Babe Ruth Rookie Card Investment Analysis, Values, Rarity

November 3, 2022

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When card collectors ask me for the best cards to invest in, I always say, ‘look for scarcity’ with the GOATs. 

Sure, modern card collectors will flock to the rookies of Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady, but personally, I like the OLD stuff. 

It’s the old, vintage cards of guys like Babe Ruth, produced in shorter supplies, often left for dead, that I believe have the best chance of long-term investment potential.

I’ve covered some of the more affordable Babe Ruth cards in the past, but in this piece, I wanted to focus on the rookie card of Babe Ruth. 

I should note Babe has both a pre-rookie and what is considered a TRUE rookie card, both of which I’ll cover in this article.

What Is Babe Ruth's Rookie Card?

Babe Ruth has two baseball cards that are considered to be his 'rookie cards'.

The first is the 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth card, which is technically considered a pre-rookie card of Babe Ruth.  

The other, issued two years later is from the 1916 Sporting News M101 set. 

What Is A Pre-Rookie Card?

A pre-rookie card is a card that was issued before a player arrived in the major leagues. In most instances, the card features a player in a minor-league or college uniform. 

Today, many card manufacturers release players’ cards before even being drafted, showing the player in their college uniforms (modern Leaf Football is a good example). These would also be considered pre-rookie cards.

1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth Pre-Rookie Card

The Baltimore News Babe Ruth is Ruth's "pre-rookie" card, representing the first baseball card of Babe Ruth.

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Baltimore News Ruth Rookie with Red Tint

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Baltimore News Ruth Rookie with Blue Tint

The card was released when Ruth was a member of the minor league Baltimore Orioles team. The back of the card even has a schedule for the Baltimore Orioles games, 'compliments of the Baltimore International League'.

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Ruth only lasted three months in the minor leagues before being sold to the Boston Red Sox. But, the card holds massive historical importance, given it is Ruth's first official baseball card

The Baltimore News issue is a bit of a mystery; only 11 subjects from the set have been accounted for and the Ruth card is especially scarce, as less than ten copies are known to exist. 

There are two color variations, one with a red tint and the other with a blue tint. Both are nearly impossible to find!

1916 Sporting News M101-4, M101-5 Babe Ruth #151 Rookie Card

Babe Ruth's Sporting News (M101-4 and M101-5) cards from 1916 are his accepted rookie cards. 

babe ruth rookie card

The cards feature Ruth in a pitching pose with the Boston Red Sox before getting shipped to the rival New York Yankees. 

Note that this is one of only several other baseball cards that features Babe Ruth in a Boston Red Sox uniform. 

M101 Sporting News cards were offered to readers of The Sporting News newspaper, one of the most popular sports-related newspapers of the time. 

While the M101 set is known as “The Sporting News set”, the cards were issued by more than a dozen companies, sold exclusively through The Sporting News.

There are two different M101 sets, M101-4 and M101-5, and Babe Ruth has a card in each set, both identical and with the same number - #151.

It can be pretty tough to tell the difference between M101-4 and M101-5 Ruth's. 

As this article from PSA notes: 

"Some of the company ads only appear on card backs in one of the sets. The Sporting News, for example, is only found on backs of the M101-4 cards. Therefore, if one of the 30 singles with the same card number in both sets possesses a Sporting News back, it is clearly an M101-4 card. However, if the backs are blank, there really isn't any way of differentiating those"

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M101-4 Ruth Back with Gimbels Advertising

How Much Is Babe Ruth's Rookie Card Worth?

Both Babe Ruth's pre-rookie (Baltimore News) and rookie card (Sporting News) are among the hobby's most valuable baseball cards.  

Babe Ruth's Sporting News rookie card continues to break records at auction.

I estimate that even lower grade copies approaching Very Good (PSA 3) condition would earn near $500K at auction.

Recent sales of the M101 Babe Ruth card in higher grades have recently sold for over $1 Million, including a PSA 6 sold at auction in mid-2021 for $1.45 Million

Ruth's Baltimore News pre-rookie card is worth MORE than his Sporting News rookie card, primarily due to the significant difference in scarcity.

A recent private sale of a pre-rookie Ruth card sold for an estimated $6 Million.

How Rare Is Babe Ruth's Rookie Card?

In comparing the population reports of Ruth's M101 Sporting News and Baltimore News cards, there is one clear conclusion - Ruth's Baltimore news pre-rookie card is much rarer. 

PSA has graded only three copies of the 1914 Baltimore News Ruth and roughly 100 copies of the 1915/16 M101-4 and M101-5 Sporting News Ruth cards

Note this doesn't include SGC Pop Reports; however, I would call the 1914 Baltimore News Ruth RARE and the Sporting News Ruth SCARCE.

Note that the Baltimore News Ruth is even rarer than the T206 Honus Wagner card

Babe Ruth Rookie Card Reprints - Beware

Both the Baltimore News Babe Ruth and M101 Sporting News Babe Ruth baseball cards are among the hobby's most counterfeited. So, be on the lookout.

I get a lot of inquiries from collectors asking me to authenticate M101 Ruth's that are clearly faked.

eBay is littered with these reprints.

So, my advice, which I tell everyone - if it's too good to be true, it most definitely is, especially when it comes down to the most valuable cards in the hobby. 

Here's a clear reprint. If you can't tell this one is fake, please check out our guide on authenticating cards. These often come with a fake Ruth auto on the back.

m101ruthfake

Here's another aged reprint, but this one is also easy to identify because the text is the wrong color. Ultimately if you had this one under a black light, the paper would likely fluoresce due to the newer paper used for the reprint.

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Where To Buy A Babe Ruth Rookie Card?

Babe Ruth rookie cards are, unfortunately, way out of reach for most collectors. For the Baltimore News Ruth pre-rookie card, sales are rare and typically only happen via private sales or high-end vintage sports card auctions.

Sporting News Ruth rookie cards occasionally come up for sale, but ultimately only at auction and usually starting in the low six figures.  

For anyone looking for a Babe Ruth card, I'd recommend either considering one of Ruth's 1933 Goudey cards or even considering one of his many strip cards, which remain among the most affordable Ruth cards on the market. 

All Vintage Cards

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