Top Tony Oliva Cards to Collect
Tony Oliva was one of the greatest hitters during the 1960s and 1970s, taking home three American League batting titles and leading the 1965 Minnesota Twins to the franchise's first World Series appearance in the Twin Cities. Oliva's individual and team successes made him one of the most popular players in the game during the 1960s. Viewed as a Hall of Famer throughout his playing career, Oliva was finally selected for induction in 2022 by the Golden Era Committee. Beyond his popularity on the field, Oliva has also found a presence amongst baseball card collectors. This list looks at many of the very best Tony Oliva cards, featuring rookies, popular issues from his playing career, and modern certified autographs.
Compared to many other Hall of Famers, Tony Oliva's career was relatively short, consisting of only 11 full seasons and four partial seasons, all with the Minnesota Twins. He made the most of his time, winning the 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, appearing in eight All-Star Games, and retiring as one of the greatest players to ever don a Twins uniform. The team retired his number (#6) in 1991 and also dedicated a statue in his honor outside of Target Field. After retiring as a player, Olivia maintained a visible presence working for the Twins as their bench coach, where he helped the franchise win the World Series in 1987 and 1991. He is one of the few players in Major League history who has an on-field connection to all of a team's World Series appearances.
Turning to the cardboard, the Tony Oliva rookie card appeared in 1963 Topps Baseball. However, likely due to limited playing time at the start of his career, Olivia did not get his first solo card in a Topps flagship set until the 1965 edition. Throughout his career, Tony Oliva was considered a star player and often received prominent placement in Topps sets with card numbers that were multiples of 10 or 100. The Twins Hall of Famer was also frequently included in popular oddball and test issues from the 1960s and 1970s. The affordability and availability of Olivia's cards from popular 1960s and 1970s sets make those the most popular options for the majority of collectors. Whether you have been collecting Tony Oliva cards for years, or are just starting out after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, there are plenty of great options listed below.
Top 10 Tony Oliva Baseball Cards
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10T. 2000 Fleer Greats of the Game Autograph Tony Oliva
Tony Oliva has provided his signature to numerous card products over the years, leaving collectors with a wide variety of certified autographs. Two of his most highly sought-after autographs appeared in the widely acclaimed Fleer Greats of the Game line in the early 2000s. Greats of the Game was a per-pack, on-card autograph series that ran for several years and featured a deep checklist of Hall of Famers.
Oliva's first Greats of the Game autograph was in the 2000 product. The simple design with a gold border, cream-colored background, and color photo made a great surface area for the signatures. The 2000 Greats of the Game set has long been popular with Twins collectors as it houses one of the few certified autographs of the late Kirby Puckett, which is short-printed and very expensive. However, the Tony Oliva autograph has a full production run and can easily be found on the secondary market.
10T. 2001 Fleer Greats of the Game Autograph Tony Oliva
2001 Fleer Greats of the Game had a similarly simple design, but the space for the player's signature was smaller and located at the bottom of the card. Beyond the change in design, the 2001 edition also had several key cards that were redemptions. That group included fellow Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. While the 2001 edition of Greats of the Game is sometimes regarded as a step down from previous issues, it is still hard to find fault with a product that features dozens of autographs from Hall of Famer players such as Willie Mays and Stan Musial. Again, this Tony Oliva autograph had a full production run, is easy to find on the secondary market, and is relatively inexpensive compared to the other Hall of Famers in this product.
9T. 1976 Hostess Tony Oliva #10
There were many great food-issued oddballs during the 1970s, including the Hostess baseball card set. These cards were usually attached to the side panels of Hostess snacks and required collectors to hand-cut the cards out of the box. Due to the fact that they were hand-cut, the conditions of these cards vary greatly. Clean copies can be difficult to find at times or can cost a premium above and beyond. While copies of Oliva's card with small condition flaws are inexpensive, the clean, mint copies are still relatively affordable.
Collectors can also try to track down the complete side panel or sheet of cards from Hostess products. The standard Hostess panel of baseball cards featured three players together with a series of perforated black lines around each card showing collectors where to cut. In general, uncut Hostess side panels are not incredibly rare, but sometimes patience is required. The most preferred Hostess baseball card side panels are typically the ones with multiple Hall of Famers, as is the case with the Tony Oliva card. The Oliva panel also featured a second-year card of Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount. The combination of Yount and Oliva makes this one of the better side panels in the set. However, it is still affordable when compared to other Hall of Fame pairings on these panels over the years.
9T. 1976 Hostess Twinkies Tony Oliva #10
While the majority of Hostess baseball cards were attached to three-card panels on the sides of snack boxes, the company also inserted cards into single packs of Twinkies. The single-serve Twinkies packages came with two cakes that were placed on top of a piece of cardboard that served as the panel for the baseball card. The Twinkies panels only had one baseball card and only featured the first 60 cards in the regular 1976 Hostess set. Due to the fact that the Twinkies sat directly on top of the panel, these cards are extraordinarily difficult to find in good condition. Often, the cards are stained from being in contact with the sweet treat. As noted in Die Hard by Sergeant Al Powell, Twinkies contain vegetable oil.
8. 1970 Kellogg's Tony Oliva #63
One of the most important annual oddball sets from the 1970s, the Kellogg's cards were given away in cereal boxes throughout the decade and into the early 1980s. The premiere set was issued in 1970 and featured 75 Major League players including Tony Oliva. Topps had experimented with 3D cards in the mid-1960s with little fanfare at the time, but the Kellogg's cards were a success in the collecting world.
The 1970 Kellogg's set is one of the most popular with Oliva collectors and offers a significant challenge as one of his most condition-sensitive cards. The plastic material used for the Kellogg's cards helped cut back on corner and edge wear, but they are susceptible to curling and bending over time, along with cracking on the front of the card. Oliva did appear in other Kellogg's sets through the middle of the 1970s when he retired, but this card remains the gold standard.
7. 1971 Topps Tony Oliva #290
The 1971 Topps cards feature one of the most well-liked designs of all-time. The black-bordered cards are pleasing to the eye, but they also offer collectors unique challenges, especially when trying to find mint copies. The black borders often call attention to imperfections, especially around the edges and corners of the card. It is nearly impossible to collect cards of a player from this era and not add 1971 Topps to your must-own list. The Oliva card is no different.
Tony appeared in the lower portion of the set, meaning his card is not short-printed and widely available. The 1971 Topps release started the company's use of action photographs, but Oliva still appeared in a posed photograph. Sadly for collectors, Topps never made a card in the flagship set during Oliva's playing career that used an action photo. Like all cards from this iconic product, the prices vary widely based on the condition of the card.
6. 1967 Topps Tony Oliva #50
Collectors love the simplicity of the 1967 Topps design. No boxes for the team or player name to take away from the photograph and a simple white border. For Tony Olivia collectors, the set offers one of the better images used by Topps during his career. The portrait-style photograph shows the Twins right-fielder taking a practice swing in his gray road uniform in front of the familiar facade of Yankee Stadium. There are some stadiums that make great backgrounds for baseball cards regardless of the player or team and Yankee Stadium is one of them.
Beyond the appeal of the photograph, this is also one of the more affordable Tony Oliva cards from the beginning of his career. Copies can be found for a few dollars. For collectors with a larger budget or those that are long-running Oliva collectors, there is also the option of tracking down high-end copies which come with a wide range of pricing options.
5. 1968 Topps Manager's Dream #480 (Tony Oliva/Chico Cardenas/Roberto Clemente)
1968 Topps is not the most popular issue from this era in large part due to the burlap-sack border. However, there are still some strong positives. Yes, there are rookie cards of Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench, but Topps also renewed their well-liked combo cards. Tony Oliva made an appearance on a 1968 Topps combo card along with longtime Reds shortstop Chico Cardenas and Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. Obviously, the main attraction here is the combination of Oliva and Clemente. The photo on the card was taken at the 1966 Major League All-Star Game in St. Louis where Tony Oliva and Roberto Clemente were the starting right-fielders. The warmest Midsummer Classic at 105 degrees, the infamous game also brought us one of the hottest Tony Oliva cards from the late 1960s.
