Nolan Ryan cards are some of the most popular in the hobby. It doesn't matter the year or set, the pitcher's cards always draw the attention of collectors. Few pitchers have achieved Ryan's level of success, both on the field and in the hobby. Often, pitchers are overlooked for the game's sluggers and daily difference makers. Ryan is an exception.
Baseball's all-time strikeout king, Ryan was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1999, appearing on 98.79% of the ballots in his first year of eligibility. He had the ability to dominate games, racking up an astounding seven no-hitters over the course of his career.
Even in retirement, veteran and rookie collectors continue to chase Nolan Ryan cards. His most recognized rookie card comes from 1968 Topps Baseball. In modern sets, Ryan is a regular signer who continues to command a premium on the secondary market.
With more than 10,000 different cards to his name, few will even come close to having a complete Nolan Ryan collection. With that in mind, here are ten of the best. Some may not be the most valuable and some may even debate their greatness. It's subjective. However, if you take the hobby as a whole, all ten are iconic for various reasons.
10 of the Best Nolan Ryan Cards Ever Made
For anyone starting a collection of baseball's all-time strikeouts king, a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card is a must. During his final seasons with the Rangers, which happened to coincide with the early 90s hobby boom, raw copies were an easy sell at $1,000 and up. Those who can afford it should aim for a graded copy if for nothing else, to help ensure their card is authentic.
Like most rookie cards from the era, Ryan is pictured alongside someone else. In this case, the honor went to Jerry Koosman. Despite this, the 1968 Topps Baseball Nolan Ryan rookie card remains one of the most iconic of the 1960s.
Although O-Pee-Chee may not have the brand recognition that Topps does among vintage card collectors, few will deny their rarity. For those who already have the 1968 Topps version or those looking for a challenge, the 1968 O-Pee-Chee Nolan Ryan rookie is a good choice. It has virtually the same design. A pair of differences can be found on the back, though. The card stock is lighter on the O-Pee-Chee card. Also, the fine print on the bottom reads, "Ptd. in Canada."
Price is no object, you say? Then the 1968 Venezuelan Topps Nolan Ryan may be the card for you. Extremely rare, especially in top condition, this set was produced for the South American market. Printed on lower-quality stock, the cards are extremely fragile. A high-end vintage rarity, those looking for the 1968 Venezuelan Topps Nolan Ryan will likely have to look beyond eBay and reach out to major dealers and memorabilia brokers.
The card itself has virtually the same design as the 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan. A line of white text on the back reads, "Hecho en Venezuela - C.A. Litoven." Also, the card stock on the back looks much more gray than its American counterpart.
The 1969 Topps Baseball Nolan Ryan is the pitcher's first mainstream baseball card to picture him on his own. It's also important as it's from the year he helped the Mets win the World Series. The card features a posed photo of a very youthful Ryan in an odd pitching pose. It would have made more sense if the ball weren't sitting in plain view inside his glove. But maybe that's part of the charm for this classic card.
Nolan Ryan is one of the few players in the hobby that commands attention no matter the card. Collectors clamor for more than just his rookies and high-end hits. Vintage is held in particular regard.
In 1991, Topps produced special cards for the troops participating in Operation Desert Shield in the Middle East. The cards were the same as the regular 1991 Topps Baseball cards except for a foil logo on the front of the card. Today, player and team collectors clamor for top-condition examples of these oddball cards. The 1991 Topps Desert Shield Nolan Ryan has a horizontal photo of the hurler in the follow-through of a pitch, presumably one of his trademark fastballs.
Classic had a certified Nolan Ryan in 1991 but it didn't have nearly the impact as Upper Deck. The seemingly endless supply of 1991 Upper Deck Low Series Baseball challenged collectors to "Find the Nolan." And while many tried, just 2,500 existed. Laughable by today's standards of rarity, the 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Heroes Autograph was—and still is—hard to find. A follow-up to the 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson Heroes insert set, it represented one of the hobby's earliest high-end hits.
One of the hobby's first high-end parallels, 1993 Topps Finest Refractors are a hobby classic. Despite coming at the end of his playing career, the 1993 Topps Finest Refractor Nolan Ryan is one of the set's most valuable cards. A suspected short print, the card commands a lot of attention when it shows up.
The 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures Nolan Ryan may no longer be one of the Hall of Famer's most valuable autograph cards, but it's one of the most attractive. The clean design allows lots of space for Ryan's instantly recognizable signature. The podium photograph is a touching tribute as well. The supply of these cards has long since dried up. Although they turn up for sale somewhat regularly, it will likely take a little time and patience.
2006 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball is one of the best sets of the new millennium. It launched the brand to a modern audience and produced some high-priced hits. Although autographs aren't particularly rare across the set's production run, they still garner huge amounts. The 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter Framed Mini Autograph Nolan Ryan is limited to 50 copies. Because the set is so widely collected, few pop up. Should you find one, expect to pay a premium over similar autographs, even ones with lower serial numbers and enhanced by memorabilia swatches.
What is your favorite Nolan Ryan card? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Related Topics: Baseball Cards: Guides