The Top 5 Best Don Mattingly Rookie Cards
To collectors and fans of a certain age, Don Mattingly was one of the greatest players in the game, with his cards some of the most sought-after of the era. Yet today, he is not a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame and has never gotten particularly close to that honor.
He remains a case study in peak vs. longevity in relation to greatness. Yet, his cards, including his rookie cards, remain popular with collectors.
But who is Don Mattingly? What are his best rookie cards? And are they worth chasing today?
Who is Don Mattingly?
For five or six seasons, Don Mattingly was arguably the best and most popular baseball player on the planet. From his first full season in 1984 at the age of 23 through age 30, he put up an impressive stretch of performance that made him a very popular player.
Being the young superstar first baseman for the storied New York Yankees franchise didn’t hurt matters. Nor did breaking in just as the “junk wax” era of card collecting, and the irrational exuberance that went with it, kicked off, and having his prime during the peak of the junk wax era. If you were going to write a recipe for card collecting popularity, that’s your script.
During the six-year period from 1984 to 1989, Mattingly hit a combined .327/.372/.530 good for an OPS of .902 and a 147 OPS+. He hit 160 home runs and drove in 684 runs during that stretch. He won an MVP award in 1985, finished in the top 7 in the MVP voting 3 other times, and was an All-Star six years in a row.
During those six seasons, he led his league in hits twice, doubles three years in a row, RBIs once, and total bases twice. He won a batting title, led his league in OBP and slugging percentage once each. He also won 5 of his 9 total Gold Gloves during that stretch. If you were going to write a script for the start to a Hall of Fame career, Mattingly provides the blueprint.
Mattingly’s Career: The Second Half
Unfortunately for Mattingly, the Yankees, and collectors, Mattingly could not maintain that high peak production. From 1990 until his retirement in 1995, Mattingly managed only a .286/.345/.405 line, good for an OPS+ of 105, below average for a first baseman. Back injuries sapped Mattingly’s power, although he was generally able to stay on the field (770 games in those 6 seasons).
Combining the two very distinct six-year periods of Mattingly’s career, plus the two partial seasons as he broke into the league, his overall line is .307/.358/.471 good for an OPS of .830 and an OPS+ of 127. He hit 222 home runs in his career and drove in 1,099 runs. He was worth 42.4 WAR during his career, which spanned parts of 14 seasons.
After his playing career, Mattingly has stayed close to the game as a coach and manager.
Don Mattingly and the Hall of Fame
If you polled a selection of baseball fans and writers in September of 1989 about Mattingly’s Hall of Fame chances, you’d probably get 90% or more suggesting he was well on his way to being enshrined in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the drop-off in production in the second half of his career knocked him off that trajectory.
In addition, Mattingly’s career was on the short side. He appeared in parts of 14 seasons, but one of those was for only 7 games. He had three other partial seasons (91, 97, and 102 games) that mean he appeared in only 1,785 games in his career.
Mattingly’s 42.4 career WAR ranks 45th among first baseman. This is behind several other players that most would not consider Hall of Fame caliber, such as Adrian Gonzalez (43.5), Jason Giambi (50.5), and Mark Teixeira (50.6).
It’s well also below several active 1st basemen who are on the Hall of Fame path, including Freddie Freeman (55.4), Paul Goldschmidt (61.7), and Joey Votto (64.4).
Don Mattingly on the Hall of Fame Ballot
Mattingly first appeared on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 2001, when the tallied 28.2% of the vote. He remained on the ballot for the next 15 years, dropping off in 2015 with 9.1% of the vote. Mattingly’s career was well short in the eyes of the baseball writers, and to date the various veterans’ committees have tended to agree.
If Mattingly ever does make the Hall of Fame, his cards would likely see a small bump in prices. This is especially true as the election would come as a surprise as committee votes aren’t usually publicized highly in the general consciousness. Some of the bump would likely be temporary, but some would likely persist.
Is Mattingly super deserving of the Hall of Fame? Probably not, although his six-year peak was impressive. But his induction wouldn’t be a travesty by any means, and he’s certainly one of the most “famous” ballplayers of the 1980s.
The Top 5 Don Mattingly rookie cards
According to the Trading Card Database (TCDB.com), Don Mattingly has appeared on 12,132 cards. His rookie cards landed in 1984, either just before or just at the beginning of the junk wax era, depending on who you ask.
5. 1984 Fleer Don Mattingly #131
The 1984 Fleer Mattingly sports the lowest PSA population of any of the “big 3” card company’s flagship Mattingly rookie cards. But it sells for the lowest price of any of the cards on our list. In a PSA 9 slab, these sell for $50-75. In PSA 10, recent sales have been in the $650-1,000 range.
4. 1984 Topps Don Mattingly #8
Throughout the 1980’s, and especially the early 1980’s, many collectors had a preference for Topps cards. Perhaps it was the fact that they were easier to find at non-hobby outlets, or maybe it was tradition. Regardless, often if someone was going to have one rookie card of a certain player, they went with the Topps. That certainly seemed to be the case with the 1984 Topps Mattingly.
PSA has graded almost 20,500 copies, with healthy populations of both PSA 9’s and 10’s. Because of the high population, prices are held somewhat in check, but they’re still popular sellers. In a PSA 9 slab, they sell for $65-70, while PSA 10’s, of which there are just over 900, in the $800-900 range.
Like the 1984 Topps Mattingly, but looking for something harder to find. In partnership with Nestle, Topps produced uncut sheets of the entire 1984 Topps set with Nestle logos. Many of these were hand-cut apart and considered individual cards. Only 5,000 of each sheet were printed. PSA has graded a total of 355 1984 Topps Nestle Mattingly RC’s, with 183 PSA 9’s and 80 PSA 10’s. Recent PSA 9 sales have been for around $175 each.
