The Best Rookie Cards Of “Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr.
Cal Ripken Jr. was an elite player on both sides of the ball, who somehow also came to embody an “everyman” ethos by never taking a day off.
He set records and is considered one of the greatest players ever, but like few other players, his fame seems to extend even beyond that greatness.
But who is Cal Ripken Jr.? What are his rookie cards? And what other early Ripken gems are worth chasing?
Who is Cal Ripken Jr.?
Cal Ripken Jr. came from a baseball family, with his father Cal Ripken Sr. was a player, scout, coach and manager. His younger brother Billy was a big leaguer as well. You may be familiar with a particularly famous baseball card on which Billy appeared.
On May 30, 1982 a young Cal Ripken Jr. took the field after a day off. The next time he missed a game was on September 20, 1998, a record streak of 2,632 consecutive games. On September 6, 1995, Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,131 consecutive games. The record is credited with helping bring back the game after the 1994 strike canceled that year’s World Series.
The streak earned Ripken the nickname “Iron Man”, and if it was the only thing he did in his career, he’d be noteworthy. But Ripken was also an incredible player, both at the plate and in the field.
Ripken was a 19-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and a two-time MVP. He was a two-time Gold Glove winner, and added eight Silver Slugger awards. Overall, Ripken put up a .276/.340/.447 line with an OPS of .788 and OPS+ of 112 during his 21-year career. He spent his entire career as a Baltimore Oriole, making him an icon to O’s fans.
Ripken collected 3,184 hits in his career, with 431 home runs. He was worth 95.9 WAR in his career. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with 98.5% of the vote, the 6th highest percentage ever.
The best Cal Ripken Jr. rookie cards
According to the Trading Card Database (TCDB.com), Cal Ripken Jr. has appeared on 25,524 cards. That number is likely to continue to rise as Ripken remains a popular player to this day. But only four of those Ripken cards are rookie cards, and only three are minor league cards.
Let’s dive in and explore these gems of the early 80s.
1982 Donruss Cal Ripken, Jr. #405
The 1982 Donruss Cal Ripken rookie card might be the best-looking of the Ripken rookie cards, at least of the flagship offering. With a total PSA population of over 14,000, it’s a middle-of-the-road Ripken rookie card. There are more PSA 10s of this card than any other on the list.
The high PSA count helps make this the lowest-priced card of the Ripken rookie cards. In a PSA 10 slab, these sell for between $1,000 and $1,500. In PSA 9, they can be had for $65 to $80.
1982 Topps Orioles Future Stars #21
The flagship 1982 Topps Ripken has been graded almost two and a half times as many times by PSA as the other three Ripken rookie cards on our list. The high PSA population, combined with the fact that it’s a three-player “shared” rookie card, keeps prices in check to some degree.
The other two players on the card (Bob Bonner and Jeff Schneider) combined for -0.4 and -0.3 WAR, respectively. I guess collectors aren’t interested.
The card sells handily in a PSA 10 slab for between $1,500 and $1,700. In a PSA 9 slab, recent comps are right around the $100 mark.
1982 Fleer Cal Ripken, Jr. #176
The 1982 Fleer Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card is, in a word, ugly. Bland design, fuzzy photo, and questionable production quality make it one of the least popular sets of the 1980s.
But because of that lack of popularity and iffy quality control, fewer of these have been graded by PSA than any other card on our list.
There are fewer PSA 10s, as well, with just over 300. This scarcity means that in a PSA 10 slab, they sell for around $2,000. In a PSA 9 slab, they sell for between $60-90, so the price premium seems to apply mostly for PSA 10s.
1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken #98T
Cal Ripken Jr.’s most valuable rookie card isn’t technically a rookie card. The 1982 Topps Traded set was released late in the year, after the flagship Topps release. By the rules of the time, a player’s rookie card had to be released in packs, not in a small boxed set like Topps Traded.
Plus, by the time Topps Traded came around, Ripken had already appeared in the flagship Topps set. The card does feature Ripken solo, however, instead of on a multi-player card. It’s also a nice-looking card, arguably the best-looking of Ripken’s rookie cards.
Quite simply, collectors have shown that they don’t care that it’s not a true rookie card. While PSA has graded more of these than any of the Ripken rookies beyond the Topps flagship, it sells at a significant premium.
In a PSA 10 slab, these sell for $8,000-$10,000. PSA 9s sell for between $400 and $500.
Cal Ripken’s best rookie cards
|Card||Total PSA Pop||PSA Comp Pop||Recent PSA Comp|
|1982 Donruss Cal Ripken, Jr. #405||14,246||PSA 10 = 696||PSA 10 = $1,000-1,500|
|1982 Topps Orioles Future Stars #21||37,659||PSA 10 = 545||PSA 10 = $1,500-1,700|
|1982 Fleer Cal Ripken, Jr. #176||12,927||PSA 10 = 308||PSA 10 = $2,000|
|1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken #98T||15,657||PSA 10 = 407||PSA 10 = $8,000-10,000|
Cal Ripken Jr. Minor League Cards
Before making his big league debut, Ripken appeared on a handful of minor league cards. These range from the nearly impossible to find to the just “somewhat elusive”. Any make a great addition to a Ripken collection.
Beware of reprints of these, as they have been created for these sets in the past. An unscrupulous (or simply unaware) seller could attempt to pass them off as genuine.
1980 Charlotte O’s Police Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken’s first minor league card appearances were in 1980. The first was produced by the local police department for the AA Charlotte O’s.
With a total PSA population of only 30, these are tough. There are no PSA 10s, and no PSA 9s. PSA 8s? There’s ONE. There are then two PSA 7’s. There are no recent comps for a graded (or raw) copy. There is one PSA 5 on eBay as of this writing with an asking price of $30,000.
1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s Cal Ripken Jr. #16
Not letting the local police department have all the minor league baseball card fun, the local Charlotte TV station WBTV also produced a set. The Ripken in this set has a slightly higher total PSA population, of 78, which is obviously still quite low.
Again there are no PSA 10’s and no PSA 9s, but there are 13 PSA 8s. The last sale of a PSA sold in September 2023 for $17,000.
1981 TCMA Rochester Red Wings Cal Ripken Jr. #15
By 1981, Ripken found himself in AAA with the Rochester Red Wings. TCMA produced a team set, and these are a lot easier to find. PSA has graded 1,276 copies, including almost 600 PSA 9s and 300 PSA 10s.
Still, they sell well in the $300 range for a PSA 9. In a PSA 10 slab, the card sells for $800-900.
|Card||Total PSA Pop||PSA Comp Pop||Recent PSA Comp|
|1980 Charlotte O’s Police Cal Ripken Jr.||30||PSA 5 = 5||NA|
|1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s Cal Ripken Jr. #16||78||PSA 8 = 13||PSA 8 = $17,000|
|1981 TCMA Rochester Red Wings Cal Ripken Jr. #15||1,276||PSA 9 = 597||PSA 9 = $300|
Final thoughts on Cal Ripken Jr.’s Best Rookie Cards
Cal Ripken Jr. is an all-time great and Baltimore Orioles icon. He also appears on some of the most popular rookie cards of the early 1980s. There’s room in just about every collection for a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card, and there are a variety of options to choose from, at a of price points.
Cal Ripken Jr. fan? Have a favorite Ripken rookie card? Or have another Ripken card you want to shout out? Let us know what’s on your mind at card_lines on Twitter.
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