In 1983, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to surpass Walter Johnson’s 3,508 career strikeouts, set way back in 1927. Nolan Ryan had seven no-hitters and pitched for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Nolan Ryan Baseball Cards are as blue-chip as they come; go ahead and buy, buy, and BUY some more.
It’s just one of many records set by Ryan over the years, as his fastball scared opposing teams for an improbable 27 seasons.
Ryan pitched for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1999 in his first year of eligibility with 98.79% of the vote.
‘The Ryan Express’ was also featured on hundreds of cards over his career, up to and including the latest sets being released. Here’s a list of 30 of the most fabulous Nolan Ryan baseball cards, based on the overall card design, emphasizing potential long-term ROI more significantly.
The Greatest Nolan Ryan Baseball Cards of All-Time
- Best Overall: 1974 Topps Baseball Card #20 (SHOP EBAY NOW)
- Best Budget: 1984 Topps Baseball Card #470 (SHOP EBAY NOW)
- Best Non-Topps: 1991 Upper Deck Heroes Auto #18 (SHOP EBAY NOW)
30. 2005 Nolan Ryan Upper Deck Artifacts MLB Autofacts #NR (/15)
It’s hard to go wrong with a card with a large signature found dead center. The 2005 UD Artifacts set offers patches and exciting memorabilia, but the Autofacts subset takes the 30th spot. Each Autofacts card features an on-card autograph and is serial-numbered to an amount that varies by player.
In Ryan’s case, it’s a meager 15 copies, while there’s also a hyper-rare holofoil one-of-one Rainbow parallel. The base card has gold chrome trim and shows the pitcher doing what he does best.
29. 2003 Nolan Ryan Leaf Limited Threads #159 (/100) #159
Leaf reintroduced their Limited product after a one-year gap in 2003. The next card is from the ‘Threads’ subset, with a base version limited to 100 copies. You’ll find a small game-used patch near Ryan’s leg, while the serial number (100) is printed with a large typeface on the reverse.
The back notes that; ‘the enclosed piece of the jersey was cut from an Authentic Jersey personally worn by Nolan Ryan in an official Major League Baseball game.’ It’s clear why it has great potential if you’re looking at long-term investment options.
28. 1990 Nolan Ryan Donruss No Number King of Kings
For the 1990 Donruss set, artist Dick Perez created the illustration for this tribute to Nolan Ryan, dubbed the “King of Kings” card.
The standard base version features the correct card number (#665) in the top left corner and a write-up about Ryan. If you can’t see a ‘NO. 665’, it might be worth sending the card off to be graded just in case.
27. 1972 Nolan Ryan Topps All-Star #595
This was released as part of Series 5 (#536-656) in the massive 1972 Topps set, a classic card that makes a list due to Ryan’s All-Star exploits. In an understated design, for the most part, the player is shown in a close-up profile shot while he looks on with a stern expression.
The name tag makes it easily identifiable as a vintage card, while the Angels logo at the top is inspired by other artwork from the early 1970s. ‘72 was the first year he was named as an All-Star, which makes a slight difference in overall interest.
26. 1978 Nolan Ryan Topps #400
The base 1978 Topps release relied on strong photography rather than specific design elements, so the small ‘Angels’ logo is the only tell that this card was released over four decades ago.
Ryan is pictured with his arms held aloft, clutching his glove as he stares straight down at the camera. The age, coupled with the great design, means that even PSA 9 copies of this card will sell for a four-figure fee in the present day. It also effortlessly makes the shortlist of the best 1978 Topps baseball cards.
25. 2006 Nolan Ryan Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball Framed Mini Autographs #NR SP
2006 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball features a mix of baseball stars, retired greats, hobby legends, and champions from other sports. The base set design is meant to resemble the historic 1887 N28 tobacco release from the Allen & Ginter company, but we’re looking at the Framed Autographed subset for this list.
Ryan signed mini cards that were then placed into a frame similar to those in which the relic and A&G originals were set. It’s a current release with a vintage look and feels and works out to be one of the more affordable options overall.
24. 2000 Nolan Ryan Upper Deck Legends Legendary Signatures Auto #S-NR
We’re heading to the ‘Legendary Signatures subset of the 2000 UD Legends release for the next card on the list. It’s split into two segments: a classic image at the top and an ample space for an on-card auto at the bottom.
It’s also wholly black-and-white, aside from a small image of Ryan found in the middle. All cards from the subset (aside from Derek Jeter) were also available in a Gold parallel, serial-numbered to just 50 copies.
