At certain times during recent hobby history (the last 30 years or so), nothing has been hotter than a Mark McGwire rookie card.

That’s what happens when you …

  • Break the all-time rookie home run record
  • Come back from injury and slumps to reclaim your place as one of the top sluggers in the game
  • Break the all-time single-season home run record

Big Mac was amazing, but like most heroes, he experienced a fall from grace — most notably the ding his reputation and records took as a result of the PED backlash of the last 15 years or so.

So where does that leave McGwire’s rookie cards?

Glad you asked!

Despite reports of their demise, McGwire cardboard has rebounded — not to their halcyon heights of his glory days, but to at least the level of a living legend with an outside shot at the Hall of Fame.

Here, then is a rundown of Big Mac’s Big Five rookie cards as they stand in the marketplace today.

1985 Topps USA Olympic Team (#401)

1985 topps mark mcgwire rookie card

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When 1985 Topps baseball cards first came out, collectors weren’t quite sure what to do with cards the numbered 389-404.

Thanks to the explosion of Red, White, and Blue, along with the “USA: 1984 United States Baseball Team” designation, we knew these cards represented members of the 1984 US Olympic squad.

A few of us might have remembered that the US lost the Gold-medal game to Japan, and we might also have recognized a some of the players from their time at the Los Angeles Olympics or from their college exploits.

But for most of us — at least kids like me — these cards were just a waste of space.

I mean, most of the players were completely unrecognizable, and they didn’t have any discernible Major League affiliation. Couldn’t Topps have put that cardboard real estate to better use, like including more Cincinnati Reds players or bringing back “Rookie Stars” cards?

Of course, even back then, there were folks in this business who knew how to create a buzz around young players and their first cards, so it didn’t take long for the word to get around at card shows …

Mike Dunne was going to be a great pitcher.

Oddibe McDowell was the next Willie Mays.

Cory Snyder was the next, longer-lasting Joe Charboneau.

So their cards, and a couple others (Shane Mack comes to mind) picked up some steam.

Nobody was too jazzed about generic cards of John Hoover, Flavio Alfaro, or Rod Dedeaux, though.

And, really, no one was too amped up about Mark McGwire, either.

1985 Topps Mark McGwire Rookie Card (back)

But a scant two years later, Big Mac was becoming, well, Big Mac … stepping in at first base for the Oakland A’s and making a perfect Bash Brother partner for 1986 American League Rookie of the Year Jose Canseco.

By the 1987 All-Star break, McGwire had already slammed 31 home runs and looked like he would break not only the rookie record for dingers in a season, but maybe Roger Maris‘ all-time single-season mark of 61.

McGwire slowed down and managed “only” 49 homers on the full season, but the young slugger had arguably already cemented his place as a legend by the time he took home the 1987 AL ROY award that November.

Along the way, of course, Big Mac’s exploits helped supersize the demand and prices for his cards. During that magical summer, his 1987 Donruss card (see below) took on its own magical sheen, and his 1987 Topps rookie card (also see below) didn’t languish long on dealer tables, either.

But it was his exotic 1985 Topps card that really caught collectors’ fancies during that Summer of Slam.

Look how young McGwire is!

That card is old … it must be scarce!

How could we not see this greatness coming?!?

And so we grabbed on and chased the previously shunned 1985 Topps Mark McGwire pre-rookie card like a tail chasing its dog. And, as we did, prices climbed higher and higher until it was the most expensive 1980s card going, outside of the 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly Rookie card.

Now, McGwire ebbed and flowed over the next decade or so, and his card prices did, too.

But by the time he found himself with the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-1990s and was ready to really crank up the power, the hobby had changed. We had pretty much lived through the heart of the Junk Wax Era, for one thing, and 1985 Topps cards looked like hens’ teeth compared to the pasteboard swill we’d been swilling for several years.

About the same time, in 1998, PSA came on the scene and nearly instantly created the ultimate condition premium — a high PSA grading could rocket card values.