4. 1965 Topps Tony Oliva #340
One of the more peculiar aspects of the Tony Oliva card catalog is the fact that he did not get his first solo Topps card until his third appearance in the flagship set. The wait was disappointing, but the end result is one of his most striking baseball cards. The photo of the three-time batting champ standing in his left-handed stance is further enhanced by the great design of 1965 Topps. The Twins' cards in this set had great contrasting colors with a purple border and yellow team pennant that ran throughout all the cards. The combination of design and photograph makes this a must-own Oliva card.
One tiny quirk on this card is seen on the Topps All-Star Rookie Trophy where the award is dated 1963. While Oliva played briefly for the Twins in 1963, he actually named to the 1964 Topps All-Star Rookie team and was also the American League Rookie of the Year. The 1965 Topps Tony Oliva card is widely available, reasonably priced, and a great starting point for collectors looking for some early cards of the Hall of Famer.
3. 1971 Topps Greatest Moments Tony Oliva #11
The 1971 Topps Greatest Moments cards are some of the toughest to find from this era. The cards were test-issue with limited distribution. Similar to the main 1971 Topps product, the black borders have made finding clean copies of these cards another challenge for collectors beyond availability issues. The oversized cards measure 2 1/2" by 4 3/4" and highlight an accomplishment from the player's career. For Oliva, his card focused on his first two batting titles, which were won in his first two full seasons.
While this card is on the wish list of many Tony Oliva collectors, it can be his toughest to find and most expensive. Even copies with flaws can sell for large amounts of money. If you are just starting out on your journey collecting Oliva cards, this is one that you should be patient in finding. If you like the style of the card, but are not willing to pay the high price, Topps did include Tony Oliva on the checklist for the 2020 Topps Heritage Greatest Moments Box Toppers. The cards were a reproduction of the originals with a mix of current players and others from the original era. The Heritage box toppers have the same dimensions and design as the '71 original, but can be obtained for a fraction of the cost.
2T. 1964 Topps Twins Rookies Stars #116 (Tony Oliva/Jay Ward)
1964 Topps was deep with second-year cards, including Twins star Tony Oliva. Collectors can also enjoy finding the first solo cards of Hall of Famers Pete Rose and Willie Stargell. However, Oliva's second-year Topps issue was shared with fellow Twins prospect Jay Ward. In retrospect, the decision was disappointing, but also understandable as Oliva only appeared in seven games during the 1963 season. This is a great value for a second-year card of a Hall of Famer from this era. Further, as a Rookie Stars card, the Magic Trivia rub-off section was not included on the back, avoiding one of the biggest condition pitfalls of 1964 Topps.
2T. 1964 Topps Giants Tony Oliva #44
Oliva did not have a solo card in the 1964 Topps flagship set, but did receive his own card in 1964 Topps Giants. The oversized cards (3 1/8" x 5 1/4") have a very simple design displaying a small white border and full-color portrait photos, with player information on a small baseball in the corner. Oliva's card features him wearing the classic Twins pinstriped, home uniform in front of the grandstand of Tinker Field, the team's former Spring Training site. Beyond the clean design, the Topps Giants set is also noted for offering some of the most affordable cards from the 1960s. Collectors can likely find this card at their local card shop or at a show for a few dollars, which is well worth the price for Oliva's first solo Topps card.
1. 1963 Topps Rookie Stars Tony Oliva RC #228 (Pedro Oliva/Max Alvis/Bob Bailey/Ed Kranepool)
The Rookie Stars design in 1963 Topps Baseball has long stood out in the collecting world with its bright, colorful circles featuring headshots of rookie players floating in the middle. The rookie issues of Hall of Famers Pete Rose and Willie Stargell are the most pursued cards in this set. However, many in the collecting world, especially those focusing on this era, have long been cognizant of the value of Tony Oliva's first-year card. The popularity of this card is also helped by the presence of Mets favorite Ed Kranepool.
Unlike the Rose and Stargell cards, which are a part of the hard-to-find, high-number cards, the Tony Olivia rookie card has a lower number and is widely available on the secondary market at a variety of prices depending on the condition. There are plenty of high-end mint copies out there for those looking to build a serious collection of Oliva cards, but given its place on the checklist, there is still a copy of this card available for nearly any budget or collection.
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