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Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players

With Major League Baseball in a lockout, ESPN.com decided to heat the hot stove season by releasing their Top 100 MLB Players of All Time. We thought it would be fun to provide you with the ultimate guide to investing in ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players.

Here are the rankings: 100-51 | 50-26 | 25-1

Overall, I think it’s a pretty good list. These things are very subjective, of course. Nevertheless, the list feels directionally correct with lots of room for debate, which is as it should be.

The list got us thinking here at Cardlines: what is the investment outlook for cards of these players? We have to break the players into categories to make sense of these opportunities. The good news is that this is a fairly organic process.

Willie Mays was ranked second. Look for his cards on eBay.

Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players: Deceased Hall of Famers

Not surprisingly, many players are Hall of Famers, now deceased. In most cases, these players played many years ago, and their card value is pretty locked in and stable. The prices will move based on the overall card market but are unlikely to have a substantial upside outside of that general movement.

The Lockdown bubble saw vintage cards spike with cards from all eras, and prices were rising from pre-2020. Where the public market goes from here will be interesting to see, for sure. Regardless, the players’ cards on this list are the cream of the crop of pre-and-post war vintage, and far safer investments than most cards, even if price increases are gradual and incremental.

1. Babe Ruth
3. Hank Aaron
4. Ty Cobb
5. Ted Williams
6. Lou Gehrig
7. Mickey Mantle
9. Walter Johnson
10. Stan Musial
12. Honus Wagner
16. Joe DiMaggio
19. Frank Robinson
20. Rogers Hornsby
21. Cy Young
22. Tom Seaver
25. Christy Mathewson
27. Roberto Clemente
35. Josh Gibson
36. Tris Speaker
37. Joe Morgan
38. Jackie Robinson
39. Yogi Berra
40. Jimmie Foxx
41. Satchel Paige
47. Warren Spahn
48. Nap Lajoie
50. Bob Feller
51. Ernie Banks
53. Oscar Charleston
54. Lefty Grove
57. Pete Alexander
60. Whitey Ford
62. Mel Ott64. Eddie Mathews
70. Harmon Killebrew
71. Al Kaline
73. Willie McCovey
76. Cap Anson
79. Hank Greenberg
82. Eddie Collins
83. Roy Campanella
88. Willie Stargell
92. Roy Halladay
95. Duke Snider
96. Charlie Gehringer

The Case Of Roy Halladay

The one possible exception on this list is number 92, Roy Halladay.

Halladay only retired in 2013 and tragically passed away in a plane crash in 2017 before becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame and being elected in his first year of eligibility in 2019.

As time passes and Halladay’s legacy continues to be examined, his cards have a chance for additional upward movement. His induction is far from a sure thing, but there is a chance it will occur.

Halladay’s rookie cards appear in 1997 Bowman releases.

Year/SetTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1997 Bowman #308 Roy Halladay602PSA 9 = 266PSA 9 = $70
1997 Bowman Chrome #212 Roy Halladay832PSA 10 = 142PSA 10 = $1,000
1997 Bowman Chrome – Refractors #21261PSA 10 = 0PSA 10 = NA
1997 Bowman’s Best #134 Roy Halladay837PSA 10 = 391PSA 10 = $75-100
Roy Halladay cards are a bit of a gamble. Look for his Bowman’s on eBay.

Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players: Living Hall of Famers

The list includes many living Hall Of Famers. These living legends include players who debuted as far back as the 1940s (Mays) and 1950s (Koufax, Robinson) right through the junk wax era of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

2. Willie Mays

11. Pedro Martinez
13. Ken Griffey Jr.
14. Greg Maddux
18. Mike Schmidt
23. Rickey Henderson
24. Randy Johnson
28. Derek Jeter
29. Johnny Bench
31. Mariano Rivera
32. Sandy Koufax

33. Bob Gibson
42. Nolan Ryan
43. George Brett
44. Tony Gwynn
45. Wade Boggs
49. Frank Thomas
55. Reggie Jackson
56. Dave Winfield
58. Steve Carlton
61. Carl Yastrzemski
63. David Ortiz
66. Cal Ripken Jr.
67. Brooks Robinson
69. Ozzie Smith
74. Juan Marichal
75. Rod Carew
77. Vladimir Guerrero
78. Chipper Jones
80. Robin Yount
81. Mike Piazza
84. Paul Molitor
85. Jim Palmer
86. Roberto Alomar
87. Carlton Fisk
90. Ivan Rodriguez
91. Ryne Sandberg
93. John Smoltz
98. Jim Thome
99. Phil Niekro
100. Barry Larkin

In most cases, these players’ card value is reasonably well set. However, players do generally see a price bump when they pass away, with a solid temporary bump followed by a “new normal” that is just a tick above prior prices.

