Atlanta Braves legend John Smoltz (05/15/67) pitched for 22 seasons and was an eight-time All-Star who won the World Series in 1995.
Smoltz was part of the Atlanta Braves’ “Big 3” pitching rotation that dominated the National League East for almost a decade along with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, before splitting his final season with the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals in 2005.
John Smoltz Rookie Year Stats: 2 W 7 L | 5.48 ERA | 37 Ks
Here are three top Smoltz rookie card options to keep an eye out for, along with investment advice looking at the future for his RC prices.
Smoltz actually has a good range of rookie cards, ranging from 1986 to ‘89. His first RCs were released by ProCards, focusing on his time as a minor league player. His first-ever MLB release came in 1988, while most collectors agree that his 1989 cards also count.
Related: Top 3 Greg Maddux Rookie Cards
With cards from Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps, and Upper Deck, which are the very best overall?
1989 John Smoltz Bowman Tiffany RC #266
Smoltz’s ‘89 Bowman Tiffany is a crisp card, with a great profile image of the player in his Braves gear. It has a thin black and red border, with a vintage Bowman logo, found on the top left corner.
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An improvement on the base in most respects, the Tiffany set features gloss-covered fronts with a white cardstock reverse. Gem mint versions are actually fairly valuable, especially considering print runs from the time.
1988 John Smoltz Fleer Update Glossy RC #U-74
The first card featuring Smoltz in an MLB uniform can be found in the 1988 Fleer Update, which has a great design and a glossy version that has a premium coating. The border is white with red and blue stripes, matching the Braves logo on the top left corner.
As it has an action shot of the player pitching, the background is of a packed stadium. However, the focus is on Smoltz, as the crowd is blurred, and the background begins to fade away as it gets closer to the top. The Glossy version is an upgrade on the base card, with a premium finish and better card stock used.
1989 John Smoltz Upper Deck RC #17
The final Smoltz rookie card to make the list is from the 1989 Upper Deck set. It’s not the most interesting card to look at, with a tepid action shot of Smoltz leaning forwards on the grass. It’s still his most popular RC by a decent margin.
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The background is supposed to resemble a baseball field, while it has a thick white border, containing the player name and a UD logo. There’s also a Star Rookie emblem by Smoltz’s feet, helping to put any arguments about his RC year to bed.
- 1986 ProCards Lakeland Tigers RC #23
- 1988 ProCards Richmond Braves RC #23
- 1988 Fleer Update Glossy RC #U-74
- 1989 Topps RC #382
- 1989 Upper Deck RC #17
- 1989 Bowman Tiffany RC #266
- 1989 Bowman RC #266
- 1989 Fleer Glossy RC #602
- 1989 Donruss RC #642
- 1989 Donruss Baseball’s Best RC #85
- 1989 Score RC #616
The most valuable John Smoltz rookie card is the 1989 Topps Tiffany John Smoltz Rookie Card #382.
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Undoubtedly one of the best pitchers from the era, Smoltz entered the Hall of Fame in 2015. His time with the Big Three will always be memorable, while the Braves retired his number 29 in 2012. So why haven’t his rookie cards hit the big time?
Investment Rating: Buy
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Best John Smoltz Rookie Card: 1989 Bowman Tiffany #266
Smoltz’s RCs were released at the height of the junk wax era. This means they were all overproduced, and even the premium versions of his RCs came with huge print runs. Gem mint versions will still sell for three-figure fees in 2020, but anything lower sees a significant drop off in prices.
Values have risen in recent years, but it probably won’t be the best return unless you’re willing to hold onto your copies for a while.
Then there’s the harsh truth that Smoltz’s RCs lag ever so slightly behind Maddux’s and Glavine’s options, although that’s not a reflection of their relative ability.
As with many cards from this era, we’d look to options from the future if you’re on the lookout for an investment piece or two. There are many signed cards from the next two decades to keep an eye out for, with small print runs and player patches.
Another great option would be the 1991 Topps Desert Shield (#157), which had to get through a warzone and back, and is easily identifiable thanks to the foil stamping on the front of the card.