Understanding the details of the Ozzie Smith rookie card seems like it should be a simple proposition, but the truth is, there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.

In the parlance of whatever generation uses/used such terminology … It’s complicated.

Not terribly, but a bit, at least.

First, there really is no such thing as the Ozzie Smith rookie card.

I know, I know, the only image that comes to mind with that turn of phrase — “Ozzie Smith rookie card” — is that classic 1979 Topps issue that’s become a hobby icon.

That one plays a big role in our discussion, no doubt, but it’s not the whole story.

And even if it were …

Second, there are nuances laced throughout any discussion of the Wizard’s rookie that you need to understand in order to get the full picture.

So, without further hoopla — aside from maybe a few backflips — here is everything you need to know about (the) Ozzie Smith rookie card(s), starting where you’d expect …

(Note: The following sections contain affiliate links to eBay and Amazon listings for the cards being discussed. Values shown below are based on recent sales of PSA 9 copies as of November 2022.)

1979 Topps Ozzie Smith Rookie Card (#116)

1979 Topps Ozzie Smith Rookie Card

Yeah, this is the standard-bearer when it comes to Ozzie Smith rookie cards.

It’s also the only game in town as far as most collectors know, remember, or care to acknowledge.

There’s good reason for that, too, as this 1979 Topps Ozzie RC has developed into something of a hobby legend.

It wasn’t always that way, though.

No, in the early days of the 1980s cardboard boom, it was 1979 National League Rookie of the Year Bob Horner who held the honor of “most valuable 1979 Topps baseball card,” and it wasn’t even close.

Indeed, Horner was still just 25 years old in 1983 when I entered the hobby for real, and he already had three seasons of 30-plus home runs under his (expansive) belt. Most saw him as possessing enough untapped potential and having an early enough start on the big counting stats that an eventual Cooperstown plaque was a distinct possibility.

Some even still clung to the “Next Babe Ruth” nonsense.

All of it added up to a $3 rookie card at a time when even the one-dollar club was reserved for the game’s legends.

As Horner faded through the rest of the 1980s, his RC more or less treaded water — folks held out hopes that he’d rebound AND card prices in general exploded, keeping him in that $1-3 range.

In the meantime, Willie Wilson became a star for the Kansas City Royals, who always seemed to win *something*, and his rookie card grabbed the 1979 Topps crown, at least for a while.

Then, of course, there were the dalliances with the Bump Wills Rangers/Blue Jays error/variation, and the hot-and-cold love affair with the first Paul Molitor solo card as the Brewers infielder taped his various body parts back onto his person at the end of each season.

Gradually, though, as Ozzie continued his acrobatics and Gold Glove streak, and as he ramped up his offensive game to something resembling league average, and as the Cardinals just kept on winning, his 1979 Topps rookie card, picturing him with the San Diego Padres, ascended to the throne.

Quietly. Without much fanfare. We just woke up one day, and Ozzie was the most expensive card in the set.

And as the eighties gave way to the nineties and we realized that a) Ozzie wouldn’t play forever and b) he was headed for the Hall of Fame, that RC became all the more popular … and scrutinized.

Under the glare of increased demand and ever-rising prices, we became collectively more discerning about which Ozzies warranted the biggest bucks. By the time grading companies sprang to life in the early-to-mid-1990s, we all pretty much knew the story …

It wasn’t THAT tough to find an Ozzie rookie with sharp corners and edges, but good luck finding one where the picture wasn’t sliding off the front of the thing, stage left, like the toppings on your school-lunch pizza.

You can see this situation in action, courtesy of the PSA Population Report. As of late November 2022, the grading giant had processed a shade over 9200 Ozzie rookies. Of those, only 387 have graded a PSA 9, and only 5 (!) have scored a perfect “10.”

By comparison, the Nolan Ryan base card from the set, one number down (at #115) has been graded just under 5000 times. Despite the lower overall population, The Express just about doubles Ozzie’s counts when it comes to high grades: 768 PSA 9s, and 13 PSA 10s.

And, if you check out the Ozzie sales in the PSA Auction Prices Realized tool for PSA 9s, you’ll see a litany of “OC” qualifiers, denoting cards that are off-center. Those sell for about one-tenth the price of a well-centered PSA 9 (value below).

You say you want a PSA 10? Well, the last two sales came in February and May of 2021, hammering down at $222K and $144K, respectively.

Makes the on-kilter 9s look like a bargain by comparison, huh?

Value: $2500-3000

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1979 O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith Rookie Card (#52)

1979 O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith Rookie Card

As they had every year since 1965, Topps and O-Pee-Chee teamed up in 1979 to issue a scaled-down version of the base Topps set for the Canadian market.

