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The 1990s were a strange time to be a baseball card collector. The hobby has never been more popular, while sets were expanding into crazy territory. The problem is, that the first half of the 1990s was marred by the junk wax era, which is considered to have lasted from 1987 to 1994.
During this period, it’s estimated that companies were producing three times as many cards as they had previously, fueled by greed and ever-increasing public demand.
The era was ended by the baseball player’s strike of 1994, and the hobby has never truly recovered in terms of national attention. While many cards from the ‘90s are effectively worthless, there are a number of solid options that have increased in value rapidly over the past decade.
Here’s a list of seven of the most valuable baseball cards from the 1990s, with info about each one, including an explanation as to why they’re so expensive.
The Most Valuable 1990s Baseball Cards
Our list of the most valuable ‘90s baseball cards has a few surprising names, as well as a host of legends from the sport. The most expensive cards tend to be rare, and they’re often serial numbered. There are RCs and special editions, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find one stuffed down the back of the couch.
As many sets had excessive print runs, (think millions, although nobody knows for sure) the majority of 1990’s options are worth little more than the cost of the materials that they were printed on. Surprisingly, there are valuable cards from almost every year to look out for, including before, during, and after the junk wax era.
The higher the grade, the more valuable a card will be, so we’re typically looking at PSA 9s and 10s only. We’ll start off with a rare card from 1991.
#1. 1991 Chipper Jones Topps Desert Shield RC #333
Chipper Jones won a World Series and made eight All-Star appearances for the Atlanta Braves in a storied career. He has an exceptionally rare card from 1991 which is the first to make our list.
His 1991 Topps Desert Shield was given the designation as it was a gift for US troops who were serving during Operation Desert Storm. The normal 1991 Topps is worth a fraction of the price, and you’ll be able to tell the difference by looking for a see-through gold emblem under the 1st Draft Pick logo on the front of the card.
As well as rarity due to the small release, (estimated to be between 6,000 and 7,500), the majority had to get to an active war zone and back before being encased by the likes of PSA. It’s another reason why it’s so valuable in comparison to every other card in the set.
They’re also prone to counterfeiting, which is why it’s better to go for a graded option if possible. (The same is true for almost every card we’re about to mention.)
Aside from the emblem and the potential for a few battle scars, it’s a fairly simple card that features Jones with a bat slung over his shoulders, with a couple of trees in the background. It’s also seen as his ultimate rookie card, helping to further drive up prices.
#2. 1991 Michael Jordan Upper Deck RC #SP1
(Okay, we said that you won’t find any of these cards hidden down the back of the couch, but this is the exception!) Basketball legend Michael Jordan’s ill-fated attempt to become a baseball star is generally meme-worthy, but his RC from 1991 is still one of the better cards from the decade.
Much of the attention is due to the fact that Jordan’s basketball RC is extremely valuable, while prices of all MJ cards have increased rapidly following the release of The Last Dance. For example, PSA 10 copies of his 1991 Upper Deck were selling for roughly $40 in 2017, but they now go for almost 10 times that amount.
The cheapest Jordan rookie by a significant margin, it’s a chance for collectors to own a bona fide piece of sporting history, even if the cards are slightly overpriced due to the latest influx of MJ fans and hype around his RC options.
You shouldn’t be fooled by the SP label, as it still had a massive print number when you compare it to the modern sets of today. On the card itself, Jordan is pictured during batting practice with the White Sox before a home game in 1990.
He led the Bulls to three more NBA titles after his stint with the White Sox, dominating the league with wins in 1996, 1997 and 1998. In truth, MJ wasn’t particularly good at baseball, but his RC is still worth adding to your personal collection if and when prices begin to slow down.
#3. 1993 Derek Jeter SP Foil RC #279
Derek Jeter is one of the most decorated players in the modern era, with 14 All-Star appearances and five World Series wins in a 20-year MLB career spent with the New York Yankees.
Seen as one of the key reasons behind their success, it’s all the more impressive considering he won his last World Series in 2009, 13 years after his maiden victory.
The 1993 SP Jeter is one of the best cards from the 1990s, produced on a foil background that can be ruined by the faintest touch. It’s hard to find in good condition, which is why high PSA grades are so expensive.
The action shot features a young Jeter primed to make a catch, with the player superimposed over the holofoil. It was futuristic for the time, but Jeter’s SP RC is a clear cut above the others found on this list.
Are you ready for a stat that’ll probably make you sick to your stomach? In 2015, a PSA 10 copy would sell for roughly $30,000. A copy sold for $180,000 in January 2020, while another sold for $166,712.70 in May of the same year. It’s no surprise that it easily makes it onto the list, as one of the most important modern baseball cards ever produced.
