The sports card market experienced incredible growth throughout the late 1980s, fueling interest in collecting and speculation. By 1990, the modern era of sports cards was in full swing. While the junk wax era had begun, producing seemingly endless runs of mass-produced cards, there were still some highly sought after rookie and star player issues coming out of the late 80s and early 90s. The 1990 score set contained several cards that have grown to become extremely valuable today. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top cards from that vintage and what has made them retain or increase in value over the past 30 years.

Perhaps the most valuable and recognizable card from the entire 1990 score set is the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. Griffey was already generating huge hype leading up to his first MLB season in 1989 after being the number one overall draft pick. He went on to have a remarkable rookie campaign that saw him hit .264 with 16 home runs and 47 RBI in just 109 games. Naturally, card manufacturers scrambled to produce Griffey’s rookie card for release in 1990 sets as the demand was through the roof. While Griffey had been featured in packs as early as 1987, his official rookie card designation belongs to the 1990 score issue, which features him in a Mariners uniform.

In high grade, this iconic Griffey rookie has been known to sell for over $10,000 in recent years. What makes it so desirable is that it perfectly captures arguably the most hyped and talented young player to enter baseball in decades at the very start of his stellar career. Griffey went on to put up Hall of Fame numbers and captivate fans with his outstanding all-around abilities and charisma on the field. His 1990 score rookie is one of the most collected modern baseball cards precisely because it ties directly to the beginning of his legendary MLB tenure. Limited print runs from the junk wax era combined with Griffey’s enduring star power have made this one of the true blue chip cards from the early 90s collector landscape.


Another hugely valuable rookie card from the 1990 score set belongs to pitcher Todd Van Poppel. Like Griffey, Van Poppel generated major hype heading into the 1990 season after being drafted first overall by the Athletics in the same class as Griffey in 1987. While Van Poppel did not live up to expectations over his MLB career, at the time he was viewed as a can’t-miss pitching prospect. His 1990 score rookie is a key representation of the high expectations that surrounded Van Poppel early on. The card shows him in an Athletics uniform and has the distinction of being one of the scarcest printed rookie cards from the entire junk wax era.

PSA Gem Mint 10 grades for the Van Poppel rookie have cracked the $1000 price point in recent sales. The scarcity combined with its historical significance as a representation of one of the biggest pitching busts of all time has made it a coveted and underrated gem from the 1990 score checklist. Whether due to small print runs or because fewer collectors bothered with Van Poppel once his career failed to launch, his rookie stands out as unusually rare compared to other comparable cards from the same year.


Another of the real hidden gems from 1990 score is rookie cards for players who went on to have Hall of Fame careers like Craig Biggio and Frank Thomas. While not quite the superstars Griffey and Van Poppel were projected as out of the gate, Biggio and Thomas surpassed all expectations with Cooperstown-worthy stats. Both players’ rookie cards were understandably lost in the shuffle amidst the sea of other 1990 and 1991 rookie issues at the time. however, with the benefit of hindsight knowing the careers they ended up having, these cards have rapidly increased in demand in recent years.

A PSA 10 grade Biggio rookie recently crossed $1000 at auction, reflecting the rising value of a card tied to one of the game’s true modern greats at second base. Meanwhile, Frank Thomas rookies have frequently sold in the $500-700 range even in high grades as collectors finally recognize him as the elite hitting machine he was. Their 1990 score rookie cards are poster children for cards that were once ignored but now hold tremendous nostalgia and merit as representations of the dawning of two inner circle Hall of Fame playing careers.


While it did produce some valuable young star rookies, the main draw of the 1990 score set was its iconic lineup of established all-time great veterans like Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, and more playing for teams during that season. Ultras rarely came out of packs but have achieved six and even seven figure prices in the past decade. Even in lower grades, authenticated copies of these star veteran cards represent some of the most historically pertinent and visually appealing issues from the entire vintage set. The 1990 score collection perfectly marries remembrances of that MLB season with visual capsules of the golden era players who were still suiting up.

While produced during the midst of the junk wax era glut, the 1990 score set managed to shine due to its impeccable timing capturing wunderkind talents like Griffey and Van Poppel on the verge of greatness plus veterans of the limelight still doing their thing. Mixed in were the sleeper rookie cards of eventual Hall of Famers that collectors are now wisening up to. Three decades later, this compilation endures as one of the most balanced vintage releases mixing stars of the present and future with enough scarcity to make gems rise to lucrative percentages.

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