10 Baseball Cards Every '90s Kid Should Own

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2021

10 Baseball Cards Every '90s Kid Should Own

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    My love of baseball can be traced back not to my first game of T-ball or to my first trip to Wrigley Field when I was six years old, but to opening packs of baseball cards with my dad.

    Growing up, my allowance money regularly went to buying packs of cards, and I collected cards throughout the 1990s.

    However, priorities changed as I got older and my baseball card collection spent the better part of 20 years packed away in a closet at my parents' house as I graduated high school, moved away to college, and then ventured out on my own in Chicago.

    Then 2020 happened, and stay-at-home orders to suppress the coronavirus pandemic left many hunting for hobbies and nostalgia. I found both by dusting off my old card collection and diving back in. Suffice to say, I was not alone, and the hobby has boomed in the past year as a result.

    So let's say you're a '90s kid thinking of getting back into collecting or maybe even starting for the first time. Where do you start?

    Ahead we've selected 10 cards that every 1990s kid should own to help serve as a snapshot.


1985 Topps #401 Mark McGwire (Rookie Card)

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    Bob Galbraith/Associated Press

    At the height of the 1998 home run race, when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa became a national story that transcended baseball, this was the card to own and regularly sold for hundreds of dollars.

    Now, with $20 and some patience scouring eBay, the only rookie card of one of the most prolific sluggers in MLB history can be yours.

    The card is also the source of some ongoing controversy in the collecting world.

    For the 1985 set, Topps included some of the members of the 1984 Olympic team who had been selected in the 1984 draft, and McGwire was part of that group.

    Since he had not yet made his MLB debut and was not shown on the card as a member of an MLB team, some argue that it should be considered a "pre-rookie" of sorts and that his 1987 Topps card should be his true rookie card.

1987 Topps #320 Barry Bonds (Rookie Card)

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Few sets stir up feelings of nostalgia quite like the 1987 Topps flagship with its legendary wood-grained borders.

    The set features a number of notable rookie cards, including Bo Jackson, Barry Larkin, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark, Bobby Bonilla, John Kruk, Jamie Moyer, Chuck Finley, Ruben Sierra and Wally Joyner, but the key card on the checklist is undoubtedly the Barry Bonds rookie card.

    The No. 6 overall pick in the 1985 draft after a storied career at Arizona State, Bonds debuted the following year when he hit .223/.330/.416 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs and 36 steals to finish sixth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    His other rookie cards appear in the 1987 Donruss, 1987 Fleer and 1987 O-Pee-Chee sets, but there's simply no beating that wood-grained look.

1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. (Rookie Card)

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    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    Aside from the ultra-rare T206 Honus Wagner rookie card that regularly fetches millions at auction, the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card is arguably the most recognizable sports card of all time.

    When the Upper Deck brand launched in 1989, it was marketed as a premium product alongside longtime staples in the hobby industry in Donruss, Fleer and Topps, and collectors bought the hype in a big way.

    The No. 1 card on the checklist and the focal point of the set's marketing strategy was Ken Griffey Jr., who was still just a teenager but poised to be baseball's next great superstar.

    At its peak, the card sold for hundreds and helped spark the hobby boom of the early 1990s. While it is still a highly sought after card, ungraded copies can generally be found on eBay for somewhere in the $50 neighborhood.

    Simply put, this was the holy grail of card collecting in the 1990s.

1990 Score #697 Bo Jackson

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    Associated Press

    The iconic photo of Bo Jackson with football pads on and a baseball bat across his shoulders was perfectly captured in baseball card form for the 1990 Score set.

    This card was released at the height of mass production, so there is no shortage of them available, yet it still regularly sells for $5-10 thanks to the enduring popularity of one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports.

    There are plenty of other Bo Jackson cards worth grabbing if you're diving back into card collecting, with his 1987 Topps "Future Stars" rookie card and 1991 Score "Bo Breaker," with him snapping a bat over his knee, at the top of the honorable mentions list.

    Had this list been expanded to 20 or 25, that gloriously wood-grained 1987 Topps card would have earned a spot for sure.

1991 Upper Deck #SP1 Michael Jordan

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Long before Michael Jordan retired from basketball and spent a season in the Chicago White Sox minor league system chasing his dream of playing professional baseball, he was featured on his first baseball card as an insert in the 1991 Upper Deck set.

