Every collector worth his stale bubble gum knows that you can find a Cal Ripken rookie card in each of the major 1982 sets — Donruss, Fleer, and Topps. But did you know there was another Major League card issued of the budding legend in the summer 1982, long before the fabled Traded Set hit dealer shelves that year?
By the middle of his rookie season, Ripken had already established himself as a major star and was drawing plenty of attention from all quarters. And, although Ripken didn’t make it to the All-Star Game that summer — the only time that would happen in a full season during his 21-year career — he did make an appearance on the ballot and a cameo at the Midsummer Classic itself.
You had to be paying really close attention not to miss him, though.
From 1981-1986, the official All-Star program featured a foldout insert that pictured all 180 players who were on the fan ballot, arranged in “card” style. The fronts featured a full-color photo set off by a black border, with the player name and position beneath. Backs showed vital stats and birth/residence/information, along with an All-Star Game logo.
The first five renditions of the inserts were printed on stock that was somewhat thicker than the paper pages of the program, and that made them ripe for cutting apart by avid collectors who were hungry to get their hands on any sort of cards they might add to their 800-count boxes.
Today, these hand-cut cards (measuring about 1 1/4″ x 2″) are sought after by hobbyists who have already nailed down the staple issues for their favorite players, and early-career specimens are especially desirable — and scarce.
According to the PSA Population Report, just over 30 of these Ripken “rookies” have been submitted for grading, and only 2 of those have checked in with a perfect “10.”
And so it is that a flimsy piece of cardboard-paper that was almost an aft erthought at the time of issue could be the most significant challenge to collectors trying to amass a master set of Cal Ripken cards.
It’s beyond unusual to find a Ripken All-Star insert on eBay or at shows, and you can expect to pay more than $100 when you DO come across one in solid graded condition.
Your best bet might be to buy an entire program — which you can sometimes find for under $50 on eBay — but then you’re taking a chance on the condition of the insert AND that you can cut out the Ripken card deftly enough to make it presentable and collectible.
Make no mistake, though: if you to build a complete Ripken card collection, then you’ll definitely need to lay your mitts on his 1982 All-Star Game program insert issue, somehow and in some form.
It’s the Cal Ripken rookie card that even most diehard hobbyists have missed over the last 30+ years, and it may just be the one to make your collection stand out.