23. 1980 Nolan Ryan Topps #580
The Rickey Henderson rookie might be the pick of the bunch regarding the 1980 Topps set, but that doesn’t mean that Ryan’s card should be disregarded. The 726-card set borrows from designs seen with 1977 Topps Baseball.
This Ryan Topps card is clean and crisp, and you’ll also find a facsimile autograph on the front.
Ryan’s card also notes that he was an ‘AL All-Star’ at the top, while the image shows him mid-pitch as he prepares to release a vicious fastball in trademark style. It’s another card worth a significant amount if you’re interested in PSA 10 copies.
22. 2016 Nolan Ryan Bowman Chrome Draft History Auto #MLBDA-NR
This signed release is one of the more recent cards to make a list in 2016 Bowman Chrome Draft sets. The MLB Draft History subset has base versions numbered 99 and the following parallel versions; It features a large image of Ryan mid-pitch, with the on-card auto on a white patch below.
You’ll also be able to find a sizeable serial number in the bottom right corner. Despite its relative infancy, it has a classic look and feels, while it’s rare enough to see prices rising reasonably rapidly over the past five years.
21. 1969 Nolan Ryan Topps #533
Released a year after his RC, Ryan’s 1969 Topps release is tough to locate at higher grades. It features an iconic image of the player as he throws a ball into his glove and was memorable enough to be included in Topps Project 2020.
To give some idea of the overall rarity, there are just two PSA 10 copies according to the registry, up to 122 when looking at 9 grades. It’ll also cost a severe chunk of change to add to any collection, as the last sale for a new version was $20,100 in 2012.
20. 2021 Nolan Ryan Topps Heritage Auto #ROA NR (/72)
Next is the Real One Autographs subset of the 2021 Topps Heritage release. Essentially, it’s the same card as the 1972 Topps All-Star #595, including the vintage ‘Angels’ logo at the top.
The Red Ink Special Edition parallel is hand-signed by the legend, while there are only 72 copies overall. (The serial number is also written in red ink and can be located on the front of the card.) By far the newest card to make a list, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be disregarded in favor of older options.
19. 1975 Nolan Ryan Topps Mini #500
Possibly released as a method to cut costs, the 1975 Topps Mini set was identical to the regular issue except for size and distribution. It was reduced from the standard dimensions to measure 2 1/4″ by 3 1/8″.
The pink and purple borders make it easy to identify, but it also leads to multiple problems when looking for pristine copies in the present. However, graded copies for Mini versions are still far cheaper than their larger counterparts. It should be seen as a decent investment option that has flown under the radar.
18. 1985 Nolan Ryan Topps Mini #760
Sticking with the theme of smaller cards, the 1985 Topps Mini #760 is part of a fabled 132-card set that is believed to have been test-marketed in Canada. There are rumors that only 100 complete sets were produced, indicating the potential rarity.
They are identical to the standard Topps cards, aside from being 10% smaller and printed on brighter stock. Ryan is pictured in a typical image; concentration etched on his face as he prepares to let fly.
17. 1999 Nolan Ryan Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures #NR (/100)
1999 Upper Deck Century Legends offered one “Epic Signatures” autograph per hobby box. One of the first products to combine current players with retired Hall of Famers, they also had the foresight to include The Ryan Express. The landscape card is hand-signed and should include a serial number below the large auto.
1999 also happened to be the year that Ryan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 98.79% of the vote (491 out of 497 possible), six votes short of a unanimous selection, and the fifth-highest percentage in history.
16. 1987 Nolan Ryan Topps Tiffany #757
Despite having one of the most instantly recognizable designs of all time, the 1987 Topps set wasn’t especially popular with collectors when it was first released.
The cards are victims of the junk wax era and were vastly overproduced to the point where most copies are worthless in the present day. After all, supply still outweighs demand for the most part. Graded copies have created some wiggle room, and the best versions will sell for a modest sum.
We’d also stick with the Topps Tiffany version, which offered upgraded cards from the company’s sets from 1984 through 1991. You can tell the difference thanks to a glossy card finish and white card stock on the reverse.
15. 1993 Nolan Ryan Finest Refractor All-Star #107
One of a small checklist of short prints contained in 1993 Topps Finest Baseball sets, it was the first to introduce chromium base cards and Refractor parallels such as this. Ryan is part of a collection known as “Baseball’s All-Stars”, which can be identified thanks to the large text found at the top.
