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The Rise of Bowman Baseball Cards
This list is not based on the most valuable but on future ROI.
The rise of the Bowman brand dates back to 1927 when Jacob Bowman founded Gum Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Within 10 years, Gum Inc. grasped 60% of the gum production in the US market.
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Gum Inc. later introduced the iconic Play Ball sets in 1939. The company would eventually switch its name to the Bowman Gum Company in 1948, with its first order of business introducing the 1948 Bowman baseball set.
After Topps entered the picture in 1951, the two card manufacturers became direct competitors. After battling for roughly five years, Topps purchased the Bowman brand for a modest $200,000 (approximately $2 million today).
Topps eventually revived the Bowman brand in 1989 and has since expanded its product line to Bowman Chrome, Bowman Sterling, Bowman Inception, among others.
The Bowman brand has produced some of the most valuable cards in the baseball card landscape. That being said, let’s reflect on the top 10 most valuable Bowman baseball cards from over the years.
10 Best Bowman Baseball Cards to Bank On
1. 2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout RC #BDPP89
The Los Angeles Angels drafted Mike Trout as the 25th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft straight out of Millville Senior High School in Millville, New Jersey. The Angels called up Trout for his major league debut on July 8, 2011, at the age of 19.
Through 40 games in the 2011 MLB season, Trout recorded five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a subdued .230 batting average.
It wasn’t until the 2012 season that Mike Trout revealed himself as a generational talent. In 139 games in the 2012 MLB season, Trout recorded 129 runs, 30 home runs, 83 RBIs, 49 stolen bases while posting a .326 batting average.
Trout unanimously achieved the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year award while also finishing second in the American League MVP race. He has since won three AL MVP awards, earned nine All-Star Game appearances, and eight Silver Slugger Awards.
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Due to his tremendous success on the field, Mike Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome rookie cards are one of the most coveted in the hobby. The 2009 Bowman Chrome Baseball set was issued on September 16, 2009.
When collectors recall the 2009 Bowman Chrome set, the first thought that comes to mind is Mike Trout’s rookie card. While Trout has various cards from 2009 Bowman Chrome, none are more worthy than his BGS 9 Superfractor, limited to 1-of-1.
On August 23, 2020, Mike Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome Superfractor rookie card fetched $3.93 million. At the time of the sale, Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome Superfractor rookie card was the most expensive sports card in the hobby.
As Trout has already firmly entrenched his name as one of the greatest baseball players through just 11 MLB seasons, the value of his 2009 Bowman Chrome rookie cards is unmatched.
2. 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle RC #253
Born on October 20, 1931, in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, Mickey Mantle is one of the most recognizable names in baseball. At the age of 19, a scout for the New York Yankees observed Mantle competing at Commerce High School. Shortly after, Mantle signed a two-year contract with the Yankees in their minor league system.
Mickey Mantle made his major league debut for the New York Yankees on April 17, 1951. In his rookie season in 1951, Mantle recorded 13 home runs and 65 RBIs across just 96 games.
Mantle played his entire 18-year Major League Baseball career with the Yankees. Throughout his remarkable career, Mantle hit 536 home runs and had 1,509 RBIs.
Mantle was a three-time American League MVP and registered only one of the eight American League Triple Crowns in MLB history. In his 1956 Triple Crown season, Mantle had 52 home runs, 130 RBIs, and a .353 batting average.
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When collectors think of Mantle’s most valuable baseball card, they quickly picture his 1952 Topps card. However, Mantle’s 1951 Bowman baseball card is his true rookie card.
1951 Bowman embraces both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays rookie cards, which we’ll discuss shortly.
Mantle’s 1951 Bowman rookie card has a total PSA population of 1,820 cards. According to PSA, only one card received a PSA 10, and just nine cards obtained a PSA.
In contrast, Beckett’s population report presents only 237 of Mantle’s 1951 Bowman rookie cards, with the highest awarded card receiving a BGS 8.5.
