David Ortiz's legendary career has been one for the ages. His story is even more impressive when you consider that the first-ballot Hall of Fame slugger was basically abandoned by his first two major league teams. With the Boston Red Sox, however, he has set a new standard for designated hitters and anchored the team that finally brought a World Series title back to "Beantown" after nearly a century away. In this list of the best David Ortiz baseball cards, we focus on his most popular and valuable cards from the earlier part of his professional career.
Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic and originally scouted by the Seattle Mariners who signed him in 1992. At the time he signed with the Mariners, he used the name David Arias, but after he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1996, he began going by David Ortiz instead. The name change led to some confusion on Ortiz's early trading cards as both names were used. Collectors who are unfamiliar with this may not realize that Arias and Ortiz are actually the same person.
Oritz made his flagship debut in 1998 Topps where he was featured on a prospect card with future All-Star Richie Sexson. Boston collectors can turn to the more obscure 2003 Fleer Tradition Update and 2003 Upper Deck 40 Man sets to find Big Papi's first appearances in a Red Sox jersey.
In building this top list, overall popularity and card value are the two main determining factors. While many Ortiz cards from recent card releases reach high prices at auction, the overall popularity of the first David Ortiz cards from his days with the Minnesota Twins results in those examples dominating this list.
Top 10 David Ortiz Baseball Cards
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10. 1998 Bowman Chrome David Ortiz #71
The Bowman and Bowman Chrome sets have become synonymous with collectors as the products that feature the first cards of many modern players. However, Ortiz first appeared in a Bowman set a year after his rookie card.
Of course, the Refractors hold much higher values but the base card could serve as a great starting point for collectors looking to begin their Ortiz collection while the parallels offer a compelling chase opportunity. The International Refractor version is shown below.
9. 1998 Donruss Gold Press Proof David Ortiz #299 #/500
Every card in the 1998 Donruss base and Update set received the Gold Press treatment which meant they were gold foil stamped and die-cut in the right corner. These cards are a marvel to hold in your hand as the design can't help but catch your eye. While each card isn't sequentially numbered, the card backs indicate it is one of 500 copies.
8. 1998 Donruss Signature Autographs David Ortiz
Although the 1997 edition of Donruss Signature (check out #2 on this list) features the most expensive Ortiz card available from his rookie year, the 1998 set offers a more budget-friendly alternative. Ortiz reportedly signed 3,400 copies of the base red version and you can also track down other limited parallels, including Millennium green (1,000 copies), Century blue (100 copies) and Previews gold (393 copies).
7. 1998 Leaf Rookies & Stars Longevity / True Blue #196, Crusade #110
1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars hasn't really held its value, but several of the numbered cards from the set are among the most valuable early Ortiz cards. The True Blue, limited to 500 copies, and Longevity (#/50) parallels both offer the same image as the base card with the lettering at the top modified.
The main Crusade insert totals 250 copies and showcases a Green foil while more rare Purple (#/100) and Red parallels (#/25) can also be pulled.
6. 1998 Bowman Certified David Ortiz Autograph #4
For some signature collectors, there is nothing like a card featuring that famous "Certified Autograph" stamp made famous on Topps and Bowman products from the 1990s. Collectors can find a beautiful card of Ortiz in 1998 Bowman that displays this familiar stamp. It is also worth noting the clear view of his right arm brace that he is now known for adjusting between pitches. Another Ortiz tradition of pointing to the sky after crossing home plate following a home run was in honor of his late mother who died in a car accident.
5. 1997 Flair Showcase Wave of the Future David Ortiz #11 (David Arias)
Although the original Flair brand is long gone, the company should be remembered for producing some of the most high-end and technologically advanced cards of their day. The 1997 Flair set presented an ambitious idea of issuing three separate series using different design styles on the same basic card. Ortiz can be found in the Wave of the Future insert at the overall odds of 1:4 packs. The captivating card showcases a non-traditional image of David being surrounded by a huge ocean wave.
4. 1998 Bowman's Best David Ortiz Refractor, Atomic Refractor #173
While Ortiz's base card in 1998 Bowman's Best remains affordable, the Refractor and Atomic Refractor parallels continue to enjoy popularity and value. Base Refractors are limited to 400 copies and fall 1:20 packs. However, the Atomic Refractors apply a prism design and a print run of just 100 copies. These rare parallels are among the holy grails of early David Ortiz cards.
3. 1997 Fleer Ultra David Ortiz RC #518 (David Arias)
1997 Fleer Ultra offers two David Ortiz rookie cards for collectors to track down as the set includes medallion variation parallels that have the same card number with a "G" prefix, but contain a different photograph on the front.
Along with Ortiz's base rookie card, there is a Gold Medallion (1 per pack) and Platinum Medallion (1:100 packs) parallel that rarely appears on secondary markets.
2. 1997 Donruss Signature David Ortiz Autograph #94
The 1997 Donruss Signature set was the company's first product that offered an autographed card in each pack and Ortiz is one of the key signers. There are 3,900 base red versions of Ortiz's first autograph card and collectors can also find Century blue (100 copies) and Millennium green (1,000 copies) parallels. As you can see from the example below, Ortiz signed these cards to the left of the Donruss logo rather than in the signature area at the base of the card, but this hasn't hurt the card's popularity or value.
1. 1997 Fleer David Ortiz RC #512 (David Arias)
Carrying over from the previous year, 1997 Fleer maintained the matte finish on their cards, which does give them a less vibrant appearance but does not diminish the relevance. The set was configured into two releases with 500 cards in Series 1 and an oddly grouped 261 cards in Series 2. The David Ortiz rookie card, listing David Arias, can be found in Series 2 and is the set's most valuable card and main source of hobby relevance. The glossy Tiffany parallels average 1:20 packs and can yield much higher values compared to the standard version.