15 Most Valuable 1991 Bowman Baseball Cards

Most Valuable 1991 Bowman Baseball Cards

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After more than a forty-year hiatus, Topps initially brought the Bowman brand back in 1989.

Yet, most will remember the 1991 Bowman baseball card set as one of the best of the era.

And that really all comes down to one reason:

Five Hall of Famers made their rookie card debuts in this 704-card checklist...

And so did more than a hundred other players, even some who either had brief Major League careers or never appeared in a single MLB game at all.

But, in a constant fight for any inch of a red-hot sports card market they could get, Bowman was to be the place where collectors could find tons of rookies and prospects.

Many hobbyists back then had mixed feelings about this set and many still do.

But, as time has gone by, some of their values have held up quite well.

And in this guide, we'll take a look at the 15 most valuable.

Let's jump right in!

Let's be clear: most of the cards from this set do not have any value these days.

Like the 1991 Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps and Upper Deck sets, large print runs saturated the market with these cards, driving down their values.

So, for the cards on this list to be worth much, they'll have to be graded by PSA to be in perfect, gem mint condition.

That means the card needs to be flawless.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the list:

1991 Bowman #183 Jeff Bagwell Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $225

When the Boston Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for cash on January 5, 1920, they completed the worst trade in baseball history.

They completed another terrible trade just over seventy years later on August 30, 1990, when they sent Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for reliever Larry Andersen.

Bagwell was in the Minors at the time and showing decent promise, but the Red Sox were in win-now mode and trying to hold off the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East race.

With Wade Boggs at third and Mo Vaught at first, the Red Sox didn't think they had room for Bagwell so they made the trade.

It seemed to have worked out well for Boston at first as Andersen was dominant with a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings to help the Red Sox win the AL East.

However, the Oakland A's destroyed the Red Sox in the ALCS and Andersen never pitched for Boston again.

On the other hand, Bagwell captured the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year Award with Houston the following year.

Bagwell finished his fifteen-year Hall of Fame career with 449 home runs, four All-Star Games, one MVP, three Silver Sluggers, and one Gold Glove.

1991 Bowman #183 Jeff Bagwell Rookie Card

1991 Bowman #272 Ivan Rodriguez Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $225

When the Texas Rangers called up Ivan Rodriguez for Major League action on June 20, 1991, he wasted no time flashing his future greatness with both the bat and glove.

In 88 games and 280 at-bats, Rodriguez batted .264 with three home runs, 27 RBI and 24 runs scored for a Rangers team that finished third in the AL East with an 85-77 record.

And behind the plate, Rodriguez showed signs of amazing things to come with a .983 fielding percentage and 49% caught stealing percentage, the second-best mark in the AL.

As a result, he earned a fourth-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

By the next season in 1992, Rodriguez started 112 games behind the plate and increased his caught stealing percentage to 51.8% to lead the AL for the first of nine times in his career.

He also earned his first of fourteen All-Star Game appearances and first of thirteen Gold Gloves.

Over twenty-one seasons in MLB, Ivan Rodriguez earned a reputation as one of the greatest catchers of all time and eventually made it into Cooperstown in 2017.

1991 Bowman #272 Ivan Rodriguez Rookie Card

1991 Bowman #565 Kenny Lofton Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $175

Kenny Lofton had an outstanding seventeen-year career during which he collected 2,428 hits, stole 622 bases, and finished with a .299 career batting average as one of the best lead-off hitters of his era.

He was also phenomenal in center field, as noted by his four Gold Gloves.

It all began on September 14, 1991, when the Astros called him up for an away game against the Cincinnati Reds.

Lofton immediately raised eyebrows during that game after going 3-4 with a double and scoring three runs.

But, since the Astros already had a solid centerfielder in Steve Finley, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians during the offseason.

Lofton was hurt but used the opportunity as motivation and spent countless hours with Cleveland's first base coach Dave Nelson retooling his approach to baserunning and fine-tuning his bunting technique.

And during the 1992 season, Lofton responded with one of the most celebrated rookie seasons in Cleveland's franchise history.

His 66 stolen bases in 1992 paced the American League while also establishing a new franchise record and American League rookie record.

After finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 1992 behind Milwaukee's Pat Listach, Lofton would earn six All-Star appearances over his spectacular career.

Lofton remains one of the best players never to make it to Cooperstown.

1991 Bowman #565 Kenny Lofton Rookie Card

1991 Bowman #97 Mike Mussina Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $125

Though he wasn't the hardest thrower in baseball, Mike Mussina quickly proved to the Baltimore Orioles that he had what it took to succeed when they called him in August 1991.

