Roger Clemens Rookie Cards: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
When I was a kid collecting during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Roger Clemens rookie cards were always among the top of my want list.
It all started in elementary school when I read a short biography on Clemens in which his mother stated she knew he would be a big league star when he struck out three consecutive batters with nine pitches as a Little Leaguer.
And I'd later learn that's what's known as an "immaculate inning" in baseball.
But from that moment, I was in awe of his overpowering pitching ability...
His velocity, his splitter, and his tenacity on the mound were something to watch despite the controversy that surrounded him later in his career.
And this guide I take a look back at his rookie cards in detail one by one.
Let's get started!
The Five Types of Roger Clemens Rookie Cards
Roger Clemens came along during a time when the hobby was just about to get really carried away with the number of different sets available to collectors.
Five rookie cards may seem like a lot when you consider most players during the vintage era had only one.
And you may be surprised at how well some of these cards have held up over time considering the cloud that still hangs over his legacy.
1984 Fleer Update #27
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $600
Distinction: Fleer's "Update" product line was its answer to the Topps Traded sets which featured players who were traded or called up from the Minors during the season. Because Clemens was called up to the Red Sox on May 15, 1984 he was then included in the 1984 Fleer Update set. And along with Clemens' 1985 Topps rookie, this is his most recognizable and desirable.
Number: This is card #27 in a set of 132 cards.
Front Design: I actually think this card is the best-looking of all five of his rookies.
The set design itself is straightforward but the bright-faced Clemens and the clear blue sky background make for some fantastic eye appeal.
Sure, it could've been even better had Fleer pictured him in action on the mound but the pose from the chest up still works.
Back Design: The reverse side has all the tell-tale signs of those early Fleer sets: a simple color scheme, stripes through the stat lines and a decent-sized trivia write-up along the bottom.
When you look at his Minor League stats, it's easy to see just how quickly he breezed his way through to his Red Sox debut.
Fleer's inclusion of a photo on the back helped set them apart and was always something I enjoyed.
One thing that always had me curious was how they didn't mention his time in the Minors in 1984 with Pawtucket.
Condition Issues: The biggest challenge collectors face with this card is centering.
And that goes for both the front and the back as Fleer always seemed to struggle in that area in with its early 1980s issues.
1985 Donruss #273
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $160
Distinction: This is the key rookie card in the 1985 Donruss set which also featured rookies of Kirby Puckett and Doc Gooden.
Number: Donruss included 660 cards in their set with Clemens' card #273.
Front Design: Say what you will about Donruss but they clearly had some of the most recognizable designs of any company during the 1980s.
With so many sets featuring white borders, I always enjoyed it when a company mixed things up with colored borders and this set was no exception.
And I love that Donruss logo in the upper-left corner, too.
I know I said earlier that his 1984 Fleer Update card was probably my favorite design but this one is right there with it.
And with the action shot of him ready to fire one across the plate, it just may take the top spot.
Back Design: The reverse side is instantly recognizable as a Donruss design.
The horizontal layout, the fonts, the colored background...everything about it has that classic Donruss look and feel to it.
And that layout made room for an elongated stat box which includes full words for categories instead of abbreviations like "SO" for strikeouts and "BB" for walks that you see on Topps and Fleer designs.
I always appreciated how Donruss included additional information like players' contract statuses and how they were acquired.
Donruss was clearly trying to set itself apart from Fleer and Topps and I think they did so quite well.
Condition Issues: Centering is also a tough challenge with this card.
But those colored borders that easily show wear and tear are typically the key component that will prevent a pack fresh card from being graded at the PSA 10 level.
1985 Fleer #155
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $350
Distinction: This is again the key rookie card in a set which also featured rookies of Doc Gooden and Kirby Puckett.
Number: Like Donruss, Fleer also included 660 cards in its set with Clemens' being #155.
Front Design: Fleer was also known for its sets with non-white borders during the 1980s.
