If you missed out on the arrival of 1990 Leaf baseball cards to a local card show that summer, then you may never really know what it’s like to be in the presence of a cardboard rock star.

Just the year before, the 1989 Upper Deck set had changed the way collectors looked at baseball cards, about what was possible. And we were hungry for more super premium brands that could push card quality even further.

Donruss was the first to take up that gauntlet when they released Series I of 1990 Leaf.

While it’s arguable that Leaf did anything better than UD did, these cards were a quantum leap beyond anything Donruss — or Topps or Fleer — had ever done before.

1990 leaf baseball cards series ii unopened wax box carlton fisk

Collectors loved their looks, but we were still a little unsure about paying more than a buck a pack for baseball cards.

And so, Donruss (apparently) cut back on production of Series II, and when we realized they were hard to find … well, we had to have them!

There went prices, to $2, $3, $5 a pack, and when some dealer popped open a box or, for heaven’s sake, a case at a show, the floor rumbled as everyone stampeded the booth.

It was magical, and a little scary.

Today, we know that nothing made in the early 1990s was truly scarce, and prices for these trendsetters are much more reasonable.

Still, the set is jam-packed with big-name rookie cards and Hall of Famers, and there is enough supply that you can find “perfect” copies if you really want to.

What follows, then, is the list of the most valuable 1990 Leaf baseball cards, based on recent eBay sales prices for PSA 10 specimens.

Play ball!

1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Rookie Card (#300)

1990 Leaf Frank  Thomas Rookie Card

Thomas wasn’t anything like a full-on rookie sensation when he debuted for the White Sox on August 2, 1990 … it was just too late in the season for him to stack up big counting numbers.

And Chicago finished too far behind the juggernaut A’s for anyone to notice much at all about what they were doing.

But the Big Hurt did what the Big Hurt would do for the next two decades — hit for power (seven home runs) and average (.330), and get on base at league-leading levels (though without the qualifying number of plate appearances).

Then, in 1991, Thomas did the same thing over a full season … then again in 1992 … and again and again and again.

In fact, through his first seven full seasons, Thomas fell below 30 dingers just once (24 in 1992) while scoring and driving in 100+ runs every season.

His batting average never slipped below .308 during that span, and his OPS dipped below 1.000 only once, though his .975 still led the American League in 1992.

He was a little hit or miss after that point but still finished with more than 500 home runs and nearly 2500 hits, and he breezed into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Thomas Leaf rookie card sells for around $150 in PSA 10 condition.

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1990 Leaf Larry Walker Rookie Card (#325)

1990 Leaf Larry  Walker Rookie Card

Thomas took a lot of flack over the years because he put up his big numbers while playing a ton as a designated hitter.

The knock on Walker, meanwhile, is that he put up his biggest seasons with the Rockies, in that rarefied air of theirs.

No matter where he played, though, Walker was one of the greatest players of the 1990s, and he may still get his Cooperstown due.

Enough other collectors think so, too, to keep Walker’s RC at about $75 in perfect graded condition.

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1990 Leaf Ken Griffey Jr. (#245)

1990 Leaf Ken  Griffey  Jr. class=

Griffey was still sort of a work in progress when this card was issued …

At just 20 years of age, Junior had yet to develop the power everyone thought lay dormant in those gifted muscles of his, but he was already an electrifying talent.

Within just a few years, of course, Griff would sit near the very top of the baseball food chain, a position he’ll never relinquish.

This first Leaf card of a stone-cold diamond legend sells for $50+ in PSA 10 condition.

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1990 Leaf Sammy Sosa Rookie Card (#220)

1990 Leaf Sammy  Sosa Rookie Card

Who could have known at the time this Sosa rookie was issued that the ChiSox roster was home to two future members of the 500-home run club?

Heck, Sosa would blow right by that milestone and into the 600s!

Of course, plenty of folks take that number with a grain of salt given everything that has transpired over the last 20 years, but there was a time when Sammy was the most popular player in the game.

It’s cool to get a look at a more slender Sosa, when he was a five-tool player with all sorts of potential.

