Throughout his career, Cal Ripken Jr. was one of the game's most respected players. Wherever he played, fans adored him. His hard work, leadership and great play made him an example for all of his peers. Not surprisingly, Cal Ripken Jr. cards were and are among the most collected in the hobby.
Ripken is most remembered for his consecutive games streak of 2,632 games spread over 17 years. Even without "The Streak," he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was a two-time American League MVP, 19-time All-Star and World Series Champion. Ripken finished his career with 3,184 hits and 431 home runs.
From a value standpoint, Cal Ripken Jr. is the standard of his generation. His only rival in this department is Ken Griffey Jr. But many will likely view the pair from separate generations. Ripken's prime coincided with the hobby's Junk Wax Era and the mid-90s insert boom. While the shortstop has certified autographs dating back to 1992, most of his signed cards have been released following his retirement.
Below, we've compiled a list of the best Cal Ripken Jr. cards ever made. With literally thousands to choose from, not everyone will agree as everyone has different criteria for what makes a classic card. We looked for cards that were iconic, stand out, have strong value and have withstood the test of time.
Top 10 Cal Ripken Jr. Cards to Collect
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1980 Charlotte O's Police Cal Ripken Jr
Handed out by local law enforcement, the 1980 Charlotte O's Police Cal Ripken Jr. is one of the most coveted minor league issues of all-time. According to Ripken in the Minors, the card was given to children when officers went to speak at schools. Ripken was one of 25 cards handed out randomly. Rare to begin with, it's also extremely prone to damage. As a result, prices pop whenever one of the 1980 Charlotte O's Police Cal Ripken Jr. cards surface, no matter the condition.
1980 Charlotte O's WBTV Cal Ripken Jr.
Featuring a near-identical design to the police issue, the 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV Cal Ripken Jr. was part of a team set that was given out at the ballpark. A total of 1,400 sets were produced. Unlike the orange-bordered card, the WBTV Ripken has biographical information on the back. Unfortunately, his last name is misspelled as "Ripkin."
Because the 1980 Charlotte O's WBTV Cal Ripken Jr. is so valuable and it was made with minimal technology, it is prone to counterfeiting. Be very careful with non-graded cards given the possibility for fakes.
1982 Donruss Cal Ripken Jr. RC #405
The vast majority of Cal Ripken Jr. cards show the Hall of Famer looking like he loves to play baseball. The folks at Donruss must have caught him on a rough day for his rookie card photo shoot. Even still, a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card is a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card, no matter the pose or face. Like his other two official rookie cards, there is no shortage of 1982 Donruss Cal Ripken Jr. cards.
1982 Fleer Cal Ripken Jr. RC #176
Ripken is almost swallowed up by the background on his 1982 Fleer rookie card. Like its Donruss counterpart, this one falls under the "Rookie Card of an All-Time Great Rule." Who's going to turn down a Ripken rookie? Not many.
1982 Topps Cal Ripken Jr. RC #21 - Orioles Future Stars with Bob Bonner, Jeff Schneider
Topps took a break from making multi-player rookie cards in 1983. For many, that was a year too late. So for his Topps rookie card, Ripken is sandwiched between two guys who played 72 games combined. Still, the 1982 Topps Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card remains one of the most popular cards of the decade.
1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. #98T
Although the flagship card carries the rookie tag, the 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. is the more desirable and much more valuable. Why? The Ironman is pictured by himself in an iconic pose on a card that is much rarer than his three official rookie cards.
1982 Topps Traded was distributed as a box set through hobby dealers.
1992 Donruss Elite The Signature Series Cal Ripken Jr. Autograph #/5,000
In the early '90s, cards numbered to 10,000 were rare. That must've made The Signature Series Cal Ripken Jr. autograph a holy grail. Numbered to 5,000 copies, the Leaf card is the first certified autograph card from the Ironman. With the obscene print runs of the early-90s, this card remains relatively rare and popular. While part of the 1992 release, it does note 1991 as the copyright year.
1993 Topps Finest Refractor Cal Ripken Jr. #96
1993 Topps Finest Baseball is one of the most popular sets of the modern era. It brought chromium to the forefront and the hobby hasn't turned back. The set also introduced collectors to the Refractor, a staple that remains today. Along with Griffey and Nolan Ryan, the 1993 Topps Finest Refractor Cal Ripken Jr. is one of the most valuable in this important set.
1997 Donruss Elite Passing the Torch Dual Autograph Cal Ripken Jr. and Alex Rodriguez #3 #/150
Donruss Elite Passing the Torch dual autographs have long been one of the brand's trademarks. While there have been lots of great signature combinations, Passing the Torch usually had some of the strongest. Often a dual autograph with an A-list signer is brought down a notch by the less-desirable second signer. That's not the case here. In 1997, the first 150 of the 1,500 serial-numbered sets came autographed. Ripken was paired with another all-time great, Alex Rodriguez. At the time, Ripken was entering the twilight of his career and Rodriguez was hitting his stride. Even with A-Rod's decreased love in the hobby in recent years, this is still one of the best autographs of the 1990s.
2005 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classics Classic Patch #/34
In recent years, massive patch cards have become something of an expectation. While they're gorgeous and tough to come by, many fail to reach iconic status. However, 2005 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classics Classic Patch cards transcended that. They offered jumbo patch swatches when they weren't in as many sets. Limited to 34 copies, the patch is bigger than Ripken's picture. The striped design of the card also helps the swatch pop.
1992 Topps Baseball Cal Ripken Jr. #40
So it's not the most valuable card, but do they all have to be? 1992 Topps Baseball has a beautiful shot of Ripken sitting next to the Lou Gehrig monument in Yankee Stadium, looking as classy as ever. The horizontal layout and slightly raised angle take it to another level.
2007 Upper Deck Cal Ripken Jr. Commemorative Set
In 2007, Upper Deck released a 45-card set honoring baseball's Ironman. The cards have a moderately high-end glossy feel. The checklist is broken down in three subsets. The first looks at Ripken's early career. This is followed by key moments in the consecutive games streak. Finally, 15 of Ripken's peers offer quotes on the all-time great.