Is the Rickey Henderson Rookie Card a Six-Figure Steal?

Is the Rickey Henderson Rookie Card a Six-Figure Steal?

The Rickey Henderson rookie card could be the next sports collectible to go big, or just a novelty. Learn more about the card and the player in this guide.

Is the Rickey Henderson Rookie Card a Six-Figure Steal?
Priscilla Thomas

Published Sep 15, 2022Updated Sep 27, 2022

Sports Cards

Sports Cards

Collectibles

Collectibles

Sports Memorabilia

Sports Memorabilia

Collectibles have been making a comeback as both a hobby and an investment class since 2020. As we sought comfort during COVID-19 lockdowns, many of us returned to our childhood pastimes like Pokémon cards and comic books. Sports cards have come along for this ride down memory lane, and some have yielded unbelievable returns—like the Mickey Mantle card that sold for $12.6 million in August 2022.

Unless you've got Rickey Henderson's eye, it's hard to know whether this is a walk or swing moment.

The sensational sales, combined with the impressive store of value of sports cards have a lot of investors wondering which card will be the next big score. With sales reaching six figures since 2021, the Rickey Henderson rookie card has raised some interest. We took a closer look at the card, its value based on key factors, and the player himself.

Who is Rickey Henderson?

Rickey Henderson is one of the most exciting ball players to watch of all time. While sensational home-run heroes get all the press, Henderson's skills were so impressive and diverse that he didn't even need to hit the ball.

Former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan said of Rickey, "He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen. If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base."

On top of dominating at bat, Henderson's speed and daring ensured that he broke at least one record almost every year of his 25-season career.

Rickey Henderson statistics and highlights

Years active

1979–2004

Games

3,081

Runs

2,295

Bases stolen

1,406

Home runs

297

Batting average

0.279

World series wins

2

20 home run seasons

4

Hall of Fame induction

2009

These stats make it clear that Rickey Henderson was among the rare five-tool players—gifted in the five major areas of skill, including speed, power, fielding, and throwing. He also set and held records throughout his career, such as:

  • Most bases stolen: 3x (1980-86, 1988-91, 1998)
  • 100-runs seasons: 13x (1980, 1982-86, 1988-91, 1993, 1996, 1998) 
  • 3+ stolen bases in a game: 71x
  • Leadoff home runs: 81x

Why the Rickey Henderson card is valuable

As one of baseball's top 100 home run hitters of all time, you didn’t want to throw the ball right over the plate when pitching to Rickey Henderson. Unfortunately for the pitcher, the ten-time All-Star also held the record for most unintentional walks.

"There was no one else like him," former pitcher Tom Candiotti said. "I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can. If you threw him a fastball, he would hit it for a home run. If you walked him, it was a triple. It was ridiculous. It was like, 'Good gosh, what are we going to do with this guy?'"

As the leadoff hitter, Rickey hit a record-setting 81 game-opening home runs over the course of his career. So walking him was probably a better option than letting him start the game by knocking one out of the park, except that Rickey shined on base. 

Man of steal

Rickey would turn a walk to first into a threat at third within a few pitches. This is why he holds the record for most runs scored of any player in history. He also holds the record for most bases stolen in a single season: 130. Most steals overall also belongs to him, and he's not just leading—he nabbed 50% more than his #2 competition.

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Rickey Henderson claiming a stolen base.

Source: mercurynews.com

He owes some of his success here to his superhuman speed. He was clocked at 2.9 seconds going from first to second, and it took 3 to 3.2 seconds for any pitcher-catcher team to get the ball there.

Rickey was so good at the walk-and-steal combo that he had three seasons where he secured 100 of each by his 4th professional year. No one else in the game’s history has ever done the same in even one season.

He was so distracting and frustrating to other teams that many gave up and let him steal. Several teams did the math and realized stopping him was too unlikely to be worth the effort. They probably made the right call with his 81% success rate on steals

Down for defense

While Henderson was an offensive powerhouse, he was no slouch on defense either. The left fielder used his base-stealing speed to crush the dreams of many would-be home run hitters.

In 1981, not only did he lead the league in outfield putouts, but he was the first person to do it as a left fielder in over 60 years. He also won a Golden Glove that year.

While there’s no one way to rank left fielders, most lists you find will include Henderson in their top 5 of all time.