As a refractor, the green background shimmers in the light, and even lower grades will sell for a four-figure fee at the current time of writing. This is because of the surface, which is especially condition-sensitive.
14. 1988 Nolan Ryan Topps Tiffany Record Breaker Strike Out King #6
The base 1988 Topps release was another product that saw millions of copies made available. That’s why we’re sticking with the Topps Tiffany set, which offers a rarer option, along with slight improvements.
The card is one of the best-looking on this list, with a simple “‘87 Record Breakers” logo behind an image of Ryan pitching. However, the deep red background is what immediately catches the eye. Remember, this is his ‘Record Breaker’ card, #6. He also has a base card in the set (#250) and one found in the ‘Turn Back the Clock’ subset (#661).
13. 1975 Nolan Ryan Topps #500
Remember the Mini card found on the 19th spot on this list? This is the traditional version found in 1975 Topps Baseball sets. It has the same pink and purple border and a facsimile autograph.
In terms of value, the drop-off for PSA 8’s and below is significant, while there are only three gem mint graded copies. The last sale was in 2017, when one sold for $31,200 in an eBay auction. The next sale price could be far higher.
12. 1986 Nolan Ryan Topps Tiffany #100
The 1986 Topps set features solid designs and a great profile shot of Ryan. Once again, we’d stick with Tiffany versions for this particular set. (The card in question is numbered #100, rather than the Glossy Send-In #45.)
If you’re looking for more affordable graded Ryan cards, mint versions can be picked up for less than you might have expected. It was released just before the junk wax era unfurled, and it’s another card that has flown under the radar.
11. 1971 Nolan Ryan Topps #513
Heading back to the early stages of Ryan’s career, the 1971 Topps card is rare to see at higher grades. Blame the decision to use a thick black border for one thing, as well as the age of the set itself.
The action shot of Ryan pitching is excellent, although a shadow slightly obscures his face. As with many older sets, they decided to add a facsimile copy of his signature on the base of the card. It’s another excellent vintage option that narrowly misses out on the spot in the top 10.
10. 1976 Nolan Ryan Topps #330
By 1976, Ryan had moved on to the California Angels and was already a three-time All-Star and World Series winner. The flagship Topps set had a weaker rookie class that year, although the design used improvements made over the past few iterations.
There were now two colored bars, stacked one on top of the other along the bottom edge of the card. You’ll also spot a small pitcher illustration in the bottom left corner. Ryan is pictured in a slightly grainy profile shot, while there is only 10 gem mint-graded PSA copies.
9. 1989 Nolan Ryan Upper Deck #145
A classic Upper Deck release from 1989, the Ken Griffey Jr. RC is often the focal point of this set. Ryan’s card is worth checking out, especially if you’re hoping for cheaper PSA 10 copies. Overproduced and somewhat unloved, the cards have a design that mimics the first baseline found on the right-hand side of the front.
The image is also different, as they’ve attempted to capture Ryan’s essence while pitching by using a trio of different photos interlaced together as he flings a baseball. However, the print runs mean that graded cards can be picked up for less than $100 in many circumstances.
8. 1972 Nolan Ryan Venezuelan Sticker #184
The 1972 Venezuelan Stamps collection was released a few years after Ryan’s RC, with a simple profile image of the player. If you take a closer look, you’ll note that it’s the same image used by Topps in their set from the same year.
Stickers tend to be viable investment pieces, especially if they’re nearly fifty years old!
It has a deep green background, with a blue sky behind the player. The reverse is blank, with the number and team name (Angeles) found on the front.
7. 1991 Nolan Ryan Topps Tiffany #1
The first card in the ‘91 Topps collection, there aren’t many that manage to capture Ryan in action this vividly. The landscape card is the first in the 40th-anniversary celebration set, pitching at breakneck speed with every ounce of power in his being. By this time, he had signed with the Texas Rangers.
However, it hasn’t translated to a high price tag, and the card is another victim of the junk wax era. Even PSA 10 Tiffany versions aren’t costly, making them another excellent entry-level investment option.
6. 1970 Nolan Ryan O-Pee-Chee NL Playoff Game 3 #197
Canadian company O-Pee-Chee makes its first appearance on the list with the 1970 NL Playoff Game 3 card. It celebrates Ryan’s impact with a black-and-white shot of the player pitching in an action shot, with red lettering at the top that reads, “Ryan saves the day!”
