If you lived through the baseball card boom and bust, then the term “1989 Topps baseball cards value” might sound like an oxymoron of “enough sleep” proportions.
But the truth is, even the junkiest of junk wax products spits out a sorta gem every now and then — cards that sell for a few bucks online or at shows. Or a decent bit more if they’re slabbed in high grades.
So, with that in mind, here are the 10 most valuable 1989 Topps baseball cards as gauged by eBay sales.
1989 Topps Randy Johnson Rookie Card (#647)
When this card was issued, Montreal Expos hurler Randy Johnson was something of a curiosity. At 6’10”, he was certainly huge, and his fastball scared the crap out of hitters from coast to coast … but he was also wild and unpolished. And, at age 25, he was sorta old to be a prospect. A May 25 trade to the Seattle Mariners changed all that, of course, and Johnson finished 1989 looking like a real pitcher before blossoming into a Hall of Fame lock over the next 20 years.
Johnson’s 1989 Topps rookie card is not scarce by any means, and you can pick up nice raw copies for a buck or so. A PSA 10 copy will cost a bit more — generally still less than $30, though.
1989 Topps John Smoltz Rookie Card (#382)
John Smoltz is more than three years younger than The Big Unit, and the Atlanta Braves prospect already had some solid minor league work under his belt in the spring of 1989. As a result, collectors were a bit more eager to jump on his rookie card. He rewarded us with several solid years as a member of the Braves vaunted rotation before breaking out with a Cy Young season in 1996. Smoltz missed the 200 season with an injury and then returned in 2001 as a lockdown closer before finishing up in the rotation for several more seasons. It was an unorthodox route to the Hall of Fame, but one that still netted Smoltz his Cooperstown bust and 1989 Topps prices roughly equal to Johnson’s.
1989 Topps Nolan Ryan (#530)
Nolan Ryan was at the other end of his career from Johnson and Smoltz when he made his last Topps appearance for the Houston Astros in 1989. Of course, it turns out Ryan wasn’t quite done, as he used his five seasons with the Texas Rangers to pick up his 300th victory, 5000th strikeout, and seventh no-hitter to cement his status as an absolute legend. While his 1989 Topps base card fetches about $1 ungraded, it stretches toward 10 bucks in PSA 10.
1989 Topps Gary Sheffield Rookie Card (#343)
Collectors were hungry for big-name rookie cards as the 1989 season dawned — after a bumper crop in 1987, the 1988 sets were pretty sparse in terms of first-year cards, especially when it came to power potential. One of the guys who stoked our imaginations for ’89 was Gary Sheffield, a 20-year-old shortstop with muscle for the Milwaukee Brewers, who just also happened to be Dwight Gooden‘s nephew. Sheffield took awhile to get his homer stroke warmed up in the Majors, and he wore out his welcome with a few clubs, but he eventually developed into pretty much the monster bat we always imagined he would. Thanks partly to more than 500 career home runs, his Topps rookie card will run you about $15 in PSA 10 but just about a dollar raw.
1989 Topps Gregg Jefferies Rookie Card (#233)
Like Sheffield, Gregg Jefferies was one of the hitters we were banking on to really light a fire under our rookie cards (oh, the horror!). Unlike Sheffield, though, Jefferies had appeared in a few 1988 base sets (Donruss, Fleer, Score), so this 1989 Topps card wasn’t really a “rookie” so much as a “First Topps Card.” Still, it was a popular issue that struggled right along with Jefferies as he couldn’t quite hit the expectations set for him. In the end, Jefferies turned in a very good, All-Star caliber career, and his 1989 Topps rookie card (yes, I said it), checks in at similar price levels to the Sheffield above.
1989 Topps Tom Glavine (#157)
Like his Braves teammate, Smoltzie, Tom Glavine took a few years in the Majors before he really got things in gear. By the time Atlanta was ready to start winning, though, so was Glavine — his 20-11, 2.55 ERA in 1991 was good enough to nab the National League Cy Young award as the Braves captured their first division title of 1990s. But back when collectors first got our mitts on Glavine’s 1989 Topps card — not a rookie — he was still trying to find his place in the game. As it turned out, that place was Cooperstown, which makes this card look pretty good for under a buck (with PSA 10 copies bringing $10 or more).
1989 Topps Craig Biggio (#49)
In 1989, Biggio took a first step toward the Hall of Fame by winning his Silver Slugger award. Of course, the fact that he won that hardware as a catcher may seem hard to believe now, considering he became a superstar with the Houston Astros as a second baseman, but it’s all just part of Biggio’s hard-nosed athletic legacy. Even with all that horsehide greatness, you can usually find this second-year Biggio card for under a buck. A perfect 10 can nudge close to $20, though
1989 Topps Cal Ripken, Jr. (#250)
The Baltimore Orioles were just awful in 1988, finishing 54-107, but their Iron Man, Cal Ripken played every game — as usual. Even Cal’s performance was a bit soft that summer, though, at least by his standards. With a slash line of .264/.372/.431, along with 23 home runs and 81 RBI, Ripken was an All-Star but not the lead-pipe superstar he had been a few years earlier. So when this 1989 Topps card hit store shelves, it was accompanied by whispers that maybe it was time for Cal to sit.
It wasn’t, and Ripken turned on the gas over the next few years to cement his status as a baseball legend, and you can usually pick up this mid-career card for a relative song.
1989 Topps Roberto Alomar (#206)
Like a lot of other guys on this list, Roberto Alomar made his cardboard debut in 1988, the same season he finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He didn’t appear on a Topps card until the 1988 Traded set, though, so this 1989 pasteboard is his first base Topps issue. For less than ten bucks, then, regardlesss of condition, you can nab a very early career card of a fan favorite and Hall of Famer. Not bad, eh?
1989 Topps Mark McGwire (#)
As 1989 dawned, collectors were hoping for a rebound from Mark McGwire, the young slugger who followed up his 49-homer ROY season in 1987 with “just” 32 homers in 1988. Things got worse for Big Mac over the next few years before his renaissance in the mid-1990s, but he cut a fine figure on his 1989 baseball cards, including this Topps gem. There is an awful lot of power parked on that cardboard, and it can be yours for a mere pittance (most of the time).
(Check out our other posts about card values here.)