The remarkable hurler who played for four different MLB teams from 1966-1993, Nolan Ryan, is one of the all-time greatest pitchers. He is most widely recognized for racking up more strikeouts, while also allowing more walks and wild pitches than any other pitcher in MLB history. Throughout his 27-year career, Ryan struck out 5,714 batters, while allowing 2,795 walks. Nolan Ryan also holds the record for most strikeouts in a single season with 383. Despite playing 27 years across four decades, Nolan Ryan has a career ERA of 3.19.
The dominance of Nolan Ryan is reinforced on June 14, 1974, where he threw 235 pitches over 13 innings while striking out 19 batters. The outing had virtually no adverse effect on him, as he took the mound three days later. The impact Nolan Ryan had on opposing teams was remarkable to the point where hitters would prepare to face him several games in advance.
Nolan Ryan made a case for winning the Cy Young on multiple occasions. Still, he was continually omitted because he never had the best win-loss ratio due to the inability for the teams he played for to put runs on the scoreboard.
Nolan Ryan was not just the first baseball player, but the first athlete to earn over $1 million annually. While his performance on the field was rewarded, the value of his baseball cards grew considerably. Here are the top 15 Most Expensive Nolan Ryan Cards:
1978 Topps Nolan Ryan #400
Recent sale: $898
This 1978 Topps Nolan Ryan card features Ryan playing for the California Angels. When the card was produced, Ryan had struck out ten or more batters a total of 104 times. By the end of his career, he achieved the feat 215 times. The 1978 season was one of the harsher seasons for Nolan Ryan, as his ERA skyrocketed to 3.72 for the season.
The photograph of Nolan Ryan features him approaching the windup while posing for the picture. Common issues with the card which make it tough to find in high-grade include cutting issues, along with printing flaws. With 3,031 1978 Topps Nolan Ryan cards submitted to PSA, only 3 earned a PSA 10. With an additional 639 analyzed by BGS, only one received a BGS 10.
1993 Finest Nolan Ryan Promo Refractors #107
Recent sale: $1,225
Featuring the final season of Nolan Ryan, this 1993 Finest features Nolan playing with the Texas Rangers. Nolan Ryan announced to the baseball community before the 1993 season that it would be his last. The 1993 season was more about recognition of Nolan Ryans' 27-year career than anything else. While his ERA ballooned to 4.88 in his final season, he was pardoned as he had a remarkable MLB career that spanned over four decades. The last strikeout for Nolan Ryan, which was number 5,714, came on September 17, 1993, versus Greg Myers. There have been no 1993 Finest Nolan Ryan cards sent to PSA, although there have been 19 submitted and analyzed by BGS. BGS has yet to award a BGS 10, and just two earned BGS 9.
1991 Topps Nolan Ryan Desert Shield #1
Recent sale: $1,250
The first card featuring Nolan Ryan as a Texas Ranger on the list, the 1991 Topps Nolan Ryan Desert Shield card, features an autograph by Ryan. At this point towards the end of his career, there is virtually no vacancy to add statistics on the card without making the font so tiny that you can hardly comprehend it.
With 426 1991 Topps Nolan Ryan Desert Shield cards analyzed by PSA, 56 returned with a PSA 10. With 122 submitted to BGS, none of them received the highest grade, with 11 of them deserving of a BGS 9.5
The purpose of the 1991 Topps Desert Shield set was to distribute the set to troops who were involved in the Gulf War. Because of the history and rarity of the collection, the set is rather valuable; however, fake copies made it to market, which has affected the authenticity of the card.
2019 Topps Dynasty Sandy Koufax/Nolan Ryan Legendary Dual Autographs Blue #LDAKR
Recent sale: $1,425
Released November 6, 2019, roughly 26 years after his retirement, this card features both Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan in this 2019 Topps Dynasty set. While nobody has yet sent this card to PSA, BGS has received just 1, and the card earned a BGS 9.5
While Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, two of the best all-time greatest pitchers, didn't play at the same time, there have been comparisons between the two. One of the biggest questions for baseball fans is how much more Koufax could have brought to the table if it weren't for his elbow arthritis. Koufax ended his career at age 30, whereas Nolan pitched until he was 46.
One of the more compelling stats and connections between the two is Ryan and Koufax both have multiple games under their belt that are considered an immaculate inning, which is when you strike out three batters in an inning with precisely nine pitches.
1973 Topps Nolan Ryan #220
Recent sale: $1,550
Featuring Nolan Ryan playing for the California Angels, he is depicted during his preparation for the windup. As the card shares, Nolan did indeed accomplish the 4th highest strikeout total for a season in MLB history at the time. However, that statistic changed quickly when Nolan broke the single-season strikeout record the following season with 383, which proceeds to stand.
