Most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s

Baseball cards were big in the 1980s, which led to overproduction. That overproduction spilled over into the 1990s, and so did some of baseball’s scandals. Between that, and so many people buying and preserving cards during that decade, there aren’t a lot of super-valuable cards from the 1990s. But that doesn’t mean all 1990s baseball cards are worthless, and you’re more likely to find a stash from the ’90s than the ’70s. So let’s take a look at the most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s. The decade includes at least one big surprise.

The 1990s featured a number of exceptional players. And by late decade, the manufacturers had mostly sorted out their overproduction issues. Late 1990s cards also tend to be very attractive, with vivid colors and high quality photography. So the 1990s can be a nice decade to collect, even if the 1980s jaded you like it did me.

The most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s are mostly rookie cards

The rule of thumb with most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s is that rookie cards of Hall of Famers or likely Hall of Famers rule. Not enough people care about the rookie card of Mark Quinn to drive up its value. Tainted players like Sammy Sosa also don’t have much demand.

It’s the rookie cards of superstars in pristine condition that get the big money. Flawed rookie cards of superstars still have some value, but the value does drop off considerably.

Star cards have more value than commons, but don’t expect huge money from a late 1990s Mike Piazza card. So if you find a stash of 1990s baseball cards, the majority of the value is going to be tied up in a handful of cards.

1990: Frank Thomas

Most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s - Frank Thomas
The 1990 Topps Frank Thomas error card is the most valuable baseball card of the 1990s.

In 1990, a printing flaw affected Frank Thomas’ Topps card. Topps quickly corrected the issue, but a small quantity of Frank Thomas’ Topps rookie card ended up without his name on the front. The 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF card is worth four figures, a staggering amount for a card from 1990. Watch out for reprints. If you’re buying and want to be really safe, stick to a professionally graded and authenticated example. If you’re selling, definitely get this one graded by PSA or SGC. That way someone can’t turn around and claim you sold them a reprint.

The Topps card with Thomas’ name on the front is still worth $50 in nice condition, so it’s not a slouch.

His 1990 Bowman card sometimes surfaces with a wrong back, which can be worth a premium. His 1990 Leaf card can reach three figures. Other 1990 Frank Thomas cards tend to be worth just a few dollars. Thomas, of course, was one of the decades’ biggest sluggers, with the nickname of “The Big Hurt” to go with his numbers. He was the rare power hitter who hit for high average and drew a lot of walks.

1991: Chipper Jones

most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s - Chipper Jones
The 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones card is the second most valuable baseball card of the 1990s. Note the Desert Shield logo right under the #1 Draft Pick graphic.

In 1991, Topps issued a special version of its 792-card set with a foil Desert Shield logo for distribution to soldiers serving in Iraq. The 1991 Topps Desert Shield Chipper Jones is the most valuable card in that set and can cost hundreds of dollars in high grade, professionally graded. When it comes to the most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s, only the Frank Thomas error exceeds it. There are faked versions of this card, so this is one worth buying authenticated. As with the Thomas card, get this authenticated before you sell. That protects against someone saying you sold them a fake. The regular issue Jones card is worth closer to $25. Jones was the greatest third baseman of his generation. He was also the rare modern superstar who spent his entire career with one team.

And if you want a curiosity, the 1991 Upper Deck Michael Jordan is worth around $20. Jordan was much more successful in basketball than baseball, of course. His 1991 card just shows him fooling around in the batting cage, but in 1994 he did attempt to change sports with the White Sox.

1992: Rivera, Piazza, Bagwell, and Hoffman

The best class of rookies of the decade came out in 1992.

Yankee great Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of his generation. The 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera is worth ($50). Rivera’s cut fastball spawned dozens of imitators, and he saved a record 652 games over his 19-year career. Rivera is still a few years from being eligible for the Hall of Fame. But he looks like a first-ballot inductee.

most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s - Mike Piazza
The 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza is a valuable early card of one of the greatest catchers of all time.

The greatest offensive catcher of all time is Mike Piazza, who arose from humble beginnings as a 62nd-round draft pick to take his place among the greats. The 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza is worth $60-$180 in top condition and the less-scarce 1992 Bowman Mike Piazza is worth around ($10).

The 1992 Fleer Jeff Bagwell is another worthwhile card. It took a few years for the Astros great to join his teammate Craig Biggio in the Hall, but Bagwell’s rookie is one of the best cards of a thin decade, and Bagwell is one of the greater heists of all time. The Red Sox traded him to Houston for Larry Anderson, a good-but-not-great relief pitcher with two months left on his contract. Anderson pitched well for Boston down the stretch, then departed for San Diego in 1991. Bagwell just went on to be the 1991 Rookie of the Year, and then star 14 more seasons for Houston, clubbing 449 home runs and hitting for a .297 lifetime average.

San Diego great and changeup specialist Trevor Hoffman was the first relief pitcher to save 600 games. The 1992 Bowman Trevor Hoffman is worth around ($10). He’s not a Hall of Famer yet. But he only missed by five votes in 2017 so he seems likely to be inducted before the end of the decade.

1993: Derek Jeter

Most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s - Derek Jeter
This 1993 SP Derek Jeter is the most valuable card of 1993.

Yankee great Derek Jeter has the two most valuable cards from 1993. The 1993 SP (Upper Deck) Derek Jeter is worth a few hundred dollars in top condition and the 1993 Topps Gold Derek Jeter is worth ($40). The best shortstop of his generation and a veteran of 16 postseasons while playing his entire career in the media spotlight of New York, Jeter seems a lock to make the Hall of Fame. I think his defense was overrated. But even this Yankee hater has to admit if you can collect 3,400 hits and have a career average of .310 and stick at shortstop for two decades, you’re a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

1994: Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez’s connection to PEDs isn’t helping his Hall of Fame case and may be holding his card values down. But for now, the 1994 SP (Upper Deck) Alex Rodriguez card is worth $20-$150 depending on condition. Rodriguez demolishes Hall of Fame standards and played premium positions most of his career, so it’s hard to imagine him not being enshrined one day.

1997: Roy Halladay and David Ortiz

Most valuable baseball cards of the 1990s - David Ortiz
Knowing that David Ortiz once used the name David Arias can be profitable.

His career ended sooner than we expected, but Roy Halladay still has a good Hall of Fame case. From 2002 to 2011, you would be hard-pressed to find a more dominant pitcher. The 1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay card can reach two digits, or even three digits in high grade when professionally graded.

Sometimes you can catch a bargain on the 1997 Fleer Ultra David Arias card, or his regular issue Fleer card. David Arias played most of his career under the name David Ortiz. If you can find a card of the famed Boston slugger under his lesser known name for less than $15, grab it. The card is interesting for several reasons. It features Ortiz under an unfamiliar name. He’s in his unfamiliar Minnesota Twins uniform. And the card lists him as a part-time outfielder. It’s hard to imagine Ortiz trying to play the tricky Fenway Park outfield. Neither the Twins nor the Red Sox ever played him in the outfield in the majors — I checked.

If you’re listing one for sale, by all means work the name “Ortiz” in to get more value. Ortiz presents a difficult Hall of Fame case, given his failed PED test from 2003 and his lack of contribution with his glove. But his numbers do match up nicely with Hall of Famers. Plus, his postseason heroics in 2004 and 2013 help build his case.

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