He'd finish the 1991 season with a 4-5 record but his 2.87 ERA and 1.12 WHIP demonstrated that he knew how to handle himself at the highest level.

By the next season in 1992, Mussina rode a 2.54 ERA and 1.08 WHIP to finish 18-5 with an MLB-leading .783 winning percentage to finish fourth in the Cy Young vote.

For the rest of his career, Mussina was one of the top pitchers in baseball every year until he retired after the 2008 season.

Even more impressive, he did it as a member of the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, which meant he never had it easy, having to face the tough teams of the AL East year after year.

When Mike Mussina first retired from baseball, many looked at his career 3.68 ERA, 2,823 strikeouts, 270 wins, 5 All-Star selections, and 7 Gold Gloves to judge if his resume was Cooperstown-worthy.

Fortunately for Mussina, Sabermetrics grew in popularity, and when applied to his numbers, they painted a completely different picture of just how good "Moose" really was.

1991 Bowman #97 Mike Mussina Rookie Card

1991 Bowman #569 Chipper Jones Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $125

You might be surprised to see the Chipper Jones rookie card ranked below those of guys like Jeff Bagwell, Kenny Lofton, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina.

And that's not saying anything against how great those guys were because they were all fantastic.

But, many would agree that Chipper Jones is the biggest name in that group.

So, why would he rank lower?

It all has to do with how many PSA 10 examples exist relative to these other guys.

Here's a rough breakdown of how many PSA 10's of each card there are at the time of this writing:

  • Jeff Bagwell: 155
  • Ivan Rodriguez: 227
  • Kenny Lofton: 78
  • Mike Mussina: 253
  • Chipper Jones: 1,752

That should give you an idea of how much more popular Chipper Jones is than the rest of those guys and with such an inflated PSA 10 population comes relatively lower prices.

Though he wouldn't make his MLB debut until 1993 and his official rookie campaign didn't take place until 1995, Bowman made sure to hold a spot for him in this set.

Given how Jones idolized Mickey Mantle and he and his dad would work on his switch-hitting much like Mantle and his dad did, I've always wondered if this card was not some kind of a nod to Mantle's 1965 Topps card.

1991 Bowman #569 Chipper Jones Rookie Card
1965 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #68 Jim Thome Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $75

From 1991 to 1993, Jim Thome spent most of his time in the Minors before being called up to the Majors late in the season.

The back and forth jump between the Minors and Majors was reflective of Thome's desperate search for the incredible bat and power he'd become known for years later.

On September 4, 1991, Thome made his Major League debut when the Indians called him up for a road game against the Minnesota Twins.

Thome went 2-4 with an RBI, one run scored and one strikeout but things went sour from there as he finished with a .255/.298/.367 slash line.

Nobody could've predicted then that Jim Thome would be a Hall of Famer one day.

Despite his struggles, Thome kept at it with dogged determination and by the time the 1994 and 1995 seasons rolled around, he had proven himself worthy of playing at the highest level.

He'd eventually become known as a guy who could hit 40 home runs, drive in 100 RBI and score 100 runs pretty much any given season from that point on.

After twenty-two seasons in Major League Baseball playing for six teams, Thome retired with 612 home runs and 1,699 RBI with a reputation as one of the best power-hitters of his era.

1991 Bowman #68 Jim Thome Rookie Card

1991 Bowman #246 Ken Griffey Jr.

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $75

In his third MLB season, Ken Griffey Jr. continued to elevate his game in front of an adoring baseball fan base.

At just 21 years old, Griffey Jr. set career highs with a .327 batting average and 42 doubles, drove in 100 RBI for the first time, and posted his third-best OBP at .399.

During the season, Griffey appeared in his second All-Star Game and when everything wrapped up, he received his second-straight Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger.

The wheels were in motion for one of the most incredible talents the game had ever seen and only time would tell how far "The Kid" would go.

Despite how great Griffey was that season, the Mariners were still several years away from putting it all together to make the playoffs.

Though Griffey's play didn't show it, the 1991 season was full of emotion as his dad had been injured in a car accident before the season, leaving him with a herniated disk in his neck.

Griffey Sr. would make a healthy recover but was only able to play in just 30 more games alongside his son in Seattle before retiring at the end of the season.

1991 Bowman #246 Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #280 Nolan Ryan

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $50

Not many players would have much left in their bag of tricks at 44 years old and in their 25th MLB season.

But, not many players were as extraordinary as Nolan Ryan.

On May 1, 1991, Ryan became the oldest pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter when he struck out 16 Toronto Blue Jays in a 3-0 victory in front of 33,439 fans in Arlington.

That was his final no-hitter and brought his career tally to seven.

