Joe DiMaggio was voted baseball's greatest living player in 1969, a testament to his all-around excellence on the baseball field.
"The Yankee Clipper" had superstar credentials that few players, even today, could match.
Power? At the time of his retirement, he ranked fifth on the all-time home run list.
Contact? His legendary 56-game hitting streak might be the best living record in any sport.
Winning? His 9 World Series rings in 13 seasons as a major leaguer make him arguably the game's most dominant individual champion.
Not surprisingly, the two 1938 Goudey Heads-Up Joe DiMaggio rookie cards are some of the hobby's most enduring gems.
Let's dig into this iconic rookie issue of one of baseball's greatest icons.
Joe DiMaggio As A Player
After a sensational minor league career in which he foreshadowed future success with a Pacific Coast League championship, an MVP season, and a 61-game hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio made his major league debut for the Yankees in 1936.
As a rookie, he set the team's single-season record for home runs by a first-year player, a mark that would stand for over 80 years.
DiMaggio's presence instantly boosted the Yankees, who would win World Series crowns in each of Joe's first four seasons. He led the majors in home runs, runs scored, and total bases in his second season, and in 1939, at age 24, he won his first of three American League MVP awards, posting a league-leading .381 average in the campaign.
1941 was a season for the ages, with DiMaggio winning his second AL MVP award. He beat out Ted Williams in a year when the Splendid Splinter hit .406 and led the league in homers.
Dimaggio’s stats were otherworldly in ‘41; he posted a league-leading 125 runs batted in, collecting hits in a thrilling 56 consecutive games. The hit streak is a record that will probably never be equaled. To top it off, DiMaggio, at the time, captured his fifth World Series ring.
DiMaggio and Williams are forever connected in the public imagination for their '41 heroics. Years after their retirement, Williams would say, ''In my heart, I always felt I was a better hitter than Joe. But I have to say, he was the greatest baseball player of our time. He could do it all.''
Joe DiMaggio spent three years of his baseball prime serving his country in World War II, missing the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons before returning to the Yankees in 1946.
Nicknamed "The Yankee Clipper" for resembling a gliding airplane in flight while playing the outfield, DiMaggio tied a then-American League fielding record for outfielders by making only one error in 141 games in 1947, a year in which he won his third MVP award and his sixth World Series ring.
Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951 following yet another World Series title for the Yankees, the team's third straight championship and DiMaggio's ninth as a player, second all-time only to teammate Yogi Berra.
Having broken into the big leagues as a teammate of Lou Gehrig and retired as a teammate of Mickey Mantle, DiMaggio's tenure as a Yankee was a defining era in building upon the foundations of "The House that Ruth Built."
The 1938 Goudey Joe DiMaggio Rookie Cards
The 1938 Goudey "Heads Up" set (cataloged as R323 by Jefferson Burdick) is one of the most visually distinctive ever printed. The set features two variations for each of 24 of the era's biggest stars, with 48 cards in total.
The first DiMaggio card, number 250, features a photographic headshot above a cartoon rendering of the Yankee Clipper at bat.
Card number 274 features the same image, adding additional cartoons around "Joltin' Joe" to trumpet his reputation as one of the game's greatest outfielders, a centerpiece of the Yankees' famed "Murderer's Row," and even his whopping (for the era) $25,000 per year salary!
The back of each version contains a brief bio, statistical entries, and an ad for Goudey's Big League Chewing Gum. The DiMaggio cards are by far the most valuable in the 1938 Goudey issue.
Note there is one notable difference between the backs of the two cards, but it might be hard to identify at first. The back of card #250 DiMaggio says 'one of a series of 288 Baseball Stars, whereas #274 says 'one of series of 312 Baseball Stars'.
Goudey issued the 48 card 1938 'Heads-Up' set as a continuation of its very successfull 240 card issue from 1933, with numbering from #241 to #288. Thus, DiMaggio's #274 Heads-Up card gave an indication that Goudey might issue more cards past the 288 mark, but this never came to be.
How Rare Are Joe DiMaggio Rookie Cards?
Fewer than 600 PSA-graded 1938 Goudey 'Heads-Up' Joe DiMaggio cards exist, with both #250 and #274 graded in somewhat equivalent totals.
DiMaggio #250 is exceedingly difficult to find in top condition, with just two PSA 9s (Mint) and ninePSA 8s (NM-MT) known to exist.
DiMaggio #274 is somewhat less rare in the highest grades, with PSA giving three cards a grade of 9 (Mint) and 28 cards a grade of 8 (NM-MT).
Neither of the #250 or #274 DiMaggio rookie cards has been graded in PSA 10 condition.
In comparison to Goudey's issue from 1933, the Heads-Up cards are a much tougher find. As an example, the four Goudey Ruth cards from the 1933 issue on average have been graded over 1000x per card by PSA.
Thus, we could say that DiMaggio's Goudey Heads-Up cards are about 3 times scarcer than card from the previous Goudey issue.
PSA writers chalk it up to Goudey facing economic challenges and not really putting much effort into the 1938 Heads-Up set, hence the repeating 24 players in the two variations.
How Much Is A Joe DiMaggio Rookie Card Worth?
1938 Goudey Heads-Up Joe DiMaggio cards in the PSA high grades have not come up for auction often.
We do have a recent sale on an SGC 9 DiMaggio #274 that sold at a recent Goldin auction for $132,000. Interestingly enough, a #274 DiMaggio PSA 9 sold at auction in 2017 for $288,000.
It just goes to show the significant disparity in premium that PSA recieves versus other grading companies. This seller might have been better off trying their luck at a crossover to PSA.
The highest PSA graded DiMaggio #250 that has come up for sale of late was a PSA 8.5 that sold for $54,000 in 2020. I'm sure that number would go well higher in today's vintage card market.
Low-end examples of both cards in PSA 1 and PSA 2 tend to sell in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.
How Much Is An Autographed Joe DiMaggio Rookie Card Worth?
Joe DiMaggio was an in-demand signer at collectors' shows and private signings during the hobby boom of the 1980s, and his autograph remains one prized by generations of collectors.
Signed and authenticated 1938 Goudey issues, however, are scarce. Only 5 PSA-authenticated copies exist, and no recent sales have been recorded.
Should one come to market, the bidding would likely be fierce; two recent eBay auctions for signed PSA/DNA copies of the 1941 Play Ball issue fetched $9,900 and $8,100.
Those lucky enough to find an autographed 1938 Goudey issue can anticipate a five-figure sale price, depending on condition of the card.
1939-46 Exhibit Salutations Joe DiMaggio
Vintage Joe DiMaggio cards on a smaller budget can