The number 3 card in our top ten most valuable cards of the 1980s countdown is a 1980 Topps entry. While the set design was nothing special, Topps was lucky enough that a young speedster named Rickey Henderson made his debut in 1979 with the A's. Henderson went on to re-write the record book for a number of statistical categories. Most notably, he set the single-season steals record with 130 in 1982, and the career steals record with an astounding 1406. Henderson is also the all-time leader in runs scored and lead-off home runs.
The 1980 rookie card is truly an iconic card. 1980 marked the final year of Topps's monopoly, so collecting Henderson's rookie card is relatively easy. The card has a book value of approximately $60 today, and Henderson's recent Hall of Fame induction should ensure this card continues to maintain its value.
I have recently had the opportunity to pick up some nice Chrome sets. Most of my additions have been traded sets, but I was able to pick up this year's 220-card Chrome set. The basic set does not include the rookie autographs, but it does include key rookie cards from future stars such as Gordon Beckham, Rick Porcello, and Andrew McCutchen.
A scan of the Chrome cards never seems to do them justice, so I haven't included an image of any cards here. The 2009 design in particular really pops on the Chrome cards. For those Cubs collectors, there are 10 cards from the team (Harden, Fukudome, Samardzija, Soto, Zambrano, Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, and rookie cards from Patton and Scales). For me, the best card here is of Bobby Scales. He was the 220th (thus the final) card selected for the set based on his spark plug role earlier this season. His absence from the current team, in favor of Aaron Miles, is just one of many reasons why this current Cubs team is not likeable. I have not seen a checklist for the Topps Updates and Highlights set yet to see if Scales and any other rookies from the team are included. I'm certainly hoping that impact players such as Jake Fox and Randy Wells get their due with cards in that set.
At number 4 in our countdown is Mr. Twin, Kirby Puckett. His playing career was cut short by the loss of vision, but he made a huge impact during his abbreviated 12-year career. Thus, his career numbers do not really tell the story of Puckett. Even still, he was a 10-time All Star, 6-time Gold Glove winner, and he totaled more than 2300 career hits. He led the Twins to two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. The 1991 World Series stands out to me as the best World Series of my lifetime. Puckett had key defensive plays and a game-winning home run in Game 6.
His rookie card is #93 from the 1984 Fleer Update set. Based on the relative rarity of this set, his card generally has a value of between $50-60 in near mint condition. This is his only XRC, as his first Topps and Donruss appearances were in 1985.
The number 5 card in the countdown is an absolute must-have for collectors. To me, Griffey Jr. is one of the brightest spots of the steroid era, along with Greg Maddux. It is terribly unfortunate that injuries sidelined his run toward Hank's record, but he has still accumulated more than 600 homers naturally.
A 13-time All Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and winner of the 1997 AL MVP award, Griffey should be a unanimous selection to Cooperstown on the first ballot. It's hard to find any fault with his career. I do hope, however, that Mr. Griffey hangs it up after this season. It has been great to see him finish his career in a Mariners uniform, but his current .220 batting average tells the story of a man whose best days are behind him.
Griffey was THE reason the 1989 Upper Deck set was a must-have for collectors. The set also contains key rookie cards of Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz, among others. This card is a frank reminder of what Upper Deck used to be. I do not think the average collector would look at UD's products today with the same regard as we had 20 years ago. That's why for me, Topps' exclusive license with MLB will have little practical effect on my collecting.
Number 6 in our top 10 countdown of the most valuable cards of the 1980s is one of the most controversial figures of the steroid era, Mark McGwire. He set the short-lived single season home run record with 70 in 1998 and along with Sammy Sosa sparked a comeback for baseball after the 1994 strike. Big Mac hit 583 home runs and was a 12-time All Star. His connections to andro and his Congressional testimony are well known, and his shortcomings in Hall of Fame votes are well known. Based on numbers alone, he certainly warrants consideration for the Hall, but his lifetime average of .263 is quite low. While he was a one-dimensional player, he was undoubtedly the finest hitting first baseman during the four-year stretch of 1996-1999.
Some of McGwire's earliest exploits are quite impressive. He debuted as a third baseman in late 1986 with some limited success. But in his first full season of 1987, he hit 49 homers, 118 RBI with a .289 batting average. The Bash Brothers of the late 1980s were exciting to watch, albeit those memories are now stained.
While McGwire debuted in late 1986, he was not featured in any 1986 traded sets. He was featured in each of the 1987 sets, but his first card was in the 1985 Topps set. I personally love the U.S.A. Olympic cards that have been featured in Topps sets over the years, including 1985 Topps, 1988 Topps Traded, 1991 Topps Traded, and 1992 Topps Traded. Sadly with no baseball in the 2012 Olympics, there will be a cycle without Olympic cards. But in recent years the Olympic cards have been offered exclusively in Upper Deck sets.
Number 7 in our Top 10 countdown of the most valuable cards from the 1980s is a former Yankee favorite, Don Mattingly. I was a fan of Mattingly's growing up, as Donny Baseball is also a Hoosier native. From a Hall of Fame perspective, it is unlikely that Mattingly will ever make it into Cooperstown. But he had a tremendous 4 year stretch of being one of the very best players in the American League. During his 1985 MVP season, Don hit 35 HRs, 145 RBIs, with a .324 average.
Don's 1984 Donruss RC has always been considered one of the most valuable cards of the decade. The Donruss card usually rates a bit more valuable than Don's Topps and Fleer rookie cards.