The 1990s had its ups and its downs. The decade began with the hobby hotter than ever. But then came the inevitable crash, which was further fueled by the baseball strike that killed the 1994 World Series and carried into 1995. But the latter part of the decade saw a couple memorable moments when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased 60 home runs. For collectors, the 1990s brought tons of great rookie cards that remain must-haves today.
Compared to a lot of modern high-end cards, almost all 1990s rookie cards can be seen as a bargain (at least raw copies). Future Hall of Famers like Chipper Jones and Jim Thome can be found for a couple of dollars, even as their career achievements start to pile up. Even the 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie card can be found for less than the price of most hobby boxes released today.
But just because they may not bring future riches doesn't mean that these cards should be ignored or shunned like Jose Canseco at an official MLB function. Below are ten must have rookie cards from the 1990s that every fan of the era should consider.
We included only one rookie card for each player, although most have several. We opted for what's generally perceived as being the player's best rookie.
10 Must-Have 90s Rookie Cards
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One of the decade's most beloved players, the 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas benefits from a clean design and premium card stock. Long one of the era's most popular cards, it now stands far above the 1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa rookie.
Other than a small line of text and white card stock, the 1991 O-Pee-Chee Chipper Jones looks almost exactly like its Topps counterpart. Intended for the Canadian market, it's much rarer than his other rookie cards and has started to spike, particularly graded copies.
Like the Chipper Jones card, a ridiculous print run will forever keep the 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition Jim Thome rookie from ever gaining any significant value. There does seem to be something wrong with getting a member of the 600 Home Run Club's rookie for less than a cup of Starbucks coffee. This card won't give you bad breath either.
Mariano Rivera has but one rookie card. And until recently it was largely ignored. Now that many recognize the Yankees great as the best closer to ever play the game, the 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera rookie has become hot in the hobby. It's also a great reminder of early-90s pretty fashions.
It was a toss-up as to whether to include the 1992 Fleer Update Mike Piazza rookie card or the catcher's 1992 Bowman rookie card. Fleer is more rare but the Bowman card looks better and is more iconic. Ultimately, Piazza's 1992 Fleer Update rookie has long been the one collector's chase. That said, both are reasonably priced cards for one of baseball's best ever catchers.
Does this card need justification? Next to the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr, the 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie may be the hobby's most important and recognized baseball rookie of the past 40 years. The foil card stock make it extremely condition sensitive. High-grade versions can go for big money.
Should the Yankees superstar start breaking some major career records, the 1994 SP Alex Rodriguez rookie could become more popular once again. However, in recent years, admitted steroid use, huge contracts and tabloid drama have put Rodriguez out of favor with a lot of collectors. But once the records start breaking, it's likely a lot of collectors will come back. Like the 1993 SP Derek Jeter, foil edges wreck havoc with this card.
Vladimir Guerrero's career may not have ended with the same excitement as when it began. His 1995 Bowman's Best rookie card may be worth only a fraction of what it once was but it's still one of the decade's best. For a long time, Guerrero was a distant second in the set to Andruw Jones. But then Jones became a journeyman player and his hobby status plummeted.
The 1997 Bowman Chrome Roy Halladay rookie card took a while to emerge. That comes easy when you're playing in Toronto. Now a member of the Phillies and one of baseball's most collected pitchers, Doc has taken up the mantel as the go-to card for the landmark 1997 Bowman Chrome set.
One day they'll make a movie about Josh Hamilton and how he overcame his personal struggles. He has one of the most remarkable stories in the history of the game, at least from those that have been made public. Now one of the game's most popular players, the 1999 Bowman Chrome Josh Hamilton rookie card is his best. The set boasts one of the strongest checklists in the history of the brand, which also makes it one of the most popular.