As an OPC card, they mirror Topps’ American version in terms of design, although they also say “Printed in Canada” to help differentiate between the two. As usual, the backs are printed in both French and English. OPC cards also tend to be rarer than their US counterparts.
5. 1991 Nolan Ryan Upper Deck Heroes Autograph #18 (/2,500)
Signed cards are always popular, especially if released before the turn of the century. Ryan and the legendary Hank Aaron were chosen as the two players in the ‘Baseball Heroes’ collection, with Ryan included in Low Series packs and Aaron in the High Series.
1991 Upper Deck, Baseball Low Series packs, allowed collectors to “Find the Nolan.” The final card in eight inserts had an autographed version limited to 2,500 copies. It’s hand-signed, while there are multiple illustrations of the player at key moments, such as warming up with a football.
4. 1984 Nolan Ryan Topps Tiffany #470
Another Tiffany card to make a list, don’t let the lack of Hall of Fame rookies put you off the 1984 Topps set. It uses a classic image of Ryan as he prepares to let fly, with a smaller profile shot of the player in the bottom left corner.
The design differs from most others, while the pink text for his name and team (Astros) helps the card stand out from the crowd. Once again, the set is often disregarded in favor of others with more star power. Regardless, it’s a card that could quickly increase in value, considering the current low price for graded copies.
3. 1991 Nolan Ryan Topps Desert Shield #1
The base 1991 Topps set was supplemented by a famous parallel that is extremely valuable today. The “Desert Shield” set was given to soldiers who served in the first Gulf War.
One of the most popular options from the 1990s in the here and now, the cards had to make it back from an active war zone and can be easily identified thanks to a distinctive gold foil Desert Shield logo in the top right corner.
Other than the Desert Shield logo, they’re the same as the 1991 Topps Baseball set made available to the public. This means that Ryan is included in the set.
It’s thought that fewer than 7,000 cards were produced for each player, making for one of the rarest early 1990s baseball sets produced.
2. 1968 Nolan Ryan Topps RC #177
The Nolan Ryan rookie finally makes an appearance, and you might have thought that it was destined to take the first spot on our list given the age and RC status. However, we’re not the biggest fans of rookie cards that feature multiple players, and Ryan shares the billing with Jerry Koosman.
Despite being a good pitcher in his own right and a World Series winner with the Mets, Koosman never made it into the Hall of Fame. It’s the most popular option as his first-ever baseball card, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best from an investment perspective.
1. 1974 Nolan Ryan Topps #20
Rather than the overpriced rookie, we’d recommend checking out Ryan’s 1974 Topps card. It’s still precious if you’re looking at PSA 10 graded versions, while it has the best action shot of the player as he releases a fastball straight toward the camera.
You get some idea of what it must be like to face the legendary pitcher while it has a simple pink and white motif. It’s our winner in terms of the overall design, as well as for a potential ROI in the future.
Nolan Ryan Baseball Card Values
The value of a Nolan Ryan baseball card is based on various factors, including year, brand, rarity, and grade. Let’s explore Nolan Ryan’s card values regarding his rookie and Topps baseball cards.
The most expensive Nolan Ryan rookie card is his only rookie card in the form of the 1968 Jerry Koosman/Nolan Ryan Topps RC #177. The value of this card at a PSA 9 grade is around $50,000.
However, we dislike rookie cards with another player with the star in question. So for our purpose, the most expensive Nolan Ryan rookie card is the 1969 Topps RC which is valued at $20,000, give or take a thousand.
The last sale’s most valuable Topps Nolan Ryan baseball card is the 1974 Topps Nolan Ryan baseball card number #20. This bad boy sold for $18,500 on eBay auctions in May 2021.
The Greatest All-Time? Nah
Is Nolan Ryan the best pitcher of all-time?
Not even close.
Is he a Hall of Fame pitcher?
You bet ya.
We’ve only listed a fraction of the Ryan cards available, which is no surprise considering he played across four different decades. The majority have held their value in the present day and should continue to increase with each passing year.
He’s a famous Hall of Famer with a storied career at the pinnacle of the sport. Topps cards dominate the list, while we’d stick with graded PSA versions if you’re aiming to buy them as a long-term investment.
You’ll also be able to avoid the many fakes and reprints that plague the resale market. Ryan cards are one of the safer investments in the hobby, even if you decide to go for one of the many Topps cards released after his RC.
There are also a handful of signed versions with lower print runs, so there is something to suit almost every collection.