3 Highest Priced Cards of Each Sport: Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey

Sports card collecting is dominated by the four major American sports. Buy baseball cards, and you’ll collect the most popular sports cards. Buy football cards, and you’ll find they’ve gained in popularity along with the sport itself. Buy basketball cards because its players are so widely known today, or buy hockey cards because it’s not as popular as the other sports.

Highest Priced Baseball Cards Basketball Cards Football Cards Hockey CardsIf you’ve just hit the lottery or inherited a fortune, here are the top three cards, based on value, for each sport:

The Top 3 Baseball Cards

You can buy baseball cards every year and not find gems like these:

  1. 1909–1911 American Tobacco Company T206 Honus Wagner. This card sold for $3.12 million in 2017, by far the highest price ever for a sports card. Only three in good condition exist.
  2. 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle. Mantle’s rookie card increases in value every time a mint version of the card comes up for auction. The last one sold for $1.13 million in 2016.
  3. 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth. Not technically a rookie card, since it depicts Ruth as pitcher for the International League Baltimore Orioles, it sold for $517,000 in 2008.


The Top 3 Football Cards

Often, when you buy football cards, you hope that one day they’ll be as valuable as these:

  1. 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown. What makes Brown’s rookie cards so valuable is that so many of them had defects. A card in perfect condition sold for $358,500 in 2016.
  2. 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski. Surprisingly, this isn’t Nagurski’s rookie card, but since so few exist, it’s become the most valuable football card, selling for $350,000 in 2011.
  3. 1957 Topps #110 Bart Starr. Vince Lomdardi redefined football, and Bart Starr was his aptly named quarterback. His rookie card was sold for $288,000 in 2017.


The Top 3 Basketball Cards

When you buy basketball cards, the older cards are more valuable:

  1. 1948 Bowman #69 George Mikan. This Hall of Famer was a dominant player in the early years of the NBA. Cards were scarce then. His rookie card, in mint condition, sold for $403,664 in 2015.
  2. 1970 Topps #123 Pete Maravich. “Pistol Pete” was a prolific scorer. His rookie card, valued as low as $18,000 in 2007, sold for more than $130,000 in 2015.
  3. 1961 Fleer #8 Wilt Chamberlain. His rookie card shows him with the Philadelphia Warriors, but he was perhaps the sport’s greatest player with the Lakers. This card sold for $45,000 in 2017.


The Top 3 Hockey Cards

If you buy hockey cards, you may have been lucky to acquire one of these:

  1. 1958 Topps #66 Bobby Hull. Nicknamed The Golden Jet, Hull had one of the most fearsome slapshots in the game. His rookie card sold for $102,000 in 2017, a record for hockey cards.
  2. 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 Wayne Gretsky. The most expensive modern hockey card ever sold — for $94,163 in 2011 — is no surprise. The Great One ruled the sport, and now his card does too.
  3. 1966 Topps #35 Bobby Orr. Before The Great One, there was Bobby Orr, part of the 1970s’ Big Bad Bruins teams. His near mint rookie card sold for $35,850 in 2015.

The Values Taught by Collecting Sports Cards

Most hobbies have an upside, an aspect that makes it worthwhile beyond the entertainment value it provides. Tend to your garden, and you’ll naturally learn about planting seasons and soil chemistry. Buy basketball cards to collect, and you’ll learn about supply and demand, as well as the value of a dollar.

There’s more to it than that, of course. In fact, there’s much more you can learn — and teach — from a hobby of collecting sports cards. You can buy basketball cards, baseball cards or football cards for your kids, or you can encourage them to start the hobby on their own. Hobbyists sometimes start as early as age five or seven, and encouragement always helps cement the passion for collecting.

Learning about Business

As a child, the most common way to learn about business used to be to get a newspaper route or mow your neighbors’ lawns. From such an experience, you learned how speed produced greater profits. You learned how to expand your business base while keeping your current customers happy.

With sports card collecting, your children learn a different side of business: risk vs. potential. When you buy basketball cards for them, they learn which cards are most likely to increase in value and how to protect that investment. They learn how risky it can be to follow a new player, but how expensive it is to buy basketball cards, for example, of the established stars.

Learning How to Be a Better Fan

Your kids may start their hobby by buying the first card of the hot hometown rookie. They may want to collect that player’s cards through the years and follow his exploits, for better or worse. By becoming so attached to one player, your little fans watch more games and learn the intricacies of the sport.

There are new rookies every year, but they may not be on the home team. This encourages your children to buy basketball cards of other players on other teams in other cities, thus growing their interest in the game itself. Free agency has changed the game, another factor that forces your kids to follow other teams.

Learning about Disappointment

This is a difficult lesson for any child, but sports is ultimately about learning to deal with disappointment. Only one team can be champion each year. Even if your children’s team wins the first season they follow them, the hometown team can’t win year after year. Your kids have to get used to disappointment.

The same thing is true of sports card collecting. The odds of any rookie becoming a superstar is minimal, although doing research into a player’s past performance as an amateur can help narrow the field. Your kids’ favorite players may not become superstars as expected. That’s not only a disappointment as fans, but it affects the value of their sports cards.

Learning to Cherish the Victories

Spend some time explaining the excitement of the hobby to your kids. Tell them to buy basketball cards for the thrill of opening the pack. Buy them for the chance to find their favorite players’ cards or star cards or special inserts that may eventually be of value. Even if they don’t find anything of value, tell them to cherish the moment. The chase makes the prize all the sweeter.

Cherish the victories, in sports card collecting, in the sport they follow and in real life. The hobby of collecting sports cards teaches everyone to value the experience, win or lose. Teach your children to buy basketball cards because they want to and because they enjoy it, not because they may make an extra dollar.