The Dandy Dozen returns with a look at who I think are the top-12 modern baseball players, from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, whose baseball cards you should collect. I already did the top-12 vintage baseball players you should collect on this video, and I’ll eventually be doing a video on the top-12 baseball players from the Millennial set, whose cards came mostly after the year 2000.
Modern Baseball Players To Collect (1972-1999)
You don’t have to buy a player’s rookie card to still enjoy the benefits of his awesomeness. Try to buy the oldest card you can, and then try to buy it in the best condition possible.
1. Pete Rose – Topps Cards from 1963-1989 (manager card)
Charlie Hustle was banned from baseball, leads all hitters with 4,256 career base hits, leads majors in games played For reference, Albert Pujols is active leader, and he would still need to play four more seasons to catch Rose. Rose also leads in at-bats, times-on-base, career winning games played, seasons of 200-or more hits (10), and most career outs (10,328) — which is funny. His 1963 rookie card shares space with three players which seems to be a modern card thing. Rose was banned for betting, yet, the hobby still loves him, compared to how the hobby seems to reject steroids users. Weird.
2. Nolan Ryan – Topps Cards from 1968 to 1994
The hobby is weird. As great as Ryan was, he only made eight all-star teams in 27 seasons – with no Cy Youngs. While he’s MLB strikeout king, he also has most career walks – if you cut his total BB in half, he would still have 400 more walks than second-place Steve Carlton. Yet, Ryan is a hobby darling – probably the most collectible post-war pitcher of all time, even though he had just a .526 career win%. He never played with the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, Giants or Red Sox, which might have hurt his publicity some. He did beat up Robin Ventura, though.
3. Ken Griffey Jr. – Topps Cards from 1989-2010
The most iconic baseball card of the past 50 years – probably third overall to ’52 Mickey Mantle and ’86 Michael Jordan for most iconic card ever! He didn’t really get caught up in steroid crowd, and he has one of sweetest swings in baseball history. He is definitely a hobby favorite!
4. Derek Jeter – Topps Cards from 1993-2015
The Captain! Personally, I’m a bigger fan of Jeter’s cards more than Griffey. He rejuvenated and led a new Yankees dynasty in the internet era, social media era, and steroids era, while never really being controversial. Have you ever seen Jeter’s 2008 Topps short-print card, with Mickey Mantle and George Bush? It’s cheap! Think about buying one!
5. Johnny Bench – Topps Cards from 1968-1983
Imagine being Ron Tompkins, the guy alongside Bench on his 1968 Rookie Stars card. You know this Tompkins guy tells everyone he meets that a PSA 8 of his rookie card is worth $5,600. Bench is considered the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history, as 14-time All-Star, two-time MVP, and two-time World Series champion. Unfortunately, catchers aren’t as collectible as other positions. He transcends that, though. If he were a shortstop, he might be No. 1 on this list.
6. Reggie Jackson – Topps Cards from 1969-1987
Mr. October! The straw that stirs the drink! He played for five World Series winners — two with the Yankees and three consecutive championships with the A’s in the early ‘70s. His 563 HR rank 14th overall, but he retired with the seventh-most homers at the time. His cockiness was legendary, and while my dad was a Yankees fan, Reggie did not stir my dad’s drink because of that swagger.
7. Carl Yastrzemski – Topps Cards from 1960-1983
Yaz played 23 seasons – all with Boston – and none of them as a champion. That’s a shame. He was an 18-time All-Star! He was the first American Leaguer to get 3,000 hits and 400 home runs together. He also won the 1967 Triple Crown! He’s the only player to do that until Miguel Cabrera did it in 2012.
8. Brooks Robinson – Topps Cards from 1957-1978
“The Human Vacuum Cleaner” at third base was a 15-time All-Star, with 16 Gold Gloves! His 2,870 games played at third base still rank as the most games played by any player at just one position. He also tied Yaz for most seasons (23) with the same team. His middle name is Calbert, too – so write that down.