To recognize his historic career, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Mickey Mantle to Cooperstown in 1974. As the epitome of greatness, Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Bowman rookie card fetched $1.4 million through Memory Lane Auctions and will forever remain a cherished piece of baseball history.
3. 1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. RC #220
Ken Griffey Jr. Grew up in Donora, Pennsylvania, before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, when his father, Griffey Sr. became a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
Griffey Sr. played in the big leagues for 19 seasons and was a member of two World Series teams with the Cincinnati Reds in 1973 and 1976. Griffey Jr. set the same lofty goals for himself to play in the majors.
At Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, it became the standard for each major league team to have scouts in attendance to see Griffey Jr. play.
Ken Griffey Jr. was the number one overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 1987 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He made his MLB debut with the Mariners on April 3, 1989.
Griffey Jr. received the third most votes for the American League Rookie of the Year award behind 16 home runs, 61 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, and a .264 batting average.
By his sophomore campaign, Griffey Jr. quickly was already a household name. In his 1997 MVP season, Griffey Jr. totaled 125 runs, 56 home runs, 147 RBIs, and owned a .304 batting average.
Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Bowman Tiffany rookie card is one of the most recognizable and sought-after baseball cards. Griffey’s card is also one of the most valuable baseball cards from the Junk Wax Era.
Throughout his 22-year MLB career, Griffey Jr. was the AL MVP, 13-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, three-time Home Run Derby Champion, and seven-time Silver Slugger.
After posting 630 home runs, and 1,836 RBIs, Griffey Jr. earned his place in Cooperstown on July 24, 2016, ensuring the long-term value of his 1989 Bowman Tiffany rookie card.
4. 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor Ronald Acuna Jr. RC #CPARA
The Atlanta Braves signed Ronald Acuna Jr. on July 2, 2014, in the 2014 MLB International signing period for $100,000. He initially played in the minor leagues before becoming the top prospect in baseball by the end of the 2016 season.
Acuna made his highly anticipated debut with the Atlanta Braves on April 25, 2018. He registered 26 home runs, 64 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases amidst a .293 batting average, capturing the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
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Acuna became the first MLB player to record over 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases through his first two seasons. Like Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna is a generational talent and is already one of the top ballplayers in the game through just four MLB seasons.
Acuna’s 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor rookie card is part of a 200-card set released on September 29, 2017. A hobby box of 2017 Bowman Chrome includes two autographs, one Prospect Shimmer parallel, and two 2016 Arizona Fall League Fall Stars.
Acuna’s 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor card is extremely limited, serial-numbered to only five cards. In March of 2021, Acuna’s 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor rookie card fetched $361,200 through Goldin Auctions.
Already an MLB phenom, Ronald Acuna’s 2017 Bowman Chrome Refractor rookie card is one of the most valuable Bowman Baseball cards ever issued.
5. 2001 Bowman Chrome Refractor Albert Pujols Auto RC #340
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Albert Pujols with the 402nd overall pick in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft. He played one season in the minor leagues before securing a spot in the Cardinals’ opening day roster in the 2001 season.
Pujols recorded 47 doubles, 37 home runs, and 130 RBIs amidst a .329 batting average in his rookie season.
As a result, Pujols was unanimously named the 2001 National League Rookie of the Year. He was also in the running for the 2001 MVP Award, finishing fourth, and captured both a Silver Slugger Award and All-Star Game appearance that same year.
Similar to how Mike Trout commanded the past decade as the league’s best player, Albert Pujols was the most dominant player from 2000-2010. On top of his 679 career home runs, 2,150 RBIs, and 3,301 hits, Pujols is a three-time AL MVP Award winner and two-time World Series Champion.
Throughout his illustrious 21-year career and counting, Pujols has a 162-game average of 37 home runs, 117 RBIs, and a .297 batting average.
Bowman released its hobby box of 2001 Bowman Chrome on New Year’s Day, 2001. Collectors could anticipate 24 packs of four cards in each hobby box.
