Nolan Ryan Rookie Cards with Affordable Alternatives

Nolan Ryan Banner

With their pick in the 12th Round, the New York Mets selected Nolan Ryan from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX. He has one official rookie card and three rookie parallels.

The first thing that you need to know about Nolan “Ryan Express” is that between September 11, 1966, and September 22, 1993, no one in the MLB threw a baseball harder. Secondly, would be longevity as he pitched a total of 27 years.

Nolan Ryan’s Early Career Success

Nolan had his breakout moment in Game 3 of the 1969 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. He came in and pitched 7 innings of relief pitching and solidified a sweep to advance to the World Series.

In the 1969 World Series, he came in relief and saved Game 3 pitching 2 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. The Mets won the Championship in 5 games in 1969 and this was Nolan Ryan’s first and only appearance in a World Series.

1973 was perhaps Nolan’s best season, throwing two no-hitters is just the beginning. He also had a 21-16 record with a 2.87 ERA, striking out 383 batters and surpassing Sandy Koufax’s record by 1.

Also, he pitched 326 innings with 26 complete games in 1973, however, Nolan did not win the Cy Young he came in second with the honor going to Baltimore’s Jim Palmer.

Nolan Ryan References

I want to re-emphasize the arm strength of Nolan Ryan. He consistently threw in the mid-90s and at times hit 100mph. Simply stated, he had the physical ability to throw the ball hard. Check out what other Hall of Famers have said.

“I’ve played baseball for 23 years and I’ve never, ever, seen anybody throw harder than Nolan Ryan.” -Hank Aaron

“Facing his fastball is like trying to drink coffee with a fork.” -Reggie Jackson

“I’ve said this many times, they should send his arm to the Smithsonian Institute when he’s finished. How this man has thrown year after year and throw the ball at the rate of speed that he has, it has to be one of the wonders of the world.” -Tommy LaSorda

Nolan Ryan Throws 7 No-Hitters!

The heading for this section is not a typo. Nolan is the All-Time Career Leader in No-Hitters with seven! The #2 person on that list is Sandy Koufax with four. Logically, we should never say never.

However, I have a strong feeling that no one will ever break this record, it literally is an All-Time Record. The following is a list of these gems:

  1. May 15, 1973, against Kansas City Royals
  2. July 15, 1973, against Detroit Tigers
  3. September 28, 1974, against Minnesota Twins
  4. June 1, 1975, against Baltimore Orioles
  5. September 26, against Los Angeles Dodgers
  6. June 11, 1990, against Oakland A’s
  7. May 1, 1991, against Toronto Blue Jays

Career Stats & Accomplishments

Not only does Nolan Ryan rank 1st in no-no’s, but he also ranks 1st in Strikeouts with 5,714 the second man on that list is Randy Johnson with 4,875. Another record that I feel will stand the test of time.

I gave you the good, now I’ll give you the bad and the ugly. Nolan Ryan has been criticized for also ranking 1st in Base on Balls with 2,795 and hits, he ranks 1st with 6.5 hits per 9 innings pitched. Also, he ranks 2nd All-Time in wild pitches with 277.

The Ryan Express is an 8x All-Star, 2x ERA Title, and a 1969 World Series Champion. Oddly enough he’s never won a Cy Young Award.

Epic Nolan Ryan Moments

His demeanor on the mound was that of a tough guy, a real cowboy type. His 100 mph fastballs instilled fear on opposing teams and his confidence on the mound was the stuff made of superheroes. Two epic moments captured in baseball infamy come to mind.

The first, the Texas Rangers were playing the Kansas City Royals on September 8, 1990. Nolan Ryan took a ground ball off the bat of Bo Jackson that hit Nolan on his lip and caused a rush of blood to continuously come from his lip and mouth.

The Jersey was blood-soaked, but Nolan refused to come out of the game. The train doesn’t stop until it reaches its destination.

There is also that game when the 46-year-old Ryan beamed the 26-year-old Chicago White Sox Robin Ventura, then he made the mistake to charge the old-timer. Nolan put him in a headlock and proceeded to give the youngster a beat down. It was classic!

Rookie Cards of Hall of Famer


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1968 Topps, #177

Nolan Ryan 1968 Topps #177 (side a)

Nolan Ryan 1968 Topps #177 (side b)

A burlap sack is a plain-woven, coarse fabric used for many things throughout history. Primarily, potatoes, beans, etc. and once they became worn they were used for the popular, three-legged races.

But what if I told you that burlap sack was used for baseball cards?! The 1968 design is unique because it looks like someone placed a photo on top of a burlap sack and took a picture of it.

I’m on the fence about it. It’s not the most eye-appealing design but it is different. The 1968 Topps set returned to its 598 card checklist after raising it to an all-time high of 609 cards in 1967.

The card front design features 1968 Rookie Stars in big, bold, red lettering. Some collectors, myself included, are not a fan of dual rookie cards but this one can perhaps be an exception.

The reason, Jerry Koosman, an all-star rookie pitcher in his own right. In 1968, Koosman went 19-12 with a 2.08 ERA, Nolan went 6-9 with a .309 ERA. The following year, Koosman went 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA while Nolan went 6-3 with a 3.53.

In fact, there has been a strong case made to get Koosman into the Baseball Hall of Fame as well. Can you imagine what this card would mean to the hobby if that were the case?

The card back features a bright yellow and black design with commentary and minor league stats for these two pitching phenoms.

The Cost of Nolan Ryan’s Rookie Card

Due to Nolan Ryan’s baseball accomplishments and influence upon the game of baseball this rookie card is considered one of the iconic cards in the hobby today. One of the most costly too. On August 28, 2016, a Gem Mint PSA 10 sold for $612,360.00, respectively.

As of July 2020, raw copies can be found between $250-$500. Nicely centered raw copies have sold between $600-$950.

Rookie Parallels of Nolan Ryan 

  • 1968 O-Pee-Chee, this set mimics the Topps set in every aspect except for the “Printed in Canada” notation on the back of the card. These are somewhat scarce as PSA only shows 105 total cards graded.
  • 1968 Topps Milton Bradley, these cards were included inside of a board game titled, Win-A-Card. PSA Population Reports 311 of these have been graded.
  • 1968 Venezuelan Topps, printed on gray cardstock with orange and black on the card back. Printed in Venezuela is also noted on the card back. These are extremely scarce with only 22 total cards graded. Also, it’s one of the most sensitive sets with the highest grade being in Excellent 5 condition.

Affordable Alternatives – Early Playing Days

1969 Topps, #533

Nolan Ryan 1969 Topps #533 (side a)

Nolan Ryan 1969 Topps #533 (side b)

An option for many rookie card collectors is second-year cards. It gives collectors options if key rookie cards, like the one of Nolan Ryan, prices out some collectors.

This 1969 Topps offering is legendary within hobby circles. The reason? Because even though Ryan had a subpar season Ryan was able to clinch the NLCS with seven innings of relief pitching in Game 3. He dominated and so did the Mets.

Another reason this 1969 Topps is so beloved with collectors is the card design. A fantastic card that features a still very young Nolan Ryan early in his career, a fake pitch release that spells out CLASSIC!

As of July 2020, raw copies are selling between $60-$150. Nicely centered raw copies have sold for $150-$250.

1970 Topps, #712

Nolan Ryan 1970 Topps #712 (side a)

Nolan Ryan 1970 Topps #712 (side b)

An even more affordable alternative is this 1970 Topps offering. It too is beloved within the hobby. The reason? The card design and photography make this one an absolutely stunning card that captures the young Nolan Ryan early on in his career.

As of July 2020, raw copies are selling between $30-$80. Nicely centered raw copies have sold for $80-$120.

Nolan Ryan Stats | (accessed June 30, 2020).
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