    This card was a hot commodity when it first came out, and it enjoyed another spike in popularity last year when The Last Dance documentary was airing at the same time as a number of people were getting back into collecting.

    The photo above was snapped during the same batting practice session with the White Sox when Upper Deck took its photo for the "SP1" card, which was found in Low Series packs.

    The 1991 Upper Deck set also includes another insert card in High Series packs numbered "SP2" that celebrates Nolan Ryan throwing his seventh no-hitter and Rickey Henderson breaking Lou Brock's all-time stolen base record on the same dayMay 1, 1991.

1992 Upper Deck #SP3 Deion Sanders

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    V.J. Lovero/Getty Images

    Upper Deck was at it again with an "SP3" insert card in Low Series packs of its 1992 release, this time honoring two-sport star Deion Sanders with two amazing double-exposure photos side by side that give the illusion of him morphing from returning a kick to running the bases.

    In 1992, Sanders hit .304/.346/.495 with an NL-leading 14 triples and 26 steals for the Atlanta Braves while also tallying three interceptions and two kick return touchdowns to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons.

    The High Series packs had their own insert card once again, with "SP4" capturing a shot of Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas making a cameo in the Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball that was released on Oct. 2, 1992.

    These cards helped lay the foundation for the insert card boom that came a few years later and dominated the hobby throughout the late-1990s.

1993 Topps #98 Derek Jeter (Rookie Card)

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    Diamond Images/Getty Images

    While many cards from the late 1980s and early 1990s have steadily declined in value as a result of overproduction, Derek Jeter has held his value fairly well, especially his rookie cards spread across 1993 products.

    Here's a full list of his various rookie cards:

    • 1993 Bowman #511
    • 1993 Pinnacle #457
    • 1993 SP #279
    • 1993 Score #489
    • 1993 Select #360
    • 1993 Stadium Club #117
    • 1993 Topps #98
    • 1993 Upper Deck #449

    The condition-sensitive and short-printed SP rookie card can sell for north of $1,000 in mint condition, while the Score, Select and Upper Deck rookies can sometimes be found for less than $20.

    The Topps flagship rookie card comes in with a middle-of-the-road price point in the $30-$40 range depending on condition and centering, and it has become one of the defining cards of the 1990s.

1993 Upper Deck #472 Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    When Greg Maddux signed a five-year, $28 million contract with the Atlanta Braves during the 1992-93 offseason, he joined the incumbent trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery to form one of the greatest starting rotations in MLB history.

    That foursome was featured together on a card titled "Strike Force" in the 1993 Upper Deck set, which had a card for each team with some sort of creative name, theme and collection of teammates. The American League teammates cards were found in Series 1, while National League teammates cards were part of the Series 2 checklist.

    Other teammate cards included "BlockBuster Trade" (TOR: Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter), "Iron and Steal" (BAL: Cal Ripken Jr. and Brady Anderson), "Giant Sticks" (SF: Will Clark, Barry Bonds and Matt Williams) and "Ivy Leaguers" (CHC: Randy Myers, Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace).

    The full 1993 Upper Deck set is made up of a massive 840 cards.

1995 Pinnacle #226 Frank Thomas

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    The Pinnacle product line was released for the first time in 1992 and was meant to be the Score brand's premium line to compete with the fast-growing market of higher-end products.

    Throughout the 1990s, Pinnacle featured some of the best photography around, and the 1995 set features several must-own cards for any '90s card collector.

    While this card with a seemingly giant Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas towering over a baseball diamond is a strong contender for the best-looking card in the set, it's far from the only contender.

    Here are a few others worth checking out:

    The Pinnacle brand went out of business in 1998.

1996 Topps #96 Cal Ripken Jr. (2131)

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    There is no question one of the most memorable baseball moments of the 1990s was Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. playing in his 2,131st consecutive game and breaking Lou Gehrig's Iron Man record on Sept. 6, 1995.

    It's only fitting the moment was immortalized on a card in the 1996 Topps flagship set.

    Topps has done a great job over the years honoring legendary moments, milestones and players, and the 1996 Topps set also featured a tribute card for Mickey Mantle, who died on Aug. 13, 1995.

    Other notable cards in the 1996 Topps set include the only rookie card of fan favorite Sean Casey and a top prospects card shared by future superstars Andruw Jones and Vladimir Guerrero.

    The Cal Ripken Jr. milestone card stands above the rest as the must-own card in the set.