So, as McGwire ramped up his chase of Maris in 1998, collectors ramped up our hunt for his 1985 Topps USA card again, this time with an even stronger focus on condition than ever before. As Big Mac’s homer totals climbed, so did the price tag on his first Topps card — well into three figures.

Untold wads of cash changed hands buying and selling McGwire rookies from that point until his PED-induced fall from grace in the 2000s jabbed a pinhole in the market, and a lot of folks felt duped when prices tanked afterward.

But the funny thing about life and baseball and baseball cards is that hardly anything is permanent, except for maybe our memories of the good times. Grudges dull, breaking news and new indignities obscure the scars of the past, and we learn to move on.

Big Mac has moved on to some extent, working as a Major League coach of various sorts over the past few years, getting his face back in the game.

He may never make the Hall of Fame, but he’s not the pariah he once was either.

Same goes for his 1985 Topps rookie cards … as of this writing, they sell regularly on eBay for less than $10 in raw condition but can stretch all the way to $750 or so for PSA 10 copies.

Not the fortune we once thought they’d be worth, but not nothing, either. They’ve — we’ve — moved on.

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1987 Donruss Rated Rookie (#46)

1987 Donruss Mark McGwire rookie card

There was a perception in the early months of 1987 that the new Fleer cards were super scarce and that the new Donruss cards were just plain old scarce. Turns out neither of those ideas were particularly true, but the gleam of scarcity shone on these cards for several years and graced them with pricing premiums all along the way.

Even so, a Fleer developed a big problem during that long-ago summer — they didn’t include Mark McGwire in their base set.

Donruss, on the other hand, was all over the big slugger, even slathering him with the coveted Rated Rookie rating.

So if you wanted a “high-quality” rookie card of the latest phenom, one that you could pull from then-current packs, Donruss was your only choice.

As a consequence, the McGwire RR climbed to $10 and beyond in the flash of a spike, and we (collectively) kept pushing until the card was out of reach for many younger collectors. Think of the children!

Like the 1985 Topps USA card (see above), that pricing frenzy couldn’t survive the Junk Wax Era and the PED scandals, but it’s not completely dead these days.

Think $1 or so for raw copies and $20-40 for PSA 10s, depending on whether the wind is blowing in or out.

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1987 Fleer Update Mark McGwire (#U-76)

1987 Fleer Update Mark McGwire rookie card

Fleer finally got their McGwire act together by including him in their 1987 Update set, but it felt — and still feels — pretty ridiculous to give them credit for a “rookie” card nearly three years after Topps broke the slugging seal with their 1985 USA cards (see above).

Even so, this is the first Fleer Big Mac card, and it enjoyed a couple of bombs in batting practice.

Today, you can usually find this one for less than a buck raw and maybe $20 in PSA 10.

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1987 Sportflics Rookies Mark McGwire 13 1.00

1987 Sportflics Rookies Mark McGwire rookie card

Take everything I said about Fleer above and multiply it by three — for the patented triple-motion action — for Sportflics.

The still-new kid on the block could have included McGwire in their base 1987 set of corrugated cards, but they didn’t.

Instead, they jumped on the bandwagon with their follow-on “Rookies” set to produce what may be the most underwhelming card ever issued of a 500-home-run man.

This one, too, will set you back $1-$30 depending on condition.

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1987 Topps Mark Mcgwire 366 1.00

1987 Topps Mark McGwire rookie card

The 1987 Topps set was never scarce in any sort of way, but it became a hobby classic the instant that first collector cracked open a wax pack that winter.

Those wood borders are polarizing, sure, but they are also freaking iconic — and pretty darn good-looking if you ask me.

And that shot of McGwire is not perfect, but it’s unusual and shows the young masher poised and ready to … mash.

This was an extremely popular card from the time Big Mac started getting national coverage and, though it never attained the value of the USA or Donruss cards, it always sold well during McGwire’s upswings.

These days, you can still buy large lots of these beauties for under $1 a card, but you’ll have to cough up $25 or more for a PSA 10 specimen.

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(Check out our other posts related to Mark McGwire here).