Mark McGwire Rookie Cards: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
Growing up in the late 1980’s, I remember my friends and I all dreaming of owning a 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card.
It was one of the hottest cards at the time…
Not quite as big as some of the vintage baseball cards.
But in terms of modern cards it was way up there.
McGwire was one of the most popular players playing for one of the most powerful teams in baseball at the time.
They aren’t worth as much as they used to be, but in top condition they can still go for hundreds of dollars.
To this day I still have never owned one. But they are great cards.
However, I did own most of his rookie cards from 1987, though.
In this guide I go over everything you need to know about collecting all of McGwire’s rookie cards.
Mark McGwire Rookie Card Value
The first thing most collectors want to know is: how much is a Mark McGwire rookie card worth?
It definitely isn’t worth what it used to be…
Not only did the heavy printing and distribution of 1980’s era cards lead to over supply and tanking values, but the steroids scandal of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s didn’t help either.
But, you may be surprised at just how expensive it still is in top condition.
The key is is finding one graded by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition.
They are usually thought to be the benchmark in that industry so collectors put heavy premiums on their graded cards.
According to the PSA SMR current market values are:
PSA 10 GEM MINT: $750
PSA 9 MINT: $45
PSA 8 NM-MT: $10
What if your McGwire rookie card isn’t professionally graded?
How do you determine its market value?
Buyers and sellers should focus on several key factors that professional graders look at such as:
- Centering – From top to bottom and left to right, how well is the card centered? Centering is probably the biggest concern for most collectors. On the front side, if a card exhibits no worse than 55/45 to 60/40 on the front and 75/25 on the back then it is usually considered a centered card.
- Corners – You want to see sharp corners. Ideally “razor sharp” as many auctioneers and sellers like to say. Round corners are signs of heavy use and are eye sores.
- Edges – Nice clean edges go a long way to help a card’s eye appeal. Sometimes you’ll see vintage cards that were poorly cut and don’t have nice clean edges. Professional graders (and collectors) will make exceptions for cards with known cut issues. But when possible, you want to see edges free of chipping and notches.
- Surface – One of the easiest ways to ruin a card’s value is if it has a crease in it. Other issues like indentation, marking, scratching, and staining can significantly reduce a card’s value.
You can always refer to cards listed for sale online as a reference only. See what a Gem Mint 10 or NM-MT 8 looks like by finding current examples listed for sale.
But please be careful and remember those are only references.
It’s just too tough to notice some condition issues, especially surface and gloss issues, by looking at you card with the naked eye and comparing it to a professionally graded copy online.
Remember: Professional graders use high-tech optical equipment when reviewing them and grading them. They can see errors you can’t.
Here’s a copy of a PSA Gem Mint 10 example that exhibits good centering, sharp corners, clear surface and clean edges. Everything you’d want to see as a high-grade collector.
Distinction: This is his first recognized mainstream rookie card. I say “first” because the hobby also recognizes a lot of his cards printed in 1987 as rookies, too. Some actually put more emphasis on those 1987 cards as being “true” rookies since they were the first cards to show him in an Oakland Athletics uniform. But hobbyists still chase his 1985 Topps card and consider it his most valuable and sought after of all his rookies.
Number: This is card #401 in a huge set of 792 cards.
Design: Topps went with a vertical layout in 1985 and featured the team logo and name as well as the player name and position at the bottom. A look at Roger Clemens’ 1985 Topps rookie card is shown below as a reference of the regular set design. But Topps took a different design approach for the USA Olympic Team subset, cards number #389 to #404. For the Olympic Team cards, Topps featured a baseball in the upper left corner with “USA” in bold alongside a titled banner that reads “1984 United States Baseball Team”. Nice shots of players in their USA team uniform dominate the middle and in small print along the bottom you can see the player’s name and position.
Reverse Side: The reverse side of the card is printed with a horizontal layout and features McGwire’s personal information and statistics from each of his three years playing for USC. The lime green coloration scheme has 1980’s written all over it. Topps also mentions his accomplishments as a standout at USC and his notorious power hitting abilities.
Condition Issues: The card can sometimes be off-centered and the corners can be a bit prone to showing wear easily.
Mark McGwire Rookie Cards From 1987
Here is a look at some of his other recognized rookie cards from 1987 from some of the hobby’s mainstream printers:
1987 Donruss #46 Rated Rookie
First on the list of other McGwire rookies in his 1987 Donruss Rated Rookies issue. I always loved the “Rated Rookie” callout on Donruss cards of that era. And I think that the design of their 1987 cards were some of their best overall. The colored borders didn’t do collectors any favor in terms of chipping and wearing easily. But I always thought they had a unique look.
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $22
1987 Donruss Rookies #1
Donruss also had a “Rookies” set in 1987 and McGwire was card #1 on the list. It’s got pretty much the same look and feel as the card above but shows him in a different shot along with a “The Rookies” logo in the bottom.
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30
1987 Fleer Update #U-76
McGwire made it into Fleer’s Update set in 1987 and is shown following through on a swing with a bright smile on his face. The blue borders of that set are instantly recognizable.
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $15
This is his least valuable rookie card on the list. Still a nice one to have if you’re a collector of 1980’s stars, but it just doesn’t hold the same level of value as the others.
1987 Leaf #46 Rated Rookie
Donruss’s Canadian counterpart, Leaf, produced rated rookie cards for McGwire as well. They have the same look and design as the Donruss version but the Leaf logo is clearly visible in the top left.
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $80
Notice the Leaf version is much more expensive than the Donruss version if you find them in PSA 10 condition. They’re considered more scarce, hence the price bump.
1987 Topps #366
This is probably McGwire’s second most popular rookie card. It was the first Topps card to feature McGwire in an Oakland Athletics uniform and a card that many kids of that era chased feverishly.
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30
Mark McGwire’s Legacy
Mark McGwire goes down in history as one of the game’s most feared power hitters of all-time. He famously broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1998 when he went on to rack up 70 dingers.
He played 16 seasons in the big leagues between the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.
His list of accomplishments is outstanding:
- 1987 American League Rookie of The Year
- 12-time All-Star
- 2-time World Series Champion
- 3-time Silver Slugger
But his legacy will forever be tarnished by the steroids scandal that rocked the sport in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
It remains to be seen if Major League Baseball will ever allow stars from that era in the Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, McGwire’s rookie cards still hold value and are sought after by many collectors.