9. Tom Seaver – Topps Cards from 1967-1987
As I’ve mentioned a few times now, pitchers just aren’t collectible. But if you want to collect starting pitchers, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Seaver have you pretty much covered as the best Topps cards for pitchers in the 20th century. I found it interesting that in his final season in 1986, he pitched for the Red Sox – and missed out on the ’86 Mets World Series!
10. Rickey Henderson – Base Cards from 1980-2003
The Man of Steal! Something tells me Rickey Henderson has a huge collection of Rickey Henderson cards.
My man played 24 seasons, on nine different teams – including four different stints with the A’s! Who does that!?! Rickey is considered the greatest leadoff hitter and base stealer in history – and while base thieves really aren’t super collectible, the MLB leader in steals is. He stole over 100 bases in a season three times. For reference, Whit Merrifield led the majors in steals in 2021 with 40. Henderson’s 130 stolen base record may never be broken.
When someone asked statistics legend Bill James if Rickey Henderson was a future HOFer, he reportedly said, “If you could split him in two, you’d have TWO HOFers.”
Rickey was a legendary character, too. One great story about him is that he was so proud of his $1 million signing bonus check, that he framed the check instead of cashing it. I want cards with his face on them.
I imagine I’m going to get some arguments for my last two entrants on this list – but here goes!
11. Mariano Rivera – Base Cards From 1995-2013
(Bowman cards available in earlier seasons, of course.) Pitchers aren’t collectible, yes, and relief pitchers are ultra-not-collectible. But when you are the best that ever was at your position, you get hobby respect, and my respect. Plus, he did it for the Yankees and he won five rings while doing it. Throw in “Enter Sandman” as your closer entrance song, and you got yourself a bona fide hobby stud.
12. Bo Jackson – Base Cards From 1986-1994 (including Football)
Bo knows sports card collecting! You can certainly argue that all the baseball players I mention in the “Just Missed” category deserve to be on this list more than Bo, but let me state my case.
Bo Jackson was a cultural icon in the late ‘80s, much like Michael Jordan. He was a superstar in both sports – SUPERSTAR! (His Topps 1988 card was his football rookie card.) Deion Sanders played both sports, too, but he was not a superstar baseball player. Bo had power and speed that made collectors drool over him, and his “Bo Knows” commercials made him an icon. Watch the “30 For 30” on this guy.
I wrote an article once called “The Bo-tterfly Effect” about how Bo Jackson’s decisions changed the fate of many franchises in several sports. From the Raiders and Royals, who he had success with, to the Buccaneers who drafted him first overall in 1987 and watched him play baseball instead. And the Yankees – who drafted him in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft, only to watch him win the Heisman at Auburn. Can you imagine Bo Jackson as the shortstop on Don Mattingly’s team in the mid-‘80s?
I couldn’t put Bo on the modern NFL collectible players Dandy Dozen list (coming soon!) because there are just too many awesome ‘80s/’90s NFL players whose cards need to be collected!
Modern Players Who Just Missed the Cut!
- Cal Ripken Jr.
- Mike Schmidt
- Greg Maddux
- Frank Thomas
- Ozzie Smith
- Eddie Murray
- Manny Ramirez
- Joe Morgan
- Willie Stargell
- George Brett
- Wade Boggs
- Dave Winfield
- Dale Murphy
- Robin Yount
- Kirby Puckett
- Randy Johnson
- Mike Piazza
- Tony Gwynn
- Pedro Martínez
Steroids Superstar Cards To Collect!
Many people balk at collecting these players because they were caught up in steroid allegations, but in 20 years, these guys will be remembered as game-changers that made our hobby exciting. I say pick up some of these RCs while they are super cheap.
- Alex Rodriguez
- Barry Bonds
- Mark McGwire
- Sammy Sosa
- Rafael Palmeiro
- Roger Clemens
- Juan Gonzalez
- Jose Canseco
- Robinson Cano (he’s been busted a couple times, so maybe not…)
Thank you – and keep your eyes open for the Millennial Dandy Dozen – the 12-most collectible baseball players since the year 2000! And remember, I’m going to do this for football and basketball, too, so make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel!