Last year’s baseball cards, duly sorted and stashed away in a shoebox under your bed, become a treasure trove for the future when formerly unknown young players step into the spotlight. In the summer of 1984, the upstart Chicago Cubs forced their way into the Major League sunshine and sent collectors scurrying to dust off stashes of 1983 pasteboards in search of hidden gems, led prominently by the Ryne Sandberg rookie card.
The early 1980s had been unkind to Chicago fans, as so many seasons are, but it didn’t take long to figure out that the 1984 rendition of the Cubbies might be special. While the Detriot Tigers were streaking to unprecedented early-season success, the Cubs quietly put together a 12-8 record in April and never really faltered.
Although the young New York Mets looked like they might upset Chicago’s run to a division title, the Cubs ultimately bested Darryl Strawberry and company by 6 1/2 games. And, though they lost the NLCS to Tony Gwynn and the San Diego Padres, the Cubs were darlings for a summer.
While many players contributed to that success, it was Sandberg who captured collector’s imaginations and ultimately took home the National League MVP award.
Even though he was still young at 24, Sandberg definitely qualified as a “hidden gem.” With two full seasons on the North Side under his belt, Ryno had yet to crack a .300 average or 10 home runs in a season and looked to be developing into a dependable, decent-hitting middle infielder with plenty of speed.
Instead, he turned on the jets in 1984 and stepped squarely onto the “superstar” platform, gaining an instant nationwide fan base and forcing hobbyists to drag out their 1983 castoffs for one more pass.
Here is a rundown of the Ryne Sandberg rookie cards that rose to prominence right along Sandberg himself during that magical summer. Holy Cow!
For their third set, Donruss dusted off their own 1982 cards, replaced the baseball with a baseball glove, and polished up their typefaces and other design elements just a smidge. Add in brighter, clearer images, and the 1983 Donruss offering was a solid (if unspectacular) addition to the annals of cardboard collectibles.
While the set didn’t immediately seem to be bursting with big-name rookies, Wade Boggs’ batting title in ’83 gave the issue a shot in the arm by season’s end. Gwynn’s and Sandberg’s emergence the next summer ensured that collectors would be busting ’83 Donruss wax packs for years to come.
These days, you can pick up Sandberg’s Donruss rookie for under $5 in decent ungraded condition, and even a MINT slabbed version will set you back less than $20.
After a decade of legal wrangling and two fairly lackluster issues once they finally won their case, Fleer was ready to step up its game in 1983.
Gone were the depressing photos and bland, generic design elements that marked their 1981 and 1982 sets, replaced by gray-beige borders, team branding, and photos on the backs of cards.
Like Donruss, Fleer saw some in-season action for their ’83s on the secondary market thanks to Boggs’ exploits, but they really began to draw attention in 1983.
A big part of that, of course, was due to Sandberg, shown bursting from the batter’s box on card #507.
His Fleer rookie is just as reasonably priced today than the Donruss version, with raw versions checking in under $5 and GEM MT copies available for under $50.
Despite the strides made by their competition in 1983, Topps remained the clear brand of choice that year.
In fact, with markedly better photo quality than they had enjoyed in years and an elegant two-photo front design, the 1983 Topps set is one of the classic “looks” that has continued to attract collectors over the years.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Sandberg rookie outpaced its white-stocked counterparts for much of the last 30 years in terms of both demand and price.
Today, though, the cards are on much more even footing, as you can find Sandberg’s Topps rookie for less than five bucks raw and for around $30 in graded MINT condition.
Number 83 is somewhat condition-sensitive, though, and you can expect to pay $300 or more for a slabbed GEM MT copy.
As was the case through most of the hobby’s glory years, the 1983 Topps set was paralleled by an O-Pee-Chee offering in Canada. Though the OPC set contained only 396 cards, they managed to hit the big three of Boggs, Gwynn, and Sandberg.
And, despite featuring cleaner white stock and being more scarce than the corresponding Topps issue, the 1983 O-Pee-Chee Sandberg can be yours for less than $5 raw and around $30 when graded in MINT condition.
Throughout the 1980s, Topps supplemented their base offering with a sticker set featuring “cards” that allowed collectors to separate the front from the back and affix their favorite players to the appropriate page in an accompanying album.
Of course, you could also affix the stickers to television sets, lunch boxes, your sister’s hair, or your mom’s mirror, depending on how ornery and brave you felt in the moment.
All these options didn’t do much for the condition of your typical Topps sticker, and neither did the flimsy paper packs, which encouraged ripping that was not necessarily limited to the packaging itself — the contents often bore the brunt of overzealous opening techniques, too.
Nevertheless, a goodly number of single stickers have survived through the decades, and you can pick up Ryne Sandberg’s “rookie sticker” for just a few dollars. Even if you want a GEM MT slabbed copy, you should be able to satisfy your yearn for around $30.
Reggie Smith was a fine player who crafted a 17-year career during which he smashed more than 300 home runs among his 2000+ hits.
But for as good as he was, Smith’s baseball cards never garnered much attention.
Well, not until astute collectors noticed a familiar-looking lad hurrying back to first base on the front of Smith’s 1983 Topps pasteboard, that is.
That slender figure trying to avoid a running gaffe was none other than Ryne Sandberg, and card #282 has become a kind of add-on, de facto Ryno rookie card.
Prices range from about a buck for ungraded copies to double digits for high-grade slabbed copies.
As with the real Topps Sandberg rookie, the Smith/Sandberg combo also exists in a parallel O-Pee-Chee version. It would theoretically sell around the same price points but is seldom offered for individual purchase.
Some years, impact youngsters show their promise from the very beginning and hobbyists gobble up those rookie cards as soon as they’re issued.
Every once in awhile, though, a guy needs a couple og seasons to adjust to the Big Leagues and for his team to gel around him. When that happens , those cards that you stashed away in a dark corner may start to heat up even if you aren’t paying attention.
They’ll be waiting for you, though.
There are few things more exciting as a collector than sifting through a stack of cards you’ve been through a thousand times before and suddenly uncovering a gem.
In the summer of 1984, the Chicago Cubs and their young second baseman ignited a dust storm across the North American continent as we furiously shuffled through our forgotten 1983s in search of a prized Ryne Sandberg rookie card.