The grey borders may come off looking a bit bland but the bright red borders and Red Sox logo at the top help balance out the card with just enough pop.
And how about that look on Clemens' face?
He may be staring down a base runner on second...or just staring down someone in general...but you can definitely get a good idea of how intense he was from this image.
This card has a more serious tone to it overall than the others but it's still a great-looking card.
Back Design: The reverse side side again has those classic Fleer design elements to it that we covered with his 1984 Fleer Update card.
We do see that Fleer included his time with Pawtucket in early 1984, something that I always thought was noticeably absent from his 1984 Fleer Update rookie.
Condition Issues: Centering is a tough issue with this card as are those grey borders since they can also easily show wear.
1985 Leaf #99
Estimated PSA 10 Value: $325
Distinction: Leaf once acquired Donruss in order to position itself as a card manufacturer for the Canadian market, pretty much like the relationship between O-Pee-Chee and Topps.
And this was the key card in their 1985 release.
Number: The 1985 Leaf set was much smaller than its Donruss counterpart as it included only 264 cards instead of 660.
You'll also notice the numbering of the sets was different as Clemens is card #99 in the Leaf set versus #273 in the Donruss set.
Front Design: Obviously, the Leaf design was nearly identical to that of Donruss with the glaring difference on the front being the leaf symbol right next to the Donruss logo in the upper-left.
Back Side: The reverse side also has the same look and feel to the reverse side of the Donruss issue.
However, there are a few obvious differences here as well, primarily the inclusion of both English and French text, the card #99 in the upper left, and the mention of the Leaf company in the upper right.
Condition Issues: The quality of the cardboard stock used for these cards wasn't the greatest so they're often easily dinged up and tougher to find in high grade than their Donruss cousins.
1985 Topps #181
Estimated Base PSA 10 Value: $400
Estimated Tiffany PSA 10 Value: $3,200
Distinction: This is arguably Clemens' most recognizable and sought after of all his rookies.
The base version may not be quite as valuable as his 84 Fleer Update but in Tiffany form the price can easily reach over $3,000 in top grade.
Tiffany was a higher-tier offering that Topps produced from 1984 to 1991 that were printed on higher quality cardboard and were released in a limited number of factory sets.
Their relatively scarcity and premium quality make them much more expensive in PSA 10 condition.
This is also the only case on this list in which Clemens' rookie isn't the most expensive in a given set--that honor would go to the Mark McGwire rookie card in this case.
Number: This is card #181 in a huge set that contained 792 cards in total.
Front Design: The 1985 Topps design is classy and features a great color scheme overall
The tilted team nameplates along the bottom also add some great character.
Topps also picked a great image of a young Clemens with a nice smile on his face.
Back Side: Topps produced a lot of cards in the 1980's with reverse sides that were printed horizontally and with unusual color schemes.
The red text on green background in this case is interesting but I always thought it made this card a bit tougher to read than necessary.
Aside from that, its got all the classic Topps elements to it from personal information and stats to the nice bit of included trivia.
Condition Issues: The most common condition obstacle with this card is centering but you'll also sometimes see print bubbles as well.
Roger Clemens' Legacy
Roger Clemens was unquestionably one of the greatest pitchers of all-time.
His power and pitching craft routinely brought fear to opposing hitters year after year.
However, the steroid and perjury scandals that plagued him later in his career have prevented him from entry into the Hall of Fame to this point.
Over his amazing career, he would accomplish the following:
- 7x Cy Young
- 4,672 Strikeouts
- 2x Pitching Triple Crown (1997, 1998)
- 2x World Series Champion (1999,2000)
- AL MVP 1986
- 11x All-Star
- 4x MLB Wins Leader
- 7x ERA Leader
Those are just some of the amazing achievements that he would produce over his storied career.
His stats and resume are definitely Hall of Fame-caliber but we've yet to see if he'll ever garner enough votes to be inducted.