Nolan Ryan is one of the most popular pitchers in baseball history, playing 27 seasons for four teams (Mets, Angles, Astros, and Rangers). He was a hard-throwing righty who consistently threw his fastball over 100 MPH. He still owns dozens of Major League records and finished his career with 324 wins, 5714 strikeouts, and a 3.19 ERA. Ryan also famously threw seven no-hitters on his way to being a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1999 (98.79% of the vote). It’s no surprise that his Topps rookie card is really popular too. But many collectors may not realize there are three other, nearly identical Nolan Ryan rookie cards. In this article, I’ll break each down and discuss a few other collectibles Ryan collectors may be interested in tracking down.
But before jumping into the cards, I think it’s worth noting that Ryan shared his rookie cards with another accomplished pitcher Jerry Koosman. Koosman, unfortunately, gets overshadowed by Ryan on this card and treated as an afterthought, but Koosman won 222 games in the major leagues, was a 2x All-Star, and had his number retired by the Mets.
1968 Topps #177 Mets Rookies
When people refer to Nolan Ryan’s rookie card, they are talking about the 1968 Topps #177 Mets Rookie Stars card. It’s a commonly graded card with PSA having encapsulated over 14k examples. However, they have only slabbed a single Gem Mint 10 example, along with 67 PSA 9s and 746 PSA 8s. None of the high-grade variants are cheap. Goldin sold the sole PSA 10 copy in August 2020 for $600k. The last few PSA 9s have sold for between $99k and $136k (since October 2021, there have been six sales). PSA 8s are pricey, too, between $7-9k.
A dedicated Ryan collector might be interested in a few other items related to the 1968 Topps card. Topps sold Ryan’s color transparency, used as the original artwork from which the proof sheets were made, in their 2011 VIP Exclusive Auction at the National, and it sold for $3500. Today it’s listed on eBay for $89995.
In that same auction, Topps also sold a blank-backed color process proof sheet featuring the card.
I also saw a collector share a 1968 Topps Series 2 Uncut Sheet on a forum a few years ago.
For the unopened collectors who are fans of Nolan Ryan, Robert Edward Auctions sold this 2nd Series Wax Pack, which could hold a Ryan rookie card, for $4680 in the spring of 2020.
There are also quite a few signed copies of Ryan’s Topps rookie card available on the market.
1968 OPC #177 Mets Rookies
O-Pee-Chee variants of Ryan’s rookie card are rare; PSA has only graded 159 examples without any 10s or 9s. They have slabbed 13 8s. Goldin Auctions last sold a PSA 8 in January 2021 for a little under $21k.
There are a few signed OPC cards around too.
1968 Topps Milton Bradley #177 Mets Rookies
Sports Collector’s Digest wrote an excellent overview of the Milton Bradley Topps set’s production origin and card peculiarities. PSA has graded a little over 500 copies of this card with zero PSA 10s, four PSA 9s, and 21 PSA 8s. Heritage sold a PSA 9 in July 2019 for $18k, and the last PSA sale I remember was by Mile High Card Company in November 2021, when they sold a copy for $8500.
1968 Venezuela Topps #177 Mets Rookies
By far, the rarest Mets Rookie Stars card is the Venezuela Topps version; PSA has only graded 32 examples, with the nicest being a PSA 5.5 (most are authentic/Poor/Fair). Collect Auctions sold that PSA 5.5 in 2020 for $16k. Given their scarcity, a PSA 1 isn’t cheap either; one sold in February 2021 for $2k.
If you know about any other 1968 products related to Ryan’s Mets Rookie Card, let me know about them in the comments or over on Twitter, and happy collecting! Also, if you’re interested in an every-other-week summary of hobby news and some shorter articles, subscribe to The Post War Cards Newsletter over on Substack.