As a moderately simplistic layout and design of this 1973 Topps Nolan Ryan card, it's not as sought-after in respect to some of his more valuable cards from over the years. Despite this, the card is also troublesome to find, as the cutting of the cards from 1973 Topps is quite flawed. With 3,619 submitted to PSA, a mere 6 of them received a PSA 10. An additional 732 were sent off to BGS, with none them earning more than a BGS 9, with a population of 2.
1972 Topps Nolan Ryan #595
Recent sale: $1,555
Nolan Ryan is starred here with the California Angels in this 1972 Topps card. The trade of Nolan Ryan to the Mets has been unforgotten by Mets fans due to the career Ryan would put together. As the card states, just the year before, Nolan struck out 15 in a one-hitter for the Mets, where the only hit came from the leadoff hitter. When Ryan became an Angel, he secured himself a spot in the starting rotation, and never looked back. This 1972 Topps Nolan Ryan card accurately depicts the era, as the vibrant and colorful design was executed particularly well.
There have been 4,438 Nolan Ryan 1972 Topps cards analyzed by PSA. Of all of those, a mere 9 of them merited a PSA 10. With an additional 930 submit to BGS, none were fortunate enough to receive anything higher than a BGS 9.5, which was issued on just one card.
1980 O-Pee-Chee Nolan Ryan #303
Recent sale: $1,650
Here we have another O-Pee-Chee from 1980, featuring Nolan Ryan. The animated comic on the reverse of the card features a batter who is questioning their understanding of how they could manage a Nolan Ryan fastball. As Ryan has exhibited that he is the fastest pitcher in history; the cartoon batter is mystified and blown away for a valid reason. It's intriguing to see on the front of this 1980 O-Pee-Chee card that Nolan Ryan is "Now With Astros." Just the previous year, he was playing for the California Angels, but because of the acquisition, it goes on to show the journey of Nolan Ryan to Houston.
There have been 240 submissions of this 1980 O-Pee-Chee card to PSA, with just 10 of them worthy of a PSA 10. While there were 31 cards presented through BGS, none of which earned a BGS 10, and among a population of just two cards were deserving of a BGS 9.
1981 O-Pee-Chee Nolan Ryan #240
Recent sale: $1,699
The 1981 O-Pee-Chee features the Canadian version of the 1981 Topps set, where it is uncommon to see French on an MLB card. At the time, two Major League Baseball clubs, the Montreal Expos, and the Toronto Blue Jays played in Canada, where French and English are the official languages. The Expos were the first team established outside the US, and are presently the Washington Nationals.
With the back of the card saying "Complete Major League Pitching Record," it reveals Ryan's first 14 seasons in the league, which is fascinating to realize that he was just halfway done. For collectors looking for cards from the 1981 O-Pee-Chee set in excellent condition, you will most likely be in for quite the hurdle as the edges are considerably rough. With 150 Nolan Ryan 1981 O-Pee-Chee cards analyzed by PSA, 10 of them merited the grade of a PSA 10. While 31 have been submitted to BGS, none have received a BGS 10, but 16 of them have earned a 9.5.
1985 Topps Nolan Ryan #760
Recent sale: $2,100
This 1985 Topps Nolan Ryan card highlights the flamethrower playing for the Houston Astros. In November of 1979, Nolan Ryan signed a contract with the Houston Astros that made him the first player in the history of MLB to earn an average of over $1 million per year.
With the account of Nolan Ryans' passions on the back of this 1985 Topps card, he would follow through with both of his passions for cattle breeding and banking. After his baseball career ended, he pursued his first passion, which was owning a cattle business, that is presently called Nolan Ryan Cattle. Ryan also entered the world of banking and opened up a bank called R Bank, which is located in his home state of Texas.
The total population of this 1985 Topps Nolan Ryan card from both PSA and BGS is 1,914. On 206 occasions out of 1,671, this card earned a PSA 10. With 243 submissions to BGS, the population of BGS 10 sits at 7.
1970 Topps Nolan Ryan #712
Recent sale: $2,550
You had to pay a premium to see Nolan Ryan featured in this 1970 Topps card, as there was a price increase from $0.05 to $0.10 to mark the first jump since 1952. The cartoon on the back of the card depicts the career of Nolan Ryan, as his strikeout numbers were often not enough, as the offense often neglected to give him much run support.
While it is often suggested that the design of the 1970 Topps series is not particularly engaging, the reverse of the card makes up for the front's eye appeal for plenty of collectors to be drawn in anyhow. With 4,204 cards submitted to PSA, only 3 of them earned a PSA 10. Among 838 analyzed by BGS, there is a population of 5, with the highest earned grade obtaining a 9.
1969 Topps Nolan Ryan #533
Recent sale: $2,605
1969 Topps featuring Nolan Ryan card is nostalgic because of the 1969 World Series Champion New York Mets. The reverse of this card shares that Nolan broke the Met's record with 14 whiffs in one game. Nolan Ryan's career-high for strikeouts in a single game is 19, which he accomplished on four occasions. One of which took place in a nine-inning game, which ties him for the most strikeouts in 27 outs. The representation of the catcher on the reverse of the card after catching a Nolan Ryan heater is both original and exhilarating.