At 374 cards, it was the largest OPC set up to that point, though it was still 352 cards shy of the Topps checklist. That meant a lot of guys ended up on the cutting room floor, and it was something of a crapshoot as to which ones would face the knife, beyond NOT most of the established stars.

Young Ozzie somehow made the cut, and so we have this second mainstream Wizard rookie card. It’s identical to the Topps version with the exception of the company logo on the card front (O-Pee-Chee instead of Topps), bilingual (French and English) text on the card back, and the card number (#52 instead of #116).

The OPC Ozzie rookie card also shares something else with its Topps counterpart – condition scarcity.

Of 559 Ozzie’s that PSA has graded through November of 2022, only 38 have received a “9” and only two checked in at a “10.”

Not as popular as the U.S. version (judging by sales numbers), the O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith rookie card is still plenty pricey – the most recent PSA 10 to change hands sold for $81K in April of 2021.

PSA 9s are a bit more reasonable, though still solidly in four-figure territory when you find one without the OC qualifier.

Value: $1500-2000

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1978 Family Fun Centers San Diego Padres Ozzie Smith Rookie Card (#3)

1978 Family Fun Centers San Diego Padres Ozzie Smith Rookie Card

Ozzie debuted for the Padres in 1978 after a mere 68-game dash of minor-league seasoning in 1977, at low-A Walla Walla, no less.

He had hit .303 with 30 stolen bases at that far-away outpost, but if a tree falls in the forest and smacks a few baseballs on the way down, and there’s no national media to cover it … is the tree really a prospect?

It’s the age-old question.

Indeed …

As Ozzie took up the starting shortstop role for a Padres team who had gone 69-93 in 1977, hardly anyone noticed … or cared.

But then, a funny thing happened – armed by contributions from offseason acquisitions like Gaylord Perry, Mickey Lolich, and Oscar Gamble, along with primetime performances from Gene Tenace, Dave Winfield, and Gene Richards, the Padres won.

Not a division title, or anything, but at an 84-78 clip, good enough for fourth place in the old National League West.

Ozzie did his part, too, hitting .258 with 40 steals and 69 runs scored over 159 games as a rookie. He also walked more than he struck out and displayed the beginnings of the shortstop wizardry that would define his career.

That was all good enough for 3.3 WAR (according to Baseball Reference) and a second-place finish behind Braves slugger Bob Horner in N.L. Rookie of the Year balloting that fall.

Before the final tally marks and phantom hardware were on the dugout walls, though, the improved Pads caught the eye of California’s own Family Fun Centers. The local laughs purveyor issued a set of drab, blank-backed, black-and-white Angels cards, but they had something more ambitious in mind for the Padres.

Something shinier.

Something with more *ahem* backing.

Something, uh, woodier.

Indeed, this was a big set (41 cards) of big cards (5” X 7”) featuring full-color photography on the fronts, along with team logos (along with the company logo) and player-name plaques, all presented on a formica faux-wood plank that still smells like shag carpet all these years later.

Card backs were pretty nifty, too, leading off with the player’s vital stats, followed by a line of statistics, cascading into a prosaic bio block, and then topped off (well, sided and bottomed off) by a facsimile autograph and – get this – a black and white headshot.

These babies were years ahead of their time, predating Fleer’s lame attempt at card-back photos by half a decade and trouncing them in execution (though, of course, lagging behind 1971 Topps and O-Pee-Chee by seven years).

And, wouldn’t you know it, young Ozzie Smith made the Family Fun Centers lineup.

Yeah, a full year before Topps and OPC made the leap. So, if you’re looking for Ozzie’s very FIRST major league card, this one is it.

As you might suspect, this card is not all that easy to come by, either, with PSA having graded a total of 79 copies through November of 2022. And, as you probably also suspect, that means that pretty much all bets, pricewise, are off whenever one of these beauties.

To wit, a PSA 10 copy sold for $1722 in April of 2021, then a PSA 9 copy sold for nearly $1300 four months later. We’ll use these as our markers for the value listings below, but you’ll have to pay whatever the market bears if and when you ever get the chance to own Ozzie’s first.

(Read more about this Fun card in our dedicated article right here.)

Value: $500-1500

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Ozzie Smith 1979 Topps Rookie Baseball Card #116 PSA 3

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1979 Topps #116 Ozzie Smith Rookie Card RC NM OC

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1979 Topps #116 Ozzie Smith Padres Rookie EXMINT+

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1979 Topps #116 Ozzie Smith RC Rookie Card BVG 7 (NM)

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1979 Topps #116 Ozzie Smith Rookie Card RC

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1979 O-Pee-Chee Ozzie Smith #52 Rookie RC HOF NM Centered!

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