As I pulled out my old baseball card collection, my heart swelled with excitement and nostalgia. The worn edges, plastic cases, and faded colors brought back memories of my childhood when baseball was everything. And now, as I sat down with my son to go through my collection, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and anticipation for the memories we were about to create together. As we sorted through the cards, I shared stories of the players and games that I grew up watching. In doing so, I realized that this simple activity was more than just a way to pass the time. It was a chance to connect with my son over a love for the game.
Origins Of My Baseball Card Collection
Growing up, baseball cards were huge. They don’t seem to be as popular today but I feel like they are beginning to make a comeback. Back in the late 80s and early 90s though, every kid collected cards.
I remember riding my bike every day after school with a few buddies to our favorite spot. Gilbert’s Sports Nostalgia was a sports memorabilia store located right in the town center. I’m embarrassed to even think about how much time I spent there as well as some of the trades I made but we always had a blast. I’d go in there with 5$ and somehow manage to stay the entire day just hanging out. It didn’t hurt that a pizza place was located right next door and sold dollar slices.
On the weekends, we’d get there right when the store opened and asked about all of the different card packs that were within our budget. We’d then look at the Becket pricing guides to see which packs had cards that were going to make us rich.
One of us would then make a decision on which pack we wanted to buy while the others huddled over us as we slowly unveiled each card in the pack. This is how we spent countless hours here. We watched each other open packs and then we all looked up each card in the Beckett pricing guide to see how much everything was worth. From there, we asked Gary “the store owner” if he was interested in buying or trading any of the cards. If we had something he was interested in like a Shaq card or a Frank Thomas card, he’d either give us money, trade it for another card in the display case or give us store credit to get more packs.
Gary was great with the kids and even had a kids club (Gary’s Gorillas) where at a specific time each day, he’d give kids free cards or let us roll a die to win certain prizes. It was our own little insider baseball card collection club.
It sounds a little creepy now that I’m an adult but the shop had a basement where some of the more expensive and rare memorabilia were housed. He’d let us go down there from time to time to see Babe Ruth and Ted Williams memorabilia among others.
After we became regulars and spent god knows how much money, Gary asked us if we wanted a box of his old loose cards that he hadn’t gone through yet. I grabbed my old red radio flyer wagon and wheeled it to the store. We had no idea what was in the box but it was free cards so we jumped at the offer. I lugged the cards back into my house and started going through them all. It had to have been thousands of cards from the 70s and 80s. We assumed they’d all be junk but there were old Nolan Ryan cards, Roger Clemens cards, and many others.
While we agreed to share all of the cards and profits if we ended up selling any, card collecting eventually took a backseat to girls and sports. Those cards stayed at my childhood home until I recently took them home to my house to share with my son.
Top 15 Cards I Found In My Baseball Card Collection
My cards used to be worth a lot more back in the day according to Beckett, but I have no idea what the authority is on card values these days. Do you need to get them professionally graded or do you just pull the price from eBay? If I pull the prices from eBay, I probably owe someone money on my baseball card collection.
1. Michael Jordan Baseball Card – Upper Deck
I know I have cards that are worth more, but this one has to be my favorite. The Michael Jordan rookie baseball card was the holy grail for me and I can still remember how excited I was when I found it in one of my card packs. When I looked up the value recently, I was surprised that it wasn’t more but for sentimental reasons, I am ranking this card as number 1.
2. Michael Jordan Autograph Upper Deck Card
Sticking with Michael Jordan cards, I have what I think is an autographed 1993 Hang Time Upper Deck card. I remember my dad bought this for me from some memorabilia show and it came with a laminated “certificate of authenticity.” I have no idea where that piece of paper is so who knows whether or not it’s legit. Either way, it’s cool to think that I have an autograph from the greatest basketball player of all time. I found a few dozen Michael Jordan cards but none that will pay off my house. I’m an MJ over LeBron guy and am raising my son to be the same way. He won’t even play him in NBA 2K23. He was pumped to get so many Michael Jordan cards.
3. Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card
I completely forgot I had this Ken Griffey Jr Rookie card but I am so happy I do. This was one of the players from my generation that my son actually knows about. Baseballism has an entire clothing collection dedicated to “The Kid” which is where my son first heard about him. Griffey is one of the most iconic baseball players of all time, and his rookie cards are highly sought after so this is a fun one to have in the card collection. The Ken Griffey Jr Swing is a thing of beauty. I saw him recently take batting practice at the WBC and it still looks pretty.
4. Shaq Rookie Card
Shaq was probably the biggest basketball star during his era and I remember desperately trying to collect as many cards from him as I could. He was larger than life at the time (and still is) and every kid wanted the Shaq rookie card. I was beyond elated when I found this one in the pack. I went on to get a few more of his rookie cards as well as a card from his days at LSU but this one was my favorite. The Rim Rockers or the Beam Team ones looked cool but this still comes in at the top of the list. The card is in a yellow-tinted protective sleeve but it’s still in mint condition after all of these years.
5. Pedro Martinez Rookie Card
I don’t even think this Pedro Martinez rookie card is worth anything but with how much I talk about him to my son, I had to include him on the list. Pedro Martinez in his prime was the most exciting and dominant pitcher to ever play the game. It was an absolute pleasure watching him play for my hometown Red Sox for so many years. The excitement at Fenway on his pitching days was unmatched and you knew you’d be in for a show. There was just this energy and buzz at the park every time he set foot on the mound. He could throw every type of pitch with pinpoint accuracy and his changeup was filthy. Besides the Pedro Martinez Don Zimmer tossing incident, my favorite Pedro memory was when he struck out 17 Yankees in a complete game shutout in 1999.
6. Nolan Ryan Baseball Card 1978
My son has been pitching for a few years now so the person I tell him to watch on YouTube and try to emulate is “The Ryan Express,” Nolan Ryan. The guy was a machine. No one was managing his workload and pulling him after 100 pitches. He was intimidating, tough, and a complete power pitcher (just ask Robin Ventura). The amazing thing about him was his longevity. He pitched over 4 different decades. With today’s players sitting out with a blister or a tight hamstring, Ryan makes them all look soft.
Most of my cards of his come from the tail end of his career so they don’t really fall into the most valuable Nolan Ryan cards category. I do have a few older ones from the 1970s as part of that box the owner of the card store gave us but they don’t seem to be worth much.
7. Roger Clemens Baseball Card
As a Red Sox fan, I had wanted to put him higher on the list. However, his years with the Yankees when the rivalry was scorching hot, soured me on him a little bit. I’m older now and can appreciate how dominant he was as a pitcher though. Like Nolan Ryan, his career spanned decades and that is no small feat in baseball, even if steroid played a role. I remember watching him throw his splitter and was just in awe. I was lucky enough to see Nolan Ryan vs Roger Clemens as my first game at Fenway and it’s still my favorite baseball memory. Seeing those two pitchers going against each other was something not many people got to do. This isn’t the Roger Clemens rookie card but I guess would’ve only been 3 or 4 during his rookie season.
8. Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas was “The Guy” back in the early 90s. Known as the “Big Hurt,” Thomas played for the Chicago White Sox and was known for his incredible power. Every time I opened a new pack back then, I was hoping to get a Frank Thomas card. I managed to only find a couple in my baseball card collection but they remain some of my favorites. I know I have the Frank Thomas rookie card but I have no idea where it is. I’m guessing it’s still somewhere at my childhood home.
9. Cal Ripken Jr Autographed Baseball Card
Outside of the Red Sox, it was hard rooting for any other players on American League East teams. Ripken was one of those guys you always respected and appreciated. I remember watching him beat Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record and thinking how unbelievable that feat was. With players today and their load management, it’s a record I can confidently say will probably never be broken again in MLB. You not only have to stay healthy but you also have to be good enough to stay on the field that long. I managed to get my hands on an autographed Cal Ripken Jr card and I don’t think it’s something I’d ever sell.