The 1969 set is one of the most challenging Topps sets to collect due to centering concerns and overall cutting errors. While 5,671 cards have been examined at PSA, a measly two have received a PSA 10. Of the 1,247 Nolan Ryan 1969 Topps cards submit to BGS, none have received the ideal grade of a 10, and just three earned a BGS 9.
1971 Topps Nolan Ryan #513
Recent sale: $2,750
With Nolan Ryan's Topps 1971 card, it is refreshing to see that the face of the card features just the teams' name and not the city where they play. With this set, you have an action shot of each player with in-game performance, which is more appealing versus players striking a pose.
As for the condition of the card, the black borders of the 1971 Topps Nolan Ryan card generate concerns for collectors concerning both the edges and corners. While it is understood that the 1971 Topps set is susceptible to border concerns, it is less communicated that there is a virtually significant issue with centering. To say that the 1971 Topps set is condition sensitive is an understatement. This set has the fewest graded PSA 9's of all of the 1970's Topps collections. Suffice to say; there have been no graded 10's by either PSA or BGS for the 1971 Topps Nolan Ryan card. PSA has analyzed 4,114, and 31 of them earned a PSA 9, whereas 945 were analyzed by BGS, with just three receiving a BGS 9.
1975 Topps Nolan Ryan #500
Recent sale: $3,200
This Nolan Ryan card from 1975 Topps presents the hurler reaching the 300 strikeout milestone for the 3rd consecutive year. Well, he would go on to have six such seasons where he would reach the 300 strikeout club. While the card further states he produced his 3rd no-hitter in 1974, Nolan would go on to have seven career no-hitters throughout his major league-leading 27-year career. This 1975 Topps baseball set was refreshing and widespread in that when you purchased a pack, you were entertained with a stick of gum.
With 3,996 Nolan Ryan Topps 1975 cards submitted to PSA, three of them earned a PSA 10. Among 757 examined and graded by BGS, none of those received a 10, as the highest grade obtained is a BGS 9.5 with a population of just 3.
1980 Topps Nolan Ryan #580
Recent sale: $3,550
Nolan Ryan is presented here in the process of hurling the ball towards the plate in this 1980 Topps card. The back of the card shares the statistic that Ryan has led the American League in strikeouts seven years. When this card was produced, he was entering his 14th year in the league, but at this time, he accomplished the American League strikeout crown in seven of the previous eight seasons. The card further goes on to state that Nolan Ryans' fastest pitch clocked 100.9 mph. However, that was the same year MLB introduced the radar gun back in 1974. While Ryan would end up pitching at 100.9 mph, when you correct for flaws in the proper placement of the radar gun, the infamous pitch is adjusted to 108.5 mph. Out of the 3,932 hobbyists to submit this 1980 Topps Nolan Ryan card to PSA, a mere 35 earned the grade of a PSA 10. While BGS has received a smaller quantity of the same card, only two received a BGS 10.
1968 Topps J.Koosman/N.Ryan Mets Rookies #177
Recent sale: $25,700
The Topps 1968 collection features All-Stars, Hall of Famers, and primarily the most expensive and valuable Nolan Ryan card, which comes from his rookie season. Nolan Ryan is featured with fellow New York Mets teammate and starting pitcher Jerry Koosman in a merged card showcased with a horizontal layout. This 1968 Topps card presents both of these players' rookie cards in Major League Baseball. The reverse of the card shares both players' pitching stats from their minor league careers. While Nolan Ryan exhibited tremendous potential in the minors, he gradually evolved into the dominant player he proved to be when he reached the Majors.
While there were three other similar variants issued of this Nolan Ryan rookie card, the Topps version is the most profoundly desired. With several other rookie cards from the set representing Hall of Fame members with lesser-known players, the value of this 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman combination is unique because both players were rookies in addition to teammates. With 9,485 submissions, PSA has just presented one single card with a PSA 10. Similarly, the highest grade received for this 1968 Topps card is a BGS 9, with a small population of 9 in 3,419 submissions.
Life After Baseball
At the age of 46, Nolan Ryan retired from baseball. When first eligible, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. He received 98.8% of the votes, which is tied for the 4th highest percentage of all time. With baseball being a massive part of Nolan Ryans' life, after his retirement, he aspired to be involved in baseball. In 2008, he became the president of the Texas Rangers, where he played from 1989-1993 and finished his career. Ryan then shifted into an executive advisor role for the Houston Astros in 2014. The most valuable Nolan Ryan cards will continue to strengthen, as Nolan Ryan had a legendary career while leaving a significant footprint on the baseball world.