George Herman Ruth, Jr. or "Babe" Ruth, as he was best known, also carried the monikers "the Bambino" and "the Sultan of Swat." He played from 1914–1935. To say he's a legend would be an understatement. Despite playing at a time when few collectors today were alive, Babe Ruth cards and memorabilia continue to be a cornerstone of the hobby today.
Ruth originally broke into the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox as a starting pitcher. He was groomed by his hometown Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team. In a financial move that, to this day defies logic, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in 1919. He converted to a full-time right fielder and went on to become one of the league's all-time great power hitters.
Ruth revolutionized baseball. He was the key ingredient of the Yankees' lineup, leading them to seven American League pennants and four World Series titles. After a short stint with the Boston Braves in 1935, Ruth retired. In 1936, Ruth became one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1927, Ruth became the first player to ever hit 60 home runs in a season, a record that stood until 1961. His career numbers reflect his legendary stature in the sport and the hobby.
His lifetime batting average of .342 ranks 10th all-time. In 1923 he hit .393, a Yankee record that still stands today. Ruth retired as the all-time home run leader with 714, a record that stood until 1974 when Hank Aaron passed him. His .690 career slugging percentage and 1.164 career on-base plus slugging (OPS) remain major league records.
The most dominating player of his generation, he led the league in home runs 12 times, slugging percentage and OPS 13 times each, runs scored eight times, and runs batted in six times.
What gets lost in the shuffle are his remarkable pitching statistics, which include a 2.28 ERA and a 94-46 win-loss record.
Ruth was the first sports celebrity who transcended play on the field. He was one of the most recognized and marketable people in the country. Known for living the high life off the field, Ruth was often seen at New York's most famous nightclubs and restaurants. Always a gracious signer, Ruth adored his fans, who were more than happy to put him in the spotlight (a place where he was most comfortable).
Early Babe Ruth baseball cards come from a variety of sources. This was before there was a clear definition for the term rookie card. Interestingly enough, his rookie cards, while extremely valuable, aren't his most popular cards. It was not until the Gum Era of the 1930s, that produced Ruth's first highly sought after trading cards. The first was in 1933 Goudey World Wide Gum.
The extreme rarity of his cards from his early playing days (1914-1916) make them more of a novelty. They show up so infrequently that the secondary market pushes the price well past the limits of virtually all collectors.
Babe Ruth Rookie Card
This unnumbered 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card was printed in two color variations, red and blue. The bright and vibrant border surrounds a muted and tinted image in the same color hue. The card features Ruth as a virtually unknown minor league rookie having just left St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Less than a dozen examples are known to exist, which includes one owned by the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore.
This card is part of a 1914 set issued by the Baltimore Sun, the city's newspaper and featured stars of the city's two professional baseball teams, the Terrapins of the Federal League and the Orioles of the International League. It has sold at auction for over half a million dollars (Robert Edwards Auctions, 2008).
Top Pre-War Babe Ruth Cards
Babe Ruth has a tremendous amount of vintage material from his playing days. Collectors can also find numerous Babe Ruth cards produced after his retirement and eventual death. With a professional career in baseball that spanned from 1914 to 1935, the American Card Catalog records a total of 118 cards or variation of cards produced during this time frame. Here is a look at some key Babe Ruth cards from the era.
Due to their popularity and significance, we've listed the Babe Ruth Goudey cards in a separate tab that can be found at the top of the page.
Population reports current as of 10/13 and include highest registered grades.
This card, manufactured by the Sporting News publication, features Ruth as a pitcher early in his career. He is still a member of the Red Sox. The card measures 1-5/8 x 3 inches and there have been found to be at least two variations of the card, both involving a blank back.
This is a colorful card depicting a slim and fit Ruth in a follow through swing. The painted card designates him as the year's Home Run King with the New York Yankees. It measures 1-3/8 x 2-1/2 inches.