10. George Brett Autographed Baseball Card
George Brett is widely considered one of the greatest third basemen in MLB history. He was a little before my time but I managed to catch the tail end of his 21-year career (all with the Royals). His baseball cards, particularly his 1980 Topps card featuring his batting stance, are highly coveted by collectors. I found a few older ones but none are worth too much. If you haven’t heard the George Brett Poop story, you’re missing out.
I went through an autograph-collecting phase and would write personalized letters to dozens of players. I wrote to Mike Mussina when he was on the Orioles and included a Sports Illustrated magazine that had him on the cover. He signed it and sent it back to me. I wasn’t a huge fan of his so I offered it to my friend who had Brett’s autograph. I think I won that deal.
11. Bobby Orr Autographed Card
I’m not going to lie and say I’m a hockey fan, because I’m not. I do however appreciate sports history and this man provided Bruins fans with one of the most iconic images in the team’s history – the Bobby Orr flying goal. He is a legend around the Boston area so when a kid across the street from where I grew up offered me an autographed card in exchange for one of my wrestling action figures that I no longer played with, I jumped at the trade offer. He met Orr at some corporate event his parents took him to so the autograph is on a bank-branded card but who cares. It’s a Bobby Orr autograph.
12. Ozzie Smith Baseball Card
This guy was so much fun to watch on the field. Ozzie Smith, aka “The Wizard”, was known for his incredible defensive skills and acrobatic plays. He played mostly for the Cardinals and was loved by fans. He was a little before my time but I did get to see him play more toward the end of his career. I can still remember those backflips he did before the games. Do yourself a favor and go watch an Ozzie Smith highlight reel.
This card was from before I was born so it was in that box of old cards that were gifted to us. Unless I get it graded at a PSA10 level, it’s not going to be worth much. It’s valuable to me though because I get to talk to my son about some of these amazing players that he’d never know about otherwise.
13. Manny Ramirez Rookie Card
Manny was just one of those people that was hard not to like. He was a master of hitting. One of the most technically sound hitters I’ve ever seen. Did he frustrate me in the outfield sometimes, sure. It was just Manny being Manny. But he was a threat every time he came to the plate. As a Red Sox fan, he provided me with years of entertainment and the first Red Sox World Series championship of my lifetime. Similar to how I told my son to watch Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens for pitching, I told him to watch Ramirez, J.D. Martinez, and Mike Trout for hitting.
14. Hank Aaron Baseball Card
When I found this Hank Aaron card in my baseball card collection I was pumped. I thought I struck gold but later discovered the card isn’t worth much, especially when not graded. However, I got to show my son a card with the real MLB home run leader on it. He’s heard of Hank Aaron but didn’t know too much about him or how the steroid era helped put an end to his record. I didn’t get to see him play but as a baseball traditionalist, I always appreciated what he was able to accomplish. This card represents way more to me than just value which is why it made my Top 15 list.
15. Dick Vitale Autographed Card
This list could go on forever but the cards I’ve selected are just some of my personal favorites. I know that most aren’t worth a ton but what baseball cards are these days? I grew up in the 80s and 90s, a time when Baseball cards were getting printed in record numbers. Nothing seemed to be rare those days and a lot of today’s current values reflect that.
For the 15th spot, I’ve selected Dick Vitale. Dick Vitale was and still is a huge personality in the college basketball world. I remember trading two Red Sox tickets to the card shop owner for a Dick Vitale Autograph. It was a stupid trade but I loved college bball and he was a bit of a celebrity at the time. It’s probably worthless but at least it makes for a good story. Now to think of it, the Red Sox were terrible in the 90s so maybe I won the trade.
Final Thoughts On My Baseball Card Collection
Sharing my baseball card collection with my son has been an incredible experience. It has allowed me to relive the glory days of my childhood passion with him. Seeing the joy on his face as he holds these cards and hears the stories behind them has been priceless. It has reminded me that sometimes the simplest things can bring the greatest joy and that sharing our passions with those we love can create memories that last a lifetime. I hope that my son will continue to appreciate these cards and that he will pass them down to his children one day, keeping the love for baseball alive for generations to come.