Babe Ruth is arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. No doubt he’s the most famous baseball player of all time. Goudey was the top baseball card brand of the 1930s, so Goudey and Babe Ruth make a legendary combination. When it comes to Goudey Babe Ruth cards, there are several options.
1933 Goudey Babe Ruth
In 1933, Goudey included four cards of Ruth in its landmark 240-card set. That seems appropriate. The 1933 Goudey set is always in the mix when collectors discuss the greatest sets of all time.
Ruth occupied numbers 53, 144, 149 and 181 in this set. Numbers 53 and 149 feature the same pose. Card 53 features a yellow background and 149 features a red background. Cards 53 and 149 are close-ups of the full-bodied picture on card 144.
Let’s talk scarcity. Card #144 was double-printed, so it is the most common of the four. The hardest to find is card #53, followed by #149. Card #181, which was a different pose altogether, was single printed but is easier to find than #149 or #181.
As it turns out, 1933 was Ruth’s last great season. His 1934 season was still Hall of Fame-caliber but not up to Ruth’s previous standards.
Ruth’s 1933 cards are expensive, but not the most costly cards in the set. That honor belongs to card #106, Nap Lajoie. Goudey omitted card #106 from the set and printed a Lajoie card to quell the outrage from people who spent money chasing a non-existent card.
Still, it’s extremely difficult to get even a poor-condition 1933 Goudey Ruth card for less than $900.
There are rarer and more valuable Ruth cards than his 1933 Goudey cards, but his ’33s are iconic. Goudey never recaptured the success of its 1933 set.
1933 Sport Kings Babe Ruth
In 1933, Goudey also issued a set called Sport Kings, a 48-card set that featured baseball, football, hockey, tennis horse racing, dog-sled racing, and pilots. Babe Ruth was card #2 in this set, one of three baseball players featured. Ty Cobb and Carl Hubbell were the others. While not quite as valuable as the Ruth cards from Goudey’s 1933 baseball set, this is still a valuable card. Even in beat-up condition it’s worth $400.
1935 Goudey Babe Ruth
For whatever reason, Goudey left Ruth out of its 1934 “Lou Gehrig says” set. In 1935, Ruth was back in and Gehrig was out.
In 1935, Ruth signed with the Boston Braves to wind up his career. His 1934 season had been good but not superhuman. In 1935 he hit like Jack Cust did in his final year. Frustrated with his diminished production and lack of opportunity to become the Braves’ manager, he retired in June 1935.
Ruth shares space on his 1935 Goudey card with Rabbit Maranville, another Hall of Famer near the end of his career, and two journeymen. The 1935 set wasn’t Goudey’s best effort either. Goudey reused artwork from its 1933 or 1934 sets and shrunk it to quarter-size. Collectors preferred the 1933 or 1934 efforts, both then and now.
That said, this card is the last card of Ruth from his playing career so it’s historically significant. If you want a Ruth card made by Goudey, it’s your most affordable option. Poor-condition 1935 Ruth cards sell quickly because of their relative affordability, but with good timing you can snag one for around $300.
Beware of reprints
Goudey’s 1933-35 sets have been reprinted several times, and many of the reprints are getting up in age themselves now. Some of the reprints aren’t marked. It’s not uncommon for them to get sold as the real thing. It happened to me. If you’ve handled enough real Goudeys, you can spot a reprint right away. The printing is fuzzier, the card stock is the wrong color, and it’s not thick enough. But if you haven’t handled many real Goudeys, you might never know the difference.
If you’re buying online, your safest bet is to buy a graded, authenticated Ruth card. If you want a reprint, there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t pay $10 for one.
Alternatives to Goudey
There’s no question Goudey cards of Ruth can be expensive. If you want something older than a reprint, there are a number of cheaper Ruth cards you can buy, some of which date to his playing days.