By Larry Canale
Fair or not, Thurman Munson isn’t among the ballplayers inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he remains a collector favorite — especially among the legions of baby boomers who grew up watching the 1970s-era Yankees. And for collectors, the Munson card of choice isn’t his rookie card; it’s his second-year card, from Topps’ 1971 set — and with good reason.
Aesthetically, the 1971 Munson issue is a classic, offering a horizontal action photo of the catcher making a stand at home plate amid a cloud of dust, having just tagged out an Oakland A’s baserunner on a close play.
Practically speaking, Munson’s 1971 card is extremely condition-sensitive, thanks largely to its easy-to-chip black borders. Combine its fragile and sensitive edges with Topps’ centering issues and occasional print hiccups, and 1971 cards in general were nearly impossible to keep in 9 or 10 condition.
So it’s not surprising to see legions of bidders go hard after any Near-Mint/Mint Topps 1971 card. And when a PSA 9-graded 1971 Munson turned up on eBay in February, it created a bidding frenzy. During a 10-day auction, some 79 bids sent the card’s price soaring to a hefty $20,099.
To put that figure in perspective, consider that even the slightest reduction in grade can result in a precipitous drop in value. Two months earlier, in December 2016, a 1971 Munson graded 8.5 sold for $7,100 on eBay — about a third of what the PSA 9 brought.
PSA reports a population of just four 1971 Munson cards graded as high as 9. The authentication company hasn’t graded any at 9.5 or 10.
What about Munson’s rookie? That one, a card the catcher shared with one-time Yankees prospect Dave McDonald, comes from Topps’ gray-bordered 1970 set. In December, a PSA 9 example of the card sold for $954 on 28 bids.
Interestingly, an unopened rack pack with Munson’s rookie showing on the top landed on eBay in January and sold for even less: $696.
Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez have officially risen from the ranks of “semi-stars” to “stars” in the collectibles hobby. All three will be inducted in Baseball’s Hall of Fame (along with executives John Schuerholz and Bud Selig) this season.
In honor of these three diamond stars, let’s take a look at their rookie cards and autographs.
• Raines’ career goes back the farthest of the three; his rookie card appeared in Topps’ 1981 set. He’s pictured on a multi-player card (with Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate) that you can pick up for around $300. He’s also on his own player card from Topps’ 1981 Traded set; that one is pushing $700. Raines-signed baseballs tend to go for $50 to $100, although after his induction was announced several examples sold for $200 to $250.
• In Bagwell’s case, you want his 1991 Topps Traded Tiffany card. It’s selling for $200 to $250 these days — not bad. Authenticated Baggy-signed baseballs go for $75 to $150, sometimes higher, depending on condition, the seller and the authenticator. We’ve seen Bagwell-signed bats sell for $800 to $1,200, while game-worn jerseys have been going for $500 to $800.
• Rodriquez’s first appearance on cardboard was in Topps’ Traded Tiffany update set. In PSA 10 shape, it’s been selling for $350 to $400. Several Rodriguez-signed bats brought $300 to $500 in recent sales on eBay. Add an I-Rod signed baseball to your collection for $100 to $150.
Be aware of the HOF spike that often affects newly inducted players. Emotions can get both sellers and bidders excited, so determine whether you can wait and find a similar item later — at a “calmed down” price.
AN UNDERVALUED JORDAN ITEM?
You’d think that because Michael Jordan collectors routinely pay upwards of $20,000 for a card (albeit his rookie card!), an authenticated signed basketball would go for at least a couple thousand, right?
Actually, no. A few examples in recent months tell us you can still get a Jordan-signed basketball for as little as $100 and up to $1,300. At the high end of that range is a perfect Spalding specimen with Upper Deck Authenticated provenance, PSA/DNA approval on top of it, and a big, bold, black sig. We also saw several UDA- or PSA-authenticated examples near the lower end, from $102 to $300.