The Best Rookie Cards and Early Career Cards Of Flamethrowing Reliever Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner was a hard-throwing relief pitcher known for striking out copious numbers of hitters and racking up saves. He’s in his 8th year on the Hall of Fame ballot and trending in the right direction.
But who is Billy Wagner? Is he a future Hall of Famer? And what are his best rookie cards? And what other early Wagner cards are worth chasing?
Who is Billy Wagner?
Billy Wagner is a former relief pitcher who pitched 15+ seasons from the mid-1990s to 2010. He was an All-Star 7 times during that time, and racked up 30 or more saves nine times, including two seasons over 40.
For his career, Wagner saved 422 games (6th all-time), with a 2.31 career ERA. He was worth 27.7 WAR in his career, which ranks just below recent Hall of Fame closers Lee Smith and Trevor Hoffman, and ahead of Hall of Fame closers like Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter.
Wagner was a hard-throwing strikeout machine, back in an era when strikeouts weren’t as easy to come by as they are today.
For pitchers with more than 800 career innings pitched, Wagner racked up the highest K/9 rate (11.9 K/9) and strikeout percentage (33.2%). He also had the lowest opponents’ batting average (.187) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.99 H/9) ever. Yes, of all time.
Billy Wagner and the Baseball Hall of Fame
Billy Wagner is appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 8th time in 2023. After a few years hovering around 10% of the vote, Wagner started to see his vote total climb. His vote total crossed 50% in 2022 and had a nice bump up to 68.1% in 2023.
Wagner did not cross the 75% needed for election this year, but his vote total suggests someone who will eventually be inducted.
The Top 5 Billy Wagner Rookie Cards
Billy Wagner’s rookie cards appear in 1994 products. The general story here is low PSA populations, but in most cases not unreasonable prices, when you do come across one. Sure, you’ll see the occasional museum piece on eBay, but the cards that sell are generally reasonable.
Another thought that struck me about these cards: 1994 was a long time ago. I should know, it’s the year I graduated high school. Raw copies out there have close to 30 years of bouncing around in boxes.
Probably not a lot of PSA 10s out in the wild. In addition, many of the products of this era are prone to bricking, so the quality of cards in unopened materials is questionable.
So, an interesting low-population, mid-90s affair? Compelling, for sure. Let’s explore the top 5 Billy Wagner rookie cards.
1994 Topps Billy Wagner #209
A mid-1990s rookie card of a Hall of Fame caliber player in the flagship Topps product. Sounds like a recipe for a high-population junk wax card. Yet the total PSA population of the 1994 Topps Billy Wagner #209 is less than 75, and PSA 9s and PSA 10s are legitimately hard to come by.
For an even bigger challenge, check out the 1994 Topps Gold and 1994 Topps Bilingual versions.
1994 Upper Deck Billy Wagner #524
The 1994 Upper Deck Billy Wagner #524 is somewhat condition-sensitive, and low population with a total PSA population under 125. Still, recent sales are at a very reasonable price point. Of course, some cards are listed BIN higher, but those that come up and sell at auction are much more affordable.
For a tougher chase, check out the 1994 Upper Deck Electric Diamond Billy Wagner.
1994 SP Billy Wagner #18
The 1994 SP Billy Wagner #18 is condition sensitive card, where the corner, edges, and surface are prone to dings, chipping, and scuffing. While this card has the highest total PSA population of our top 5, it also has only 6 PSA 10s, and even PSA 9s are hard to come by.
1994 Bowman’s Best Blue Billy Wagner #19
Another slightly condition-sensitive card, this one has a total PSA population of around 160, and recent sale prices are a bit all over the map, ranging from a low of $30 to a high of around $100.
A refractor version of Bowman’s Best offers an even harder-to-find option.
1994 Bowman Billy Wagner #642
The highest price of the base Billy Wagner rookie cards is the 1994 Bowman Billy Wagner #642. With a total PSA population under 90, there usually aren’t many of these available at any given time. The last PSA 9 sale on eBay was for $150. There are only 21 PSA 10s in existence.
