For the most part, pitchers don't get a lot of love in the hobby. And when it comes to relievers, it's even worse. But one exception has emerged. As he winds down his playing career, Mariano Rivera cards are finally recognized as being among the hobby's elite.
The are several factors that make him the exception. The first is his dominance as a closer, a roster spot that is known for guys having a couple of strong seasons before dropping. Rivera is the all-time saves leader for a reason. He's managed to hold his spot for nearly two decades. That's dominance.
Rivera has also spent his entire career with one team, a rarity in modern sports. Not only has it been one team, but that team is the New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in baseball history.
A throwback to times when autographs were not only legible but a work of art, Mariano Rivera's signature is a thing of beauty. Each letter is formed carefully and with a neat flow. But good luck finding one in a pack. Although there are a couple of hundred different signed Mariano Rivera cards, most are in extremely short supply. The number of actual products that have Mariano Rivera autographs is extremely small. That could change, but for the time being, expect to pay more than you might expect. If you're looking for Mariano Rivera autographed memorabilia, he has a deal with Steiner.
While it's somewhat subjective, we've compiled a list of ten of the best Mariano Rivera cards. We tried to limited it to cards that are somewhat available, so there aren't any one-of-ones. Value isn't the only factor either, although it comes it plays a significant role. More information about his rookie and minor league cards, as well as autographed memorabilia, can be found here.
Top 10 Mariano Rivera Cards
The 1990 Diamond Cards Mariano Rivera may not be flashiest card, but it is significant for being the first of the Yankees legend. Predating his official rookie card by two years, it's relatively tough to find but not impossible.
Mariano Rivera is something of a modern hobby anomaly. He has just one rookie card. It comes from 1992 Bowman Baseball, a set that's notable for its deep rookie checklist. Another thing the set is known for is the casual (and decidedly dated) attire many of these youngsters are wearing. Rivera looks like he's ready to hit the golf course and not the pitching mound.
If you're looking for an autographed Mariano Rivera card, 1996 Leaf Signature Series is the most popular. Not only is it his first autograph card, but it's also one of the most attractive. It comes with three different versions that are discernible by the medallion on the front of the card. Bronze is the most common followed by Silver then Gold. All rank among the most valuable Mariano Rivera cards with the Gold version understandably commanding the most.
If the 1996 Leaf Signature Series Mariano Rivera is too expensive, 1998 Donruss Signature Series represents a slightly more affordable choice. The base version, which has a red background, is limited to 900 copies. Numbered to 1000, the green Millennium Marks card is actually more common. The rarest version of the card is blue Century Marks parallel that is limited to 100 copies.
Precious Metal Gems don't carry quite the same history and swagger in baseball as they do in basketball. But that doesn't mean they're not valuable. As player collectors look to fill in gaps, many of these wild and rare parallels are seeing strong numbers. The 1998 Metal Universe PMG Mariano Rivera doesn't show up very often now as most have made their way into personal collections. There are other parallels from this era that offer similar loud designs and rarity. 1997 Pinnacle Totally Certified Platinum Gold is another card that nearly made the cut but given its age and print run of 30, it seemed a little too obscure.
Just as Mariano Rivera doesn't have a lot of autograph cards, options for autographed memorabilia cards -- at least ones that are available with reasonable quantities -- are even tougher. And while a card with a print run of 50 is hardly common, the 2004 E-X Clear Authentics Signature Mariano Rivera is one of the first that you might be able to find. Most of the other autographed memorabilia cards released around the same time frame are numbered to 10 or less.
Inserted in packs as a redemption, the 2005 Topps Turkey Red Mariano Rivera autograph has a stated print run of 192. It carries the distinct Turkey Red look and texture as well as a nice spot for an on-card signature. The card has four parallels, all of which are extremely rare. The Red version has 15 copies, Black has five, two for Gold and the Suede parallel is a one-of-one.
2009 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Patch cards are some of the most attractive memorabilia cards. They balance a massive swatch area with enough room for a decent-sized player photo. Numbered to 35, the patches themselves are also amazing.
2010 Topps Triple Threads Autograph Relic Combos Mariano Rivera #ARC5 #/36 with Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra
For many, this card won't win many awards for design. But it does standout for including autographs (albeit stickers) and memorabilia from three Yankees legends. The pairing may be a little curious, but it's doubtful many would complain if one popped out of their box. The base version is limited to 36 copies, although there are a bunch of different parallels.
This card is interesting on a few different levels. The first, and most important (at least from an aesthetic perspective) is the silver signature. It's also got a short inscription wishing Topps a "Happy 60th" that shows that Rivera's printing is as neat as his handwriting. Numbered to 60, it's part of a set that was released across several Topps sets in 2011 as it celebrated its 60th year of making baseball cards.
Okay, that's ten, but there's one additional set that deserves a special mention, so we'll cheat a little.
Rivera has a dozen different cards in 2012 Panini National Treasures, all of which are great. The ultra high-end release is all hits. But what makes it really stand out are the more unique autograph and memorabilia options. These include button cards and over-sized autographed memorabilia cards. Other than his base memorabilia card, all are tough to find on their own. But with so many different cards to choose from, a few should be available at ay given time.