Many were shocked when he tied Sandy Koufax's record of four hitters way back in 1975 and few ever dreamed he would get to seven.

Like his record for strikeouts (5,714) and walks (2,795), Ryan's seven no-hitters will likely never be surpassed.

While the no-hitter was undoubtedly the highlight of his season, Ryan remained solid throughout, hitting the 200 strikeout mark for the 15th and final time while leading MLB in WHIP (1.006) and K/BB ratio (10.6).

His 2.91 ERA was the last sub-3.00 ERA of his career and the first since his incredible 1987 season with the Houston Astros.

The horizontal layout of this card perfectly frames Ryan throwing a heater from the mound.

1991 Bowman #280 Nolan Ryan Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #104 Cal Ripken Jr.

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $40

Cal Ripken Jr. won the MVP award two times in his career: once in 1983 when he led the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title and again in 1991 when Baltimore finished in sixth place in the AL East at 67-95.

Sure, the Orioles were terrible in 1991, but Ripken was incredible.

And fortunately, a team's success isn't the ultimate driver in who is determined the MVP of the league.

Ripken was incredible at the plate in 1991, batting .323 with 99 runs scored and 46 doubles while setting career marks for home runs (34), RBI (114), OBP (.374), OPS+ (162), and total bases (368).

As good as he was with the bat, Ripken turned things up a notch on defense to capture his first of two career Gold Gloves.

Still, some doubters thought the Orioles' overall poor performance and the fact that Ripken didn't lead in any major offensive category didn't warrant a second MVP for the Iron Man.

Since the league's embrace of advanced analytics in recent years, however, it is clear that Ripken was very much deserving of the award.

His 11.5 WAR outpaced was over two more than the season's second-place finisher (Tom Glavine, 9.2) and three-and-a-half more than the next best position player (Barry Bonds, 8.0).

1991 Bowman #104 Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #178 Don Mattingly

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $40

New York Yankees legend Don Mattingly was one of the hottest names in baseball during the 1980s and seemingly on a surefire path towards Cooperstown.

From 1984 to 1989, Mattingly appeared in six-straight All-Star Games while winning one batting title, one MVP, five Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.

Unfortunately, the Evansville, Indiana native missed significant time in 1990 due to a back injury that would ultimately derail that path to the Hall of Fame.

After recovering, Mattingly was still phenomenal with the glove, but the power that allowed him to post eyebrow-raising stats with the bat in the 1980s was greatly diminished.

During the 1991 season, Mattingly hit just nine home runs in 152 games while slashing a respectable yet unremarkable .288/.339/.394.

As I mentioned, his defensive skills were still there and he would earn his sixth of nine career Gold Gloves by season's end.

The Yankees remained a disappointment for fans in the Bronx, finishing fifth in the AL East at 71-91 for their third losing season in a row.

Mattingly's mullet on this card serves as a subtle reminder of how he and three of his Yankees teammates were fined and benched at one point during the season for not cutting their hair.

1991 Bowman #178 Don Mattingly Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #213 Rickey Henderson

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $40

Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter wasn't the only incredible record established on May 1, 1991.

And, as incredible as it was, Ryan's moment may have been slightly less impressive than what Rickey Henderson had accomplished a few hours earlier against the New York Yankees.

Henderson has started the season with 936 career steals which left him two shy of Lou Brock's career mark of 938 stolen bases.

On April 9, the first game of the season against the Minnesota Twins, Henderson pulled within one stolen base of the record when he stole second in the bottom of the first.

A calf injury forced Henderson to miss time in the middle of April, but during his second game off the disabled list against the California Angels, Henderson tied Brock with his 938th stolen base.

Then on May 1, against the New York Yankees, Henderson reached on an error in the fourth inning and pulled into second after a Dave Henderson single.

With one out, Henderson took off for third and made history.

The Hall of Famer ripped the base out of the dirt, holding it above his head in triumph in one of the most iconic moments in MLB history.

1991 Bowman #213 Rickey Henderson Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #320 Kirby Puckett

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $30

During the 1991 regular season, Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett continued to be the offensive and defensive force for which fans cherished him so much.

After slashing .319/.352/.460, Puckett missed out slightly on his fifth Silver Slugger to Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Carter, but he did pick up his fifth Gold Glove.

His overall performance placed him seventh in the American League MVP voting.

However, Twins fans will never forget Puckett's 1991 season for something much more iconic.

During the third inning of Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, Puckett robbed Ron Gant of an extra-base hit after making an incredible leaping catch in left-center to keep the game scoreless.

Then, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett forced a Game 7 by hitting a walk-off home run off Charlie Leibrandt in front of an ear-splitting Metrodome crowd.