Rickey vs. Mickey

Rickey vs. Mickey

Who's the GOAT?

Ego for broke

The man who often spoke in the third person is notorious for coming off as self-centered. It seems everyone has a story or a quote they attribute to Henderson that showcases what they see as arrogance. However, what’s true and what’s not is hard to say.

Unfortunately, some words had lasting effects. Upon breaking the record for career base steals, Henderson quoted Muhammad Ali, one of his lifelong idols, with the line, “Today I am the greatest!” While it's hard to imagine anyone taking offense (where is the lie?), many fans and sportswriters found the statement conceited, and it tarnished his incredible career.

Henderson later said he regretted his words and attempted to remedy the mistake in his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. He ended his speech by saying, “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And at this moment, I am...very, very humble. Thank you.”

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Rickey Henderson's Hall of Fame plaque.

Source: baseballhall.org

How much is the Rickey Henderson rookie card worth?

Henderson made headlines when his 1980 Topps rookie card sold for six figures—twice. In February 2021, a PWCC auction on eBay drew about 100 bids before ending with a $180,000 final sale for a PSA 10 Henderson rookie card. Then, just a week later, another 10 Gem Mint version of the Henderson card sold for $168,000 through Heritage Auctions.

pwcc
PWCC

Collectibles

However, not all Rickey Henderson rookie cards are as valuable as these recent sales suggest. PSA shows that 9-graded versions of the card sold for between $1,000 and $3,000 throughout 2021, reaching a maximum price of $6,877 in April. PSA 8s ranged from about $150 to $500, only breaking $1,000 a handful of times.

Let's take a closer look at the factors affecting the value of Henderson rookie cards.

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A Gem Mint 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card.

Source: psacard.com

Rickey Henderson rookie card rundown

Manufacturer

Topps

Year

1980

Card number

482

Special features

Autographed

Supply (according to PSA)

27,403

Condition

The condition of a sports card is one of the most important categories that contribute to its value. While appraisers will search for every sign of wear and tear to determine the grade of a card, damage can come from beyond the collectors themselves. The printing, packaging, and distribution can also affect a card's condition and, ultimately, how much money you can sell it for. 

The 1980 Topps collection seems to have some issues with centering and blunt-cut corners, which causes many of the Rickey Henderson rookie cards—about 79% of them—to earn grades of 6 through 8 on the PSA grading scale. That might seem like a decent grade for a 42-year-old card, but it's the difference between cards that sell for hundreds and those that sell for thousands.

Scarcity

Considering that the 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson card is the only true rookie card in the collection, it seems that it would be a rare find four decades later. But there's a robust supply of these cards in the hobby. PSA has graded over 27,000 of them, and as sports cards continue to bring in huge returns, more will likely resurface for trading or valuation. 

However, the rarest of the Henderson rookie cards is the PSA 10 Gem Mint. There are only 25 of these perfect-condition cards, and since 2021 they've almost always sold for six figures.

Is a Rickey Henderson rookie card a good investment?

Since the record high sales of February 2021, prices for Henderson rookie cards have decreased. While the 10-graded cards still bring in six figures, 2022 sales have come to about $60,000 to $70,000 less than the peak in 2021.

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Auction prices of Gem Mint Henderson rookie cards from 2009 to 2022.

Source: psacard.com

The values of lower-graded cards also seem to have fallen a bit. A card graded 5.5 sold for $95 in February 2021, but a July 2021 sale went for $68. However, even that decreasing value is more than 3x what a card at this grade was going for in 2019.

With the epic $12.6 million sale of the 1952 Mickey Mantle card in August 2022, interest in Henderson's rookie card may pick back up soon. That could mean this dip in prices presents an opportunity. But, unless you've got Rickey Henderson's eye, it's hard to know whether this is a walk or swing moment.

How to invest in a Rickey Henderson rookie card

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A price chart of the value change of a Gem Mint Henderson rookie card from 2009 to 2022.

Source: rallyrd.com

You don't need to break the bank buying Henderson rookie cards to invest in these assets, though. Rally and Collectable offer opportunities to invest by purchasing Rickey Henderson rookie card shares. As the asset appreciates, so will the value of your shares. These fractionalized investments allow you to own an equity stake in a Henderson card without purchasing the asset on your own. So not only is it more affordable, but also easier to buy or sell them given the platform's marketplace liquidity.