It’ll cost you about 40 bucks if you want to own that look to keep, though (PSA 10).

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1990 Leaf Rickey Henderson (#160)

1990 Leaf Rickey  Henderson

When this card was issued in the summer of 1990, Henderson was in the midst of arguably his greatest season ever.

After all, he won the AL MVP award and led the A’s to the World Series (where my Cincinnati Reds swept them, but, you know …).

Then, early in 1991, Rickey broke Lou Brock‘s all-time stolen base record, and his date with the Hall of Fame was all but sealed.

This 1990 Leaf Henderson card is a $30 buy in PSA 10

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1990 Leaf Roger Clemens (#12)

1990 Leaf Roger  Clemens

After a sort of mortal season in 1989, Clemens was back to his legend-building ways in 1990, posting 21 wins and a sub-2.00 ERA en route to a second-place finish in AL Cy Young voting.

Of course, things would really get crazy for Rocket a few years later, and lots of folks have lots of opinions about how he pulled that off.

As it stands now, Clemens is a great, though tainted pitcher, who’s having trouble getting within sniffing distance of Cooperstown.

Still, his 1990 Leaf hovers around $20 in perfect condition.

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1990 Leaf Barry Bonds (#91)

1990 Leaf Barry  Bonds

Remember what I said about Clemens above?

It pretty much all applies to Bonds, except he was a hitter, not a pitcher.

And he did even more incredible things than Clemens did.

Still, the parts about Cooperstown and the $20 Leaf card? Same.

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1990 Leaf Cal Ripken Jr. (#197)

1990 Leaf Cal  Ripken  Jr. class=

Ripken was actually having sort of a crisis in popularity ‘long about 1990, though it probably didn’t bother him much.

The problem was that some observers were clamoring for him to take a day off, claiming his devotion to “The Streak” was hurting his performance (he did hit just .250 in 1990).

Cal answered with probably his best season ever in 1991, claiming his second AL MVP award (1983) and setting up his 1995 date with Lou Gehrig‘s consecutive games-played record.

Today, no one complains about Cal, and his 1990 Leaf is a $20 card in perfect slabbed condition.

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1990 Leaf Randy Johnson (#483)

1990 Leaf Randy  Johnson

Like Griffey, Johnson wasn’t fully baked when this card first found its way to collectors, but even more so.

After a trade from the Montreal Expos in 1989, Johnson had a half season with the Mariners under his belt and looked like he had all sorts of potential … but also all sorts of kinks to work through.

But work through them he did, lowering his walk rate while learning to fully control that monster fastball of his.

In later years, The Big Unit would find more team success with the Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, and New York Yankees, but the Kingdomw was where his legend was born.

This card, showing the early stages of that metamorphosis fetches around $20 in PSA 10.

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1990 Leaf John Olerud Rookie Card (#23)

1990 Leaf John  Olerud Rookie Card

Olerud was one of those sweet-swinging lefties who looked like he should be the second coming of Ted Williams.

He had the minor league hype to back that up, too, and when he joined a talented Blue Jays squad in 1989, expectations were Sky Dome high.

Olerud never developed the top-notch power you like to see from your first baseman, though, and he didn’t stick around long enough to accumulate Hall of Fame numbers.

But he did win a batting title with a .363 average in 1993, and he did hit 255 career bombs, and he did end up with 2200+ hits and a .295 lifetime batting average.

He also cut a distinctive figure in the field, what with that batting helmet always perched atop his head.

For all he did do, Olerud lines up here with a $20 rookie card (in PSA 10).

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1990 Leaf Nolan Ryan (#21)


Along with Henderson and Ripken, Ryan was one of three veterans who elevated themselves to baseball gods in the early 1990s.

For the Ryan Express, the transformation began when he left the Houston Astros for the Texas Rangers before the 1989 season.

Within a few years — and pitching well into his 80s — Ryan had added two no-hitters (bringing his total to seven), sailed past 300 victories, and pushed his all-time strikeout record beyond 5500.

So, yeah, he always appears on lists like this one, and he lands here at about $20 for perfect graded copies of his 1990 Leaf card.

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