The Twins would ultimately win Game 7, and Puckett's legacy was forever cemented as a Minnesota folk hero.

1991 Bowman #320 Kirby Puckett Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #366 Frank Thomas

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $30

White Sox fans got their first glimpse of great things to come when the team called up Frank Thomas in August of the 1990 season.

In sixty games, Thomas slashed .330/.454/.529 with seven home runs, 31 RBI, and 39 runs scored as he showcased his ability to hit for power and average, drive in runs, and draw walks.

Few in history have demonstrated the kind of plate discipline that Thomas had at just 22 years old.

And, there wouldn't be anything close to a sophomore slump for "The Big Hurt" in 1991.

In fact, he followed up with an electric performance during the 1991 season that saw him lead baseball in OBP (.453), OPS (1.006), OPS+ (180) and walks (138) to finish third in the AL MVP race.

Thomas also finished in the MLB top ten in home runs (32) and RBIs (109), earning his first of four Silver Slugger awards.

His home run power was already feared, and the image of the hulking 6-foot-5 slugger swinging a piece of rebar (salvaged from Old Comiskey Park) in the on-deck circle only exacerbated that.

How Thomas ended his career with only five All-Star appearances will be a question that I'll never understand.

1991 Bowman #366 Frank Thomas Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #398 Ozzie Smith

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $30

The 1991 season was one of the better offensive seasons for Ozzie Smith during his nineteen-year Hall of Fame career.

His .285/.380/.367 slash line was his second-best since he slashed .303/.392/.383 during the 1987 season and far better than what the baseball world expected.

Smith's 96 runs scored and 30 doubles were the second-highest totals in those categories, while his 112 OPS+ was a career-best.

And, as always, Smith was otherworldly with the glove as he led the NL in fielding percentage (.987) and double plays turned (79) while finishing fourth in assists (387) and third in putouts (244).

His all-around spectacular play led to a twelfth-straight All-Star appearance and Gold Glove while putting him twentieth in the NL MVP vote.

Though Ozzie more than did his part, the St. Louis Cardinals finished second in the NL East at 84-78 and fourteen games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.

1991 Bowman #398 Ozzie Smith Baseball Card

1991 Bowman #647 Tony Gwynn

Estimated PSA 10 Gem Mint Value: $30

For most players in Major League Baseball, a .317 batting average in a given season could turn out to be a career-best.

But, not when you're Tony Gwynn.

For Tony Gwynn, his .317 batting average during the 1991 season was a bit of a letdown and one of the lowest batting averages of his Hall of Fame career.

Coming into the season, Gwynn had already picked up four batting titles and had hit as high as .370 during the 1987 season.

Despite the "down" year, Gwynn still performed well enough to make his seventh All-Star Game and kept things going on the defensive end to earn his fifth Gold Glove.

Amazingly, after batting .317 in 1991, Gwynn hit exactly .317 again in 1992 but that was as low as it would get for the Hall of Famer until he retired after the 2001 season.

From 1993 to 2001, Gwynn never batted less than .321 and picked up four more batting titles during that span.

He even flirted with .400 during the 1994 season when he finished with an incredible .394 batting average, the highest since Ted Williams hit .406 during the 1941 season.

1991 Bowman #647 Tony Gwynn Baseball Card

1991 Bowman Baseball Cards In Review

The 704-card checklist for this set was issued in one series and contained multiple outstanding rookie cards and plenty of star players of the era.

The design is pretty straightforward and basic, like any other Bowman set of the time.

A nice mix of player poses and decent action shots keeps things interesting enough.

However, most will always think of the Chipper Jones, Ivan Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Thome and Mike Mussina rookie cards when they think of this set.

And, they'll probably think of the Kenny Lofton rookie, too, since he was a guy who should arguably be in Cooperstown with the rest of those guys.

Unopened Box of 1991 Bowman Baseball Cards

The biggest names of the day like Ken Griffey Jr., Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly, and Rickey Henderson rounded things out quite nicely.

There were also some subsets, including:

  • Rod Carew Tribute (#1 - 5)
  • Minor League MVPs (#180 - 185; #693 - 698)
  • AL Silver Sluggers (#367 - 375)
  • NL Silver Sluggers (#376 - 384)
  • Checklists (#699 - 704)

Many will remember the set either positively or negatively for its huge push towards packing in as many prospect and rookie cards as possible.

Again, though, Topps was doing what it could to carve out any nice they could find in a crowded market.

Ross Uitts
 

Ross is the founder of Old Sports Cards and has been collecting sports cards for over 30 years. He also loves to write about the hobby and has written for Beckett, Topps, SABR and of course, this website. Need help buying or selling cards or have a general question about the hobby? Contact him at [email protected]

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