legal trouble. No steroids. Nineteen All-Star games, Rookie of the Year in 1982, eight Silver Sluggers, and two MVP awards.

Cal is one of baseball memorabilia’s favorite sons.

If you want something affordable, the 2004 Donruss Leather Cal Ripken Jr. jersey card, numbered to just 100, can be had for about $15 on eBay.

1. Derek Jeter

It gives this Red Sox fan no pain to say this: I love Derek Jeter. He’s a pure baseball player. He reminds me of vintage players, the way he throws himself into the game. He plays with a true love, and I would have loved to see worlds collide and Jeter join the Red Sox in another dimension.

Numbers tell part of the story. Jeter is a career .314 hitter going into 2011 with 11 All-Star selections, five World Series rings, five Gold Gloves, and the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer with his #2 guaranteed to go into retirement.

Beyond that, Jeter has reigned supreme among baseball card collectors for more than a decade. In the early 2000s, when cards were truly starting to die, Jeter cards were among the only ones to hold their value, and indeed rise in price.

The 1993 Topps Gold “1992 Draft Pick” card is my favorite Jeter. It’s worth more than the entire 1993 Topps Gold set combined. The only reason why it’s not worth more money is because 1993 Topps cards are incredibly common. (It’s still my favorite Topps set, just edging out the black 1986 Topps set)

If you are a true fan, go out and get yourself a Jeter 1/1 item. Spend the money.

For Red Sox fans: Make sure you have both a Pedro Martinez and a Nomar rookie card in your collection. For the new guys, Carl Crawford’s 1999 Topps Traded rookie can be had for $1. The 2002 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor Autograph of Bobby Jenks is numbered to 50 and very sweet for $16 on eBay. Don’t sleep on Daniel Bard either. His cards are low right now.

About John Guilfoil

John G. is the editor of Blast Magazine, a metro reporter for The Boston Globe, and the only member of his family to see the light and cheer for the Boston Red Sox.