The Best Billy Wagner Baseball Rookie Cards
|Card||Total PSA Pop||Recent Sale Pop||Recent Sale Price|
|1994 Bowman Billy Wagner #642||88||PSA 9 = 51||PSA 9 = $150|
|1994 Bowman’s Best Blue Billy Wagner #19||161||PSA 9 = 53||PSA 9 = $30-100|
|1994 SP Billy Wagner #18||185||PSA 8 = 74||PSA 8 = $40-70|
|1994 Upper Deck Billy Wagner #524||121||PSA 9 = 60||PSA 9 = $30|
|1994 Topps Billy Wagner #209||72||PSA 9 = 28||PSA 9 = $45-50|
Other Billy Wagner rookie cards include 1994 Collectors Choice #29, 1994 Pinnacle #264, and 1994 Score #536. Several parallels for these, including Gold and Silver signatures, Artist Proof, Museum Collection, and Gold Rush are also available. Billy Wagner also appears in the 1994 Ted Williams Card Company set.
Billy Wagner pre-rookie & minor league cards
Wagner appeared on a number of pre-rookie and minor league cards. The general story here is very low populations, in some cases this includes cards never graded by PSA.
Below are a few of my favorite Billy Wagner minor league cards. There are many more examples. In particular, Classic and Best both produced a number of sets including Wagner in 1993 and 1994, including Classic Best, Classic Four Sport, and Classic Best Gold.
The 1993 Fleer Procards Billy Wagner card has a PSA total population of only five graded copies, all PSA 9’s. One sold recently for a very reasonable $35. If you’re looking for one, though, good luck. I own three of the five copies graded by PSA, and I’m hanging on to them!
Wagner also appears in the 1994 Fleer Procards set. Again, the total population is low at 11, and one of the four PSA 10’s sold recently for $35. I only have one of these, so maybe you’ll have better luck finding one (or one of the PSA 10’s).
Wagner’s first certified autograph appears in 1994 Signature Rookies. The card is limited to a “small print run for the 90’s” print run of 8,650 copies. I have to imagine that Wagner had quite the hand cramps after signing that many cards. The high production number keeps raw copies affordable. PSA has only graded two copies of the card.
1994 Upper Deck Minor League Billy Wagner #86 also has a low PSA population count of only 10 copies. No recent sales comps are available.
The Billy Wagner pre-rookie and minor league offerings are well worth a look. They can be fairly unique collectibles due to the low PSA populations and oddball mid-90’s feel of many of the sets.
Wagner appears on a number of other minor league cards in 1995 and 1996, after his first major league cards. These are a bit less in demand than the earlier minor league cards, but are low-population, typically low cost treasures in their own right.
|Card||Total PSA Pop||Recent Sale Pop||Recent Sale Price|
|1993 Fleer ProCards Billy Wagner #3445||5||PSA 9 = 5||PSA 9 = $35|
|1993-94 Fleer Excel Billy Wagner #209||7||PSA 10 = 6||NA|
|1994 Fleer ProCards Billy Wagner #532||11||PSA 9 = 4||PSA 9 = $35|
|1994 Signature Rookies Autograph Billy Wagner SN 8650||2||PSA 9 = 1||RAW = $10|
|1994 Upper Deck Minor League Billy Wagner #86||10||PSA 10 = 6||NA|
Final thoughts on the best Billy Wagner rookie cards and early career cards
The Hall of Fame candidacy of Billy Wagner is a bit different due to his role as a closer. His rookie card situation is a bit unusual, as well. Despite being released in the mid-90s, they have fairly low PSA populations. Yet generally speaking, they remain affordable, when you can find one.
With Wagner inching from “fringe” candidate to “likely Hall of Famer” over the last few elections, now is a good time to consider adding Billy Wagner cards to your collection.
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