The most sought-after card of the set is hands down, Albert Pujols Refractor autographed card. Pujols’ rookie card has a PSA population of 208 cards, with only seven cards, roughly 3% earning a PSA 10.
6. 1951 Bowman Willie Mays RC #305
While still attending high school, Willie Mays made his professional baseball debut in 1948 for the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League.
He then signed a major league contract with the New York Giants, initially playing with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association.
After registering eight home runs, 30 RBIs, and a .477 batting average through 35 games, the New York Giants called Mays up on May 25, 1951.
Through 121 games in his 1951 rookie season, Mays had 20 home runs, 68 RBIs, and a .274 batting average to win the National League Rooke of the Year honors.
Over his historic 23-year MLB career, Mays accumulated 660 home runs, 1,909 RBIs, and 3,293 hits. Mays is a two-time NL MVP Award, 12-time Gold Glove Award winner, four-time National League home run leader, among countless others.
As recently mentioned, Mays’ 1951 Bowman rookie card is from the same iconic set as Mantle’s rookie card. In fact, the 1951 Bowman checklist features 30 Hall of Famers.
Willie Mays’ iconic rookie card has a total PSA population of 1,586. To date, none have received a PSA 10, and only eight cards obtained a PSA 9. A collector acquired a PSA 8 Willie Mays rookie card from 1951 Bowman through Goldin Auctions on March 7 for $338,400.
Willie Mays is recognized as one of the most influential baseball players of all time. Ultimately inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, Mays’ 1951 Bowman rookie card is a historical asset of America’s pastime.
7. 1950 Bowman Ted Williams Bowman #98
Before signing with the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League, Ted Williams was a two-way star player at Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale, California.
Williams later made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox on April 20, 1939. While Major League Baseball didn’t introduce the Rookie of the Year Award until 1947, it’s safe to say that Williams was deserving.
Behind 31 home runs, 145 RBIs, 131 runs, and a .327 batting average, Williams finished 4th for the AL MVP Award in his rookie campaign.
Williams has a lifetime .344 batting average through his remarkable 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox. He is a two-time winner of the Triple Crown, one of only two players (Rogers Hornsby) to win the award twice.
Williams is a two-time AL MVP Award winner, though he ironically wasn’t granted the award in either of his Triple Crown seasons (1942, 1947).
Ted Williams is the last major league player to surpass a .400 batting average in a single season when he posted a .406 average in the 1941 season.
While 1950 Bowman Baseball doesn’t feature Ted William’s rookie card, the card highlights Williams’ first card in full color. PSA’s total population for Williams’ iconic 1950 Bowman card sits at 1,156. The highest grade for his 1950 Bowman card is a PSA 9, with a total of 14 cards.
On February 14, 2008, Ted William’s iconic card fetched $21,075.98 through the Mile High Card Company.
As one of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball history, Ted Williams’ historic 1950 Bowman card is truly a masterpiece.
8. 2009 Bowman Sterling Prospects Mike Trout RC #BSPMT
At just 23 years and 253 days old, Mike Trout became the fastest player in Major League Baseball history to reach 100 home runs and 100 steals.
Since Trout debuted in the majors, the league average for home runs per plate appearance is 2.9%. Through his first 1,288 career regular-season games, Trout averages a home run in 5.5% of his plate appearances, totaling 310 home runs.
In case you were wondering, Trout’s lowest home run rate came back in his rookie season, where he averaged a home run in 3.7% of his plate appearances, still higher than the league average.
The second appearance of Mike Trout in the top 10 Bowman baseball cards emerged from the 2009 Bowman Sterling set. Bowman released the 2009 Bowman Sterling set on January 12, 2010, containing six packs of five cards.
Trout’s rookie card has several variations, including a Black, Gold, Red, and Autograph Refractor. To date, the most valuable Mike Trout rookie card from the 2009 Bowman Sterling set is his Gold Refractor card, eliciting $19,640 through Goldin Auctions back in October 2018.
