If you’re an avid baseball card collector, chances are you already have one of Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr.’s rookie cards. But what about all four RCs? That’s right, the “Iron Man” had four different rookie issues released in 1982. One came from Donruss, one from Fleer, and two – believe it or not – from Topps. Nowadays, it can be fun (and surprisingly affordable) to concentrate on collecting just a single player’s assortment of rookie cards instead of the more arduous task of trying to assemble a complete manufacturer’s set from that year. And Cal Ripken Jr. is the perfect player to pursue.
A Hall of Famer, he’s most famous for breaking Lou Gehrig’s longstanding record for the most consecutive games ever played. Ripken played in a total of 2,632 straight games before taking a day off in 1998 to smash Gehrig’s previous mark of 2,130. Ripken retired following the 2001 season and his career numbers were spectacular: 3,184 hits and 1,695 RBI over 21 seasons with the same ball club. If anybody defines “throwback player from yesteryear,” it’s Cal Ripken Jr.
Now let’s take a closer look at the durable shortstop’s quartet of rookie cards:
1982 Topps #21 Cal Ripken ‘Future Stars’
- PSA Population: 5,543 Mint 9 | 476 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $600
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $50
Ripken’s first Topps card was his Baltimore Orioles “Future Stars” RC (#21) upon which he shares the spotlight with shortstop Bob Bonner and pitcher Jeff Schneider. A squinting Ripken splits the difference between his two teammates, and his trademark baby blues are tough to miss. Note his original position at third base. What’s interesting about that moniker that during both the ’81 and ’82 campaigns, he played more games at shortstop for the O’s than he did at third (12 games to six and 94 games to 71, respectively). He moved to short permanently in 1983. The card is now 36 years old, so let’s call it “vintage,” and is part of what’s considered the upper echelon of 1980s baseball sets.
1982 Topps Traded #98T Cal Ripken
- PSA Population: 3,358 Mint 9 | 350 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $1,250
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $150
His second Topps card (#98T) was released as part of the company’s Topps Traded series, which was distributed as a 132-card box set. The card, which features a solo Ripken employing the obligatory bat-on-shoulder pose, was produced with mediocre paper stock and its red reverse can be subject to chipping. It is, however, more limited than his regular Topps card from that year and thus is the more desirable of the two. For the record, in 2013, a PSA Gem Mint 10 #98T Ripken sold for $2,047.
1982 Donruss #405 Cal Ripken Jr.
- PSA Population: 2,107 Mint 9 | 544 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $225
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $40
Still hugging the hot corner at third (“3b”) with this offering, Ripken’s first Donruss card shows the future HOFer in a rugged stare down with the photographer. Utilizing yet another bat-on-shoulder pose, the impending “Iron Man” is communicating “nothing but business” with this presentation. In PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, it remains the most reasonably priced Ripken RC at just over $200. It also boasts the highest number (544) of each of the four rookie cards that have received top billing.
1982 Fleer #176 Cal Ripken Jr.
- PSA Population: 2,068 Mint 9 | 237 Gem Mint 10
- Average Cost for PSA Gem Mint 10: $550
- Average Cost for PSA Mint 9: $35
If you compare population reports, the Iron Man’s Fleer issue has the fewest PSA-graded entries (8,251) of all the rookie cards, but remains affordable, especially in PSA Mint 9 condition at just $35. What also sets this card apart is the fact that it utilizes a full-length body shot of the 6’ 4” Ripken and shows him wearing a glove on the infield dirt. For the record, he won a pair of Gold Gloves at shortstop in 1991 and ’92. Perfect centering on this rookie card is never a given.
The overall purchase price of all four of Ripken’s rookie cards, in PSA Gem Mint 10 condition, comes to $2,625 with the Topps Traded card accounting for nearly half the amount. But if all four pieces of cardboard were graded at PSA Mint 9, the total hit to your wallet is just $275, which is very reasonable for a set of rookie cards celebrating a player whose consecutive-games-played streak may never be broken, certainly not in our lifetime. With that said, baseball collectors young and old might want to take a stab at compiling the Iron Man’s four-card rookie collection. The importance and popularity of Ripken’s Topps Traded #98T card is also reflected in the “Weight” category on the PSA Set Registry checklist below.