Why Are Rookie Baseball Cards Worth More Than Other Cards?
September 1, 2007
by William Szczepanek
Why should rookie baseball cards be worth more money than the cards from years when the player was a star? This seems like a stupid question on the surface, especially nowadays when cards are commodities and values are determined in much the same way as stocks. But, this wasn’t always the case.
In the olden days, I mean the fifties, when true baseball card collecting began, rookie cards had very little value since the players were relatively unknown. There was not as much knowledge or interest about minor league players, therefore, rookie cards did not generate much interest. In fact, more often than not, a rookie card was a disappointment. Rookies generally made an appearance as a sub and were often sent back to the minors for more seasoning, though it was not uncommon to see a player with significant potential brought to the majors at relatively young ages, like 18 or 19. In 1954 Hank Aaron only hit 13 home runs in his first year and batted .280. In 1951 Mickey Mantle also hit 13 home runs and batted .267 in his first year and was sent down early in the year for poor performance. After 6 years in the majors beginning in 1955, Sandy Koufax still had not won more games than he had lost. Roberto Clemente hit 5 home runs and hit .255 in his inaugural season. Al Kaline hit 4 home runs and batted .276 in his first full year in 1954. Kaline’s rookie card in 1955 probably did not draw much interest since it appeared as card #23 in the first series, though his 27 home runs and .340 average in 1955 certainly qualified as a great rookie card year. The list goes on and on. Even in their second year, the interest in a particular player’s baseball card was not high.
All of this changed in the 1980s when rampant speculation about the performance and the future monetary value of a baseball card took precedence over the value of the card for past performance. In 1988, the rookie card of Greg Jefferies took violent swings as speculators guessed whether he would be a star or not. Cards for Juan Marichal, Willie Stargell or Bob Gibson were going for less money. Cards had gone the way of the player --- money, money, money drove the sport and the cards.
Rookie card values now dominate for almost every player, whether they were good in that year or not. Wouldn't it be better to look on the back of a card to see a player's accomplishments and feel that the card was more valuable because it depicts those accomplishments over many years? Can someone really take pride in saying that they have a card of Sandy Koufax when he really sucked --- maybe so, if they think of the money.