Trout’s Gold Refractor is serial-numbered to 50 and currently has a PSA population of five. With that said, collectors continuously maintain a close eye when his second-most valuable rookie card surfaces.
9. 2014 Bowman Chrome Refractor Mookie Betts RC #BCAPMB
At John Overton High School in Nashville, Tennessee, Mookie Betts displayed his highly talented baseball ability. After committing to the University of Tennessee on a scholarship, Betts backtracked after the Boston Red Sox selected him as the 172nd overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.
The Red Sox called Betts up midway through the 2014 MLB season, where he made his major league debut versus the Yankees on June 29, 2014.
Through his first 52 games, Betts showed flashes of promise, including 12 doubles, five home runs, 18 RBIs, seven stolen bases, and a .291 batting average. Betts continued to improve and was in the American League MVP conversation every year from 2016 to 2020.
He successfully won the AL MVP award in 2018 after totaling 129 runs, 32 home runs, 80 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, and a .346 batting average. Betts also won the World Series with the Red Sox during his MVP season.
He then captured a World Series title in his first season as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020. He became the first player to win an MVP Award and a World Series title with two teams before the age of 30.
Released on September 24, 2014, the highlight of 2014 Bowman Chrome is Betts’ Prospect Autographs Superfractor. Mookie Betts’ Prospect Autos Superfractor rookie card from 2014 Bowman Chrome is serial-numbered 1 of 1.
The distinguished rookie card received a BGS 9 for the card’s condition and a BGS 10 for the overall quality of Bett’s autograph.
A collector purchased Betts’ Superfractor card through Goldin Auctions on May 19 for $79,200, the most valuable Mookie rookie card on record.
Heading into his 9th MLB season next year, Betts and the Dodgers look to reach the promised land for the third time in his illustrious career.
If Betts sustains his high level of play throughout his 12-year, $365 million contract with the Dodgers, he can cement his name in Cooperstown, directly influencing the value of his 2014 Bowman Chrome Superfractor rookie card.
10. 2016 Bowman Chrome Refractor Juan Soto RC #CPAJS
The Washington Nationals signed Juan Soto to a $1.5 million contract during the 2015 International Signing Period. Soto competed in the Nationals minor league system from 2016 to 2018.
In 122 minor league games, Soto totaled 22 home runs, 102 RBIs, and an eye-popping .362 batting average.
Juan Soto left the Nationals no option other than to call him up, eventually debuting on May 15, 2018. Soto finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race, with 22 home runs, 70 RBIs, and a .292 batting average.
Soto has a 162-game average of 118 runs, 34 home runs, 109 RBIs, and a .301 batting average through his first four major league seasons.
Behind five home runs and 14 RBIs, Soto guided the 2019 Washington Nationals to their first World Series title in franchise history.
He followed up his World Series season by leading all of the major leagues in batting average (.351), on-base percentage (.490), slugging percentage (.695), and on-base plus slugging (1.185).
Bowman released the 2016 Bowman Chrome set on September 7, 2016, highlighting Soto’s 2016 rookie card in several variations, including Blue, Gold, Green, Orange, Purple, and Red Refractor.
Each 2016 Bowman Chrome hobby box features two mini boxes, including six packs of five cards.
With a total PSA population of two, Soto’s Red Refractor graded a PSA 7 obtained the highest figure to date, fetching $273,060 through Goldin Auctions. As the future face of baseball, Soto’s 2016 Bowman Chrome rookie card is unparalleled.
The Legacy of Bowman Baseball Cards
The Bowman brand has a remarkably rich and deep-rooted history that nearly goes back 100 years.
Suffice to say, Bowman baseball cards are among the most recognizable brands in the hobby, which comprises major league legends, Hall of Famers, rising stars, and future Cooperstown inductees.
Despite MLB ending its licensing agreement with Topps after 70 years, Bowman baseball cards will preserve their long-lasting value as the Bowman brand offered such memorable baseball trading cards throughout baseball’s vibrant history.