When it comes to minor league reliever cards, it doesn’t get much better than this one. Look for Mariano Rivera minor league cards on eBay.

David Ortiz, also elected, is part of the class of 2022. So you can expect his cards to see a bit of a bump around induction weekend in July. We recently explored Ortiz’s cards and the 2022 Hall of Fame results.

Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players: Retired But Not Yet Eligible For HOF

This group is the smallest one, but it has an intriguing upside. These players are retired but not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.

46. Ichiro Suzuki
97. Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2024. Ichiro follows him to the ballot in 2025. Both should be elected in their first year of eligibility.

While neither’s election will surprise people, they will likely see a slight bump in prices around the announced election results and the induction ceremony.

Beltre’s rookie cards appear in the 1997 Bowman sets, while Ichiro’s appear in 2001.

Year/SetTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1997 Bowman #194 Adrian Beltre1,093PSA 10 = 122PSA 10 = $1,400
1997 Bowman Chrome #182 Adrian Beltre3,044PSA 10 = 895PSA 10 = $500-550
1997 Bowman’s Best #117 Adrian Beltre1,880PSA 10 = 917PSA 10 = $125-175
1997 Bowman Chrome – Refractors #182214PSA 10 = 8PSA 10 = NA
Is now the time to invest in Adrian Beltre? Look for his cards on eBay.

Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players: The Controversial Guys

The next group is also retired and not yet in the Hall of Fame. However, the storyline is not nearly as optimistic as Beltre and Ichiro with many part of the PED era.

8. Barry Bonds
17. Roger Clemens
26. Alex Rodriguez
34. Pete Rose
68. Manny Ramirez
89. Joe Jackson

Rose and Jackson were famously banned for gambling and rendered ineligible for the Hall of Fame. As a result, neither’s card has much upside. Sadly Rose’s cards will likely see a bit of a bump when he passes away. This is a grim reality, but news drives demand and prices.

As for Bonds, Clemens, Arod, and Ramirez all have Hall of Fame numbers but also have the cloud of association with PEDs hanging over their heads. We just explored these and other PED users on Cardlines.

Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players: Active Players

The final grouping of players is those who have not yet hung up their cleats. But, despite that, they are already amongst the all-time greatest. Think about that for a minute. We’re watching all-time greatest right now. So enjoy it while you can. And get ready to tell the grandkids!

15. Mike Trout
30. Albert Pujols
52. Clayton Kershaw
59. Miguel Cabrera
65. Max Scherzer
72. Justin Verlander
94. Bryce Harper

Pujols is 42 years old and whether he continues his career in 2022 is undecided as of this writing. Miguel Cabrera is 38, and his best years are behind him. Trout, meanwhile, is only 30 years old. But, as we covered in Future Hall-Of-Famer Cards: Sure Thing Hitters, all three will make the Hall of Fame when they become eligible.

Kershaw, Scherzer, and Verlander are all getting older, but all still appear to have more in the tank and should add to their resumes in 2022. As explored in Future Hall-Of-Famer Pitcher Cards: Sure Things, all three will also be Cooperstown bound five years after they retire.

Check out the link articles for more on the investment outlook for these players, although generally speaking, there is an upside in all cases.

The Case Of Bryce Harper

Harper is a fantastic player but a somewhat questionable pick (I’d have gone with Mookie Betts). While Harper is on the Hall of Fame path, he still has more work to do before he’s a lock for election.

If you think Harper will finish his career strong and erase any doubts, there is investment upside

Year/SetTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects # BCP12,510PSA 10 = 988PSA 10 = $100-170
Mike likes the 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects # BCP1 Bryce Harper card. Look for it on eBay.

Bottomline On Investing In ESPN’s Top 100 MLB Players

The ESPN 100 is a good list and a great distraction during the cold months before baseball season. It also allows us a chance to look for investing opportunities. Even among the most outstanding 100 players, there is sometimes an upside to be found.

Mike D.

Mike D

Mike D. has collected cards for over 35 years, since he bought his first pack of Topps at the corner store in 1987. His fandom,  collecting interests, and contributions to Cardlines center around baseball in general and the Baseball Hall of Fame specifically.

Mike's collecting focus is centered on graded cards, mostly rookie cards, of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. Lately, he's been enjoying dabbling in graded minor league cards. A collector/investor with a "buy and hold" approach, Mike takes the long-term view with his collection.
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