3. 1984 O-Pee-Chee Don Mattingly #8
Speaking of versions of the 1984 Topps, next on our list is the 1984 O-Pee-Chee Mattingly. O-Pee-Chee (OPC) is the bi-lingual, Canadian version of Topps. Typically, O-Pee-Chee sets are smaller than their Topps counterparts and produced in lower quantities, making them well worth checking out.
With a total PSA population roughly 8% that of the flagship Topps Mattingly, this offers a tougher chase and a higher price point. Recent sales in a PSA 9 slab have been in the $125-175 range.
2. 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly #248
The 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly is one of the most popular cards of the 1980’s, even to this day. With total PSA population between the Topps and Fleer versions, this is the “premium base” Mattingly to have, and has been for the better part of four decades.
In a PSA 9 slab, the Mattingly sells for $150-200. In a PSA 10 slab, of which there are 316 out there, they sell for $3,000-4,000.
1. 1984 Topps Tiffany Don Mattingly #8
Topps Tiffany, the premium version of Topps sets, started in 1984 (the run ended in 1991). The 1984 Topps Tiffany set had a print run of 10,000 sets. Just over 900 copies of the Mattingly have been graded by PSA, with 346 PSA 9’s and just over 50 PSA 10’s.
In a PSA 9 slab, these sell in the $400-500 range. In a PSA 10, recent comps have been in the $3,500-5,500 range, with the last sale at just under $4,300.
The Top 5 Don Mattingly rookie cards
|Card||PSA Pop||PSA 9 Pop||PSA 10 Pop||PSA 9 Comp||PSA 10 Comp|
|1984 Fleer Don Mattingly #131||6,309||2,306||423||$50-75||$650-1,000|
|1984 Topps Don Mattingly #8||20,495||6,323||909||$65-70||$800-900|
|1984 O-Pee-Chee Don Mattingly #8||1,596||501||53||$125-175||NA|
|1984 Donruss Don Mattingly #248||11,780||3,291||316||$150-200||$3,000-4,000|
|1984 Topps Tiffany Don Mattingly #8||905||346||52||$400-550||$3,500-5,500|
Don Mattingly Pre-Rookie Cards
Don Mattingly played an even 500 games in the minor leagues over 5 partial seasons. He hit an impressive .332/.403/.471 during his time in the minors. While minor league sets weren’t as prevalent then as today, Mattingly did appear on several minor league cards of note.
The 1981 Nashville Sounds Don Mattingly is Mattingly’s first legit minor league card (more on that in a moment). It’s got the highest PSA population of the Mattingly minor league cards, but it’s far from high. Recent sale prices for a PSA 9 have been a bit all over the place, ranging from a low of $80 to $250, with one recent sale over $400. There are 108 PSA 10’s in existence. The one on eBay as of this writing is listed BIN at $1,000.
The 1982 Columbus Clippers Police Don Mattingly is tough to find. Only 259 copies have been graded by PSA, with only 44 PSA 9’s and not a single PSA 10. Recent comps are hard to come by, but the last sale in a PSA 8 slab was for $90.
The 1982 TCMA Columbus Clippers Don Mattingly is a bit easier to find, but with a total PSA population of 317, not by a lot. Recent sales in a PSA 9 slab have been in the $80-200 range, although most have been at the high end of that range. There are 49 PSA 10’s out there, with the most recent sales in the $600-700 range.
|Card||PSA Pop||PSA 9 Pop||PSA 9 Recent Comp|
|1981 Nashville Sounds Don Mattingly||726||170||$80-250|
|1982 Columbus Clippers Police Don Mattingly||259||44||NA|
|1982 TCMA Columbus Clippers Don Mattingly #21||317||113||$80-200|
Counterfeit Don Mattingly Rookie and Pre-Rookie Cards
I’ve recently been referring to the 1980s as “the first sports card boom”. The recent “pandemic era” represents the second and most recent. Cards were suddenly worth money in the 1980s, and that drew a lot of attention.
Card scammers aren’t a new thing, they’ve just changed form with the invention of the internet. With Mattingly being one of the most popular players of the era, with the most sought-after cards, he was a particularly popular target of counterfeiters.
If you look at Mattingly’s TCDB.com page, you’ll note two Mattingly minor league cards listed there that don’t make my list. These are the 1980 South Atlantic League card and 1984 TCMA Columbus Clippers card. The reason I don’t mention them? It is because they’re fakes.
They were not produced in the year claimed, or in some cases, by the company claimed. They were produced after the fact by bad actors trying to liberate money from unsuspecting collectors who were crazy for Mattingly in the mid-1980’s. For a few dollars, these might be a fun addition to a Mattingly collection but don’t pay for these as if they’re legit issues.
In addition to the minor league cards, there was some counterfeiting of flagship Mattingly rookie cards and a number of unlicensed cards produced over the years featuring Mattingly. Keep your eyes open, do your research, and be careful.
Final thoughts on Don Mattingly’s best rookie cards
In top condition, Don Mattingly’s rookie cards continue to hold solid value today. Considering they arrived either just before or at the start of the junk wax era (depending on who you ask), this indicates he remains quite popular. Although not quite Hall of Fame caliber, Mattingly is a nostalgic favorite of fans of a certain age who enjoyed baseball of the late 1980s.
There may not be a ton of upside in Mattingly’s cards unless he unexpectedly makes the Hall of Fame, but his cards are some nice blue-chip cards that are part of the story of the hobby of the 1980s, and well worth adding to your collection.
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