#4. 1994 Alex Rodriguez SP Foil RC #15
Alex Rodriguez is a 14-time All-Star, and one of the greatest of all time when you’re looking at stats alone. A number of steroid sagas have somewhat marred his legacy in recent years, but there’s no denying his talent. A-Rod won the World Series with the Yankees in 2009.
The only Rodriguez card to make the list, his 1994 SP is one of the flimsiest modern-era rookies in the hobby and is ridiculously hard to find in mint condition, just like the other SP Foil listed above.
In fact, it’s so sensitive to chipping and wear that a combination of the design and packaging caused many copies to grade less than PSA Mint 9, even when pulled straight from the pack. It’s easy to see why gem mint versions are exceptionally expensive, even if it came out in a year when the hobby supposedly fell apart at the seams.
The card has a large photo of a rookie A-Rod with a bat clasped in both hands, smiling towards the camera. As with the Jeter SP, the holofoil causes the player to pop, and it really is a great-looking collectible. In spite of the steroid allegations, Rodriguez’s RC was always going to be high on any list of the most valuable 90’s cards.
#5. 1994 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. & Mickey Mantle #MM1
Another rare card with two of the best players to grace the field, this 1994 Upper Deck release features both Ken Griffey Jr. & Mickey Mantle. The combination of the two greats and a dual autograph is enough to drive interest, which is why it makes the list.
The landscape design helps it to stand out, while it’s illustrated in incredible detail, with expert shadowing. Both players are shown side by side, wearing caps that help to denote the team they play for. There’s a small UD logo in the top right corner, while the reverse has a guarantee for the signatures.
The autographs themselves are found on the chest of each player, signed in black ink, and the background has a blue-green hue. Edges are a major issue when it comes to grading, and better versions show off every curve of Mantle’s ear.
It’s difficult to find a more important autographed duo card in the history of baseball, featuring two players who tore up the record books during their respective careers. Unlike many of the others on this list, it’s somewhat underpriced considering the above and could make for a good investment piece.
#6. 1996 Derek Jeter Leaf Signature Extended Century Marks
The only Leaf card to make the list, their 1996 set is one of the best the company ever released. It was the first to offer an auto in every pack, with signatures from some of the biggest stars from the time. As well as Derek Jeter, players like Alex Rodriguez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa also signed cards in the Signature Series Extended Autographs Century Marks set.
Seen as a parallel to the main collection, each card has a print run of 100 only and can be identified by the holographic foil found at the top of the card. So, it’s an exceedingly rare signed parallel from one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Jeter’s card is white with silver trim and features an action shot of the player in his Yankees uniform. The on-card autograph is located at the base and was filled out using black ink. Crisp and clean, there can’t be many collectors out there that would turn down a 1996 Leaf Jeter.
#7. 1997 Ken Griffey Jr. Skybox E-X2000 Essential Credentials /99 #40
Ken Griffey Jr. is back again, in one of the most important sets from the 1990s. This time he’s on his own, but it’s still a great option even without the help of Mickey Mantle. The 1997 Skybox E-X2000 Essential Credentials was ahead of its time in many respects, with a small serial number, an iconic image selection, and a luxurious border design.
The action shot shows Griffey Jr. after a successful swing, and the card immediately catches the eye thanks to the shiny border. As with the SP cards above, the player is outlined to help him to stand out, going so far as to put him above the border in places.
Serial numbered to just 99, it’s extremely fragile, while the shiny border is especially susceptible to chips and will highlight any blemishes.
Griffey Jr. can be found on hundreds of different cards, but few can match his ‘97 Skybox price-wise. Only two have achieved a BGS 9.5 grade, and it thoroughly deserves a place among the most valuable ‘90s options.
#8. 1992 Bowman #302 Mariano Rivera
#9. 1997 Bowman Chrome #182 Adrian Beltre
#10. 1992 Fleer Update #U-92 Mike Piazza
The Most Valuable 1990s Baseball Cards: Summary
Despite the bad press, the list proves that the 1990s wasn’t the worst time to begin investing in baseball cards, as long as you knew where to look and only went for the best of the best.
Jeter’s 1993 SP Foil is arguably the pick of the bunch and the most expensive and has also seen a notable uptick in recent years.
The ‘90s isn’t a bad era for baseball cards, and you can even pick up many complete sets for next to no financial outlay. There’s something for every budget, and that’s only going to be good news for collectors.