Another hand-painted card and still depicting him as a pitcher, this Babe Ruth card measures a mere 1-1/2 x 2-3/8 inches.
Designated as W461-1 in the American Card Catalog, this over-sized card measuring 3-3/8 x 5-3/8 inches designates Ruth as an outfielder for the New York Yankees.
This sepia-toned card shows a posed photo of Ruth in an oval die-cut, surrounded by an old-world style antique frame design. The card is surrounded by a white border. Designated as E120 in the American Card Catalog, the 1922 American Caramel measures 2 x 3-1/4 inches.
This brightly colored strip card features a painted upper-body portrait of Ruth drawn in an almost cartoonish manner. Measuring 1-3/8 x 2-1/4 inches, the card is actually quite popular with vintage Ruth collectors due to the fact that four cards have received a grade of Mint or better. The card has two numberings (3 and 47) and two undefined variations.
Another hand-drawn and unflattering image of Ruth, the last two cards make you realize how disappointing it is that Ruth doesn't have a card in either the T206 or Cracker Jack sets. The majority of these strip-type cards were hand cut and, as a result, are often submitted for grading in larger numbers than those of other cards from the same time period. Measuring 1-3/8 x 2-1/4 inches, it features Ruth in a head shot.
Designated in the American Card Catalog as R316, this over-sized card measures 3-3/8 x 4-1/2 inches. It features a black and white photo of Ruth in a posed batting stance. This is his most submitted Babe Ruth card for grading from 1932 and earlier.
This is easily the most colorful Babe Ruth card produced up to this point in time. Designated in the American Card Catalog as R328, it measures 2-1/2 x 3 inches and features a colorized portrait of Ruth against a vibrant red backdrop.
Top Post-War Babe Ruth Cards
The 1948 Leaf Babe Ruth is a collector favorite, not so much for the specific subject matter but for the iconic set it comes from. The up-close head shot of an older Ruth is set against a bright red background. The card measures 2-3/8 x 2-7/8 inches.
This beautiful black and white Babe Ruth cards features a sketched portrait with a facsimile signature.
A classic image, this card features a candid photo of a young Ted William's talking with his childhood idol, Babe Ruth. This is one of two cards within the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set to picture Ruth, the other is card number 75. This is by far the more popular of the two. The card measures the, by now, standard size of 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches.
This card features an aging Ruth taking part in an old-timers game. The blue corner borders are ensconced by a white border and measures 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches.
A more appealing photo of the Bambino set against an orange backdrop accompanies the 1961 Fleer Baseball Greats Babe Ruth card. The predominately white design features blue stars running vertically part way down the left and right border. A blue pennant has his name set against a red and white striped pattern. The whole card has a patriotic feel and is standard sized.
This is one of the first notable Topps Babe Ruth cards. It commemorates Ruth hitting his 60th home run. It features a vintage colorized photo of Ruth tracking his shot. The white bordered card is standard sized and features a design element that is supposed to represent a "ripped from the headlines" appearance.
Inserted randomly in specially marked cereal boxes, this card features a lenticular 3D printing technology. It has a vibrant color scheme of blue and yellow with Ruth shown batting. The card exhibit a facsimile signature and measures 2-1/4 x 3-1/2 inches.
Ruth's second card in the set designates him as the "Greatest Right Fielder," while the previous card distinguished him as simply the "Greatest Ever." The card is the same size as his other Kellogg's card and uses the same color scheme and a similar, albeit slightly different, photograph.
This is the last significant Topps Babe Ruth card of the vintage era before his resurgence in the modern age of game-used jerseys and cut signatures. This standard-sized card pays tribute to Ruth as the All-Time R.B.I. Leader at the time. It features Ruth in a black and white photo.
Babe Ruth Goudey Baseball Cards
Babe Ruth's Goudey baseball cards by the World Wide Gum Company serve a dividing line between his pre-war and post-war releases. While technically still Pre-War, the quality of the Goudey cards raised the bar for all future baseball cards to come. The cards remain extremely popular today, particularly those featuring Babe Ruth.
Population reports are current as of 10/13 and includes highest registered grade.
The Sport Kings brand is legendary in hobby lexicon and this card from the original set helped pave the way for the brand's resurgence by In The Game in the early 2000s. This Babe Ruth card, designated in the American Card Catalog as R338, measures 2-3/8 x 2-7/8 inches. It features a very realistic, colorized image of Ruth.
Another vividly colored card, a trait of all the Goudeys, this card features Ruth in a posed batting stance. Like all cards in the set, it is designated as V353 in the American Card Catalog and measures 2-3/8 x 2-7/8 inches.
Featuring Ruth in an up-close follow-through batting stance, he is set against a deep orange backdrop.
This Goudey set features the most popular Babe Ruth cards. The are also the most frequently submitted for grading. All four Ruth cards in the set are designated as R319 in the American Card Catalog, each measuring 2-3/8 x 2-7/8 inches.
The only difference between this card and his 1933 Goudey World Wide Gum release is the numbering.
Again, this one is nearly identical to the previous release of the World Wide Gum brand issue.
One of Babe Ruth's most iconic cards, it features a stoic looking Ruth against a green background.
The advent of including pieces of game-used materials and cut signatures into trading cards helped breath new life into the hobby beginning in the late 1990s. Collectors of retired legends like Babe Ruth also benefited from these new high-end cards. They quickly became some of the most desirable and expensive cards in the hobby. Here is a look at some of Babe Ruth's most iconic and influential modern trading cards.
These are the first Babe Ruth cards to feature pieces of a game-used bat. Part of an evergreen set honoring the 500 Home Run Club, the set also included a version with a Cut Signature and is serial numbered to just 3 copies. The 500 HR Club version of the card is numbered to 50, while the regular version is numbered to 350.
The creation of these types of cards were not without their critics however. Many purists and high-end collector, questioned the practice of essentially transformig such a historical baseball artifact. One thing is certain, the creation of this card gave collectors who would never be able to afford a complete Babe Ruth game-used bat, the opportunity to own a piece of history.
If putting a swatch of jersey or bat chip on a card was a good idea, than putting both on a card was even better. That is exactly what Donruss did with this card, one of Babe Ruth's first combo memorabilia cards.
Donruss was one of the first trading card manufacturers to acquire an authenticated game-worn Babe Ruth jersey for the sole purpose of cutting it up and inserting swatches into baseball cards. This is one of the very first such cards. Serial numbered to 100 total copies, the back of the card displays a picture of the actual jersey used to create the card.
2001 SP Legendary Cuts Babe Ruth Cut Autograph
One of the first cards to include a cut signature autograph of Babe Ruth, the card is limited to a print run of just seven hand-numbered copies. Today, similar cards are used regularly, although few actually have a picture of the Bambino. Most are one-of-one cards as well.
The acquisition of a legitimate Babe Ruth game-worn home jersey by Donruss-Playoff for the sole purpose of using it in trading cards created national news. In a special ceremony, the daughter of Babe Ruth, Julia Ruth Stevens, was presented with one of the first cards manufactured from the jersey. If the destruction of a Ruth game-used bat created a controversy, one can imagine the firestorm that was generated by destroying one of the last remaining Ruth jerseys in existence. What had been a customary practice to use small swatches of material to maximize the return on investment of the piece was tossed out the window with the creation of these jumbo pieces of material. Another version of the card has smaller pieces from the the same jersey joined by a swatch from a pair of game-used pants and a piece of a bat.
Continuing to up the ante, Donruss-Playoff released a high-end product in 2005 called Prime Cuts. This card is serial numbered to 50 copies and is a quad game-used memorabilia card of Babe Ruth. It contains, two bat chips and swatches from a game-worn jersey and pair of pants.
Be sure to check out our other Babe Ruth baseball card guides and articles: