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Barry Sanders Rookie Cards (Best 4 Investments, Most Valuable)

Updated Sep 30, 2023

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Barry Sanders was one of the greatest running backs to play the game. Most rankings put Sanders in the top three overall, usually surrounded by other greats such as Jim Brown or Walter Payton. 

Unfortunately, Barry Sanders’ rookie cards were released during the peak of the junk era of sports cards, when massive overproduction was the norm.  

Thus, his rookie card is only suitable for investment purposes if one seeks the highest-graded copies possible.

Even then, the significant supplies make it hard to envision a future when his rookie cards increase massively in value.

Still, I wanted to provide some more thoughts on his available rookie cards, providing more information on card values, scarcity, and overall investment potential. 

Check out our list of the hobby’s most valuable football cards.

Our Barry Sanders Rookie Card Picks

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Best Overall Value 1989 Lions Police Barry Sanders RC

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Best Overall Design 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders RC

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Best Investment 1989 Score Barry Sanders RC

The Top Barry Sanders Rookie Cards

Here are our rankings for Barry Sanders best rookie cards, spanning both baseball and football.

1. 1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 (RC)

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The most well-recognized rookie card for Barry Sanders, the 1989 Score Football set was a landmark football issue.

The green design for the Rookie subset features simple yet effective player portraits.

The set is full of HOF rookie cards, including Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Tim Brown.

Despite the set's appeal, it had a big print run, but reportedly well below those of the season's major competitor - Pro Set.

In examining the PSA population reports, over 22,000 copies of the Sanders Score rookie card have been graded. While only ~11,000 copies of the Pro Set rookie card are graded.  

So, for graded cards, there are two times as many Score Barry Sanders rookie cards versus his Pro Set rookie card.

I do not yet, believe this reflects the actual card supplies. 

I imagine more collectors are apt to submit the Score card for grading in hopes they might secure a PSA 10 Sanders rookie card, now worth over $1000

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2. 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 (RC)

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It is well known that the 1989 Pro Set Football cards were printed in massive quantities. While, unknown as to how many were produced, if you were collecting back in the late 80's, it was familiar territory to see these cards everywhere, and Pro Set had several printings of each series.

What was the production run of the 1989 Pro Set cards?

Hard to say, but I'd probably put it at over 2 million cards. 

The 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders rookie card features Barry doing what he did best at Oklahoma State. The Pro Set cards were never my favorites, but hard not to love this card of Sanders. 

The population reports for his Pro Set rookie card show a massive graded population, although as previously mentioned, only half that of the Score Sanders rookie card.  Roughly 2300 Pro Set Sanders rookies have been graded Gem Mint (PSA 10) and recent sales on eBay have been for over $300. 

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3. 1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T (RC)

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Barry Sanders was not a part of the base 1989 Topps Football card set, yet was included in the 1989 Topps Traded set. This was the first football traded issue from Topps. The set included several key HOF rookies, including Barry Sanders, Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas.

Production runs on the 89 Topps Traded set are unknown, but we know that the base, baseball sets from the same year were produced in the multiple millions. 

Over 23,000 copies of the 89 Topps Traded Sanders card have been graded by PSA, with nearly 5,000 graded a PSA 10, currently selling for over $200 at auction. 

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4. 1989 Lions Police Barry Sanders

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A regional issue, so not technically considered a rookie card by hobby purists. However, the card was issued in 1989, the same year as his other rookie cards, so we decided to include it.

The card is commonly known as the 'Lions Police' card, however the card had several sponsors, most notably Oscar Mayer. Not as wide a distribution as any of Barry's other rookie cards, and the population reports show this. 

Only around 1000 graded copies exist, with less than 300 graded a PSA 10. I find this one to be the best overall value for Sanders rookie card, given that a PSA 10 can be found for less than $300. 

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How Much Is a Barry Sanders Rookie Card Worth?

Barry Sanders rookie card values vary, based on the overall card condition and the rarity of the set. Ungraded copies of all four Barry Sanders rookie cards can be purchased online for less than $30 each.  

Ungraded copies of the 1989 Sanders Pro Set rookie card sell for less than $10 online, even in mint condition. The 1989 Topps Traded and Lions Police Oscar Meyer Sanders rookie cards are slighly more valuable, although ungraded copies today can be found for less than $20 on eBay.

The 1989 Score Barry Sanders rookie card is the most valuable of all four, yet still ungraded copies in nice shape still sell for less than $30 on eBay.  

PSA 10 graded copies of each rookie card sell for a premium (as shown below), however most collectors wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a mint, ungraded copy purchased online versus a PSA 9 or 10 graded copy. 

Barry Sanders Rookie Card Values in PSA 10 (Gem-Mint) 

Year
Set
PSA 10 Value
PSA 10 Population
1989
Score
$1,400
2000
1989
Pro Set
$350
2300
1989
Topps Traded
$200
4800
1989
Detroit Lions Police
$200
300


What's The Most Valuable Barry Sanders Rookie Card?

Barry Sanders most valuable rookie card is the 1989 Score Football card. In PSA 10 (Gem Mint) condition, the card sells for over $1000.

The most affordable graded Barry Sanders rookie card is either the Topps Traded or Detroit Lions Police card, both of which average $200 in PSA 10 grade.

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1989 Score - #257 Barry Sanders Autograph Rookie card

$3,089.00  
End Date: Thursday Apr-25-2024 21:58:09 EDT
Buy It on eBay for only: $3,089.00
Buy It Now on eBay

What's The Rarest Barry Sanders Rookie Card?

The 1989 Detroit Lions Police Oscar Mayer card is the rarest Barry Sanders rookie card. The card had a very limited distribution and only 1000 PSA Graded copies exist.

Since it was a regional issue and not issued by a major card manufacturer, some view the Sanders Detroit Lions Police card as an extended rookie card. 

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How Much Is An Autographed Barry Sanders Rookie?

Since the majority of Sanders rookie cards were produced in massive quantities, collectors would be wise to seek out an autographed Barry Sanders rookie card.

It's unique and helps differentiate against the mass produced rookies. 

PSA has graded about 600 of the Sander 1989 Score Rookie Cards. A signed copy can be found for between $300 to $500, depending on the graded of the card and the signature grade.

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What's The Best Barry Sanders Rookie Card Investment?

Given the massive population of the 1989 Barry Sanders rookie cards, it's hard to go out on a limb and say that any specific card is a fantastic investment. 

Similar to what I advised with the Bo Jackson rookie cards, you should focus on PSA 10 graded cards, since any lower grades have way too high of an existing supply to be a worthwhile investment. 

Sanders 1989 Score rookie remains his most popular and valuable card, but also the one with the highest graded population, despite being produced in lower quantities to most of the other 89 issues. 

I would expect PSA 10 89 Score Sanders rookies to remain solid investments, however, the price point in comparison to the other cards seems a bit too extended.

The Pro Set rookie card is a good, cheaper alternative at only $200+ for a PSA 10, and the Detroit Lions Police card is an attractive value as well, given the lower population and still affordable price point. 

Signed copies of Barry Sanders rookies are probably the best overall investment for the long term.

Barry Sanders - An All-Time NFL Great

Barry Sanders was one of the best running backs in NFL history, and considered to be among the most elusive runners ever. His playmaking ability changed the game with his lateral quickness, balance, and vision.

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At only 5'8", he was overlooked by a lot of division one colleges, but landed at Oklahoma State University, serving as a backup to Thurman Thomas. Sanders became the starter in 1988 (his junior year) and erupted for 2,850 rushing yards and 42 rushing touchdowns, securing the Heisman Trophy award. 

Sanders was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round (#3 overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft. Still, given his height, many had question marks about his ability to survive the rigors of an NFL season. He quickly proved doubters wrong.

As far as running backs that I've witnessed in my life, the best I've seen were Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders.  His quickness was like no other and he had great hands as well which made him an amazing receiver for a running back.
 
Barry Sanders retired at the age of thirty and only 1,457 yards short of breaking the NFL all-time rushing record at the time. Sanders felt like it would be better to leave on top rather than risk injury later in his career after years of taking hits. 

The Lions retired his number 20 and he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Over the course of his career, Sanders was selected for the Pro Bowl in each of his ten seasons. He won the MVP award in 1997 and finished his career with 15,269 yards, the most yards for any running back over a ten year span. 

Barry Sanders Rookie Card Checklist

1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 (RC)
1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 (RC)
1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T (RC)
1989 Lions Police Barry Sanders #11

Barry Sanders Rookie Cards For Sale on eBay

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About the author

Chris Rogers, is the founder of All Vintage Cards. Launched in 2018, All Vintage Cards is the hobby's leading resource for vintage sports cards. Chris is also the author of 'The Complete Guide To Selling Your Sports Cards'. Chris remains an avid collector and can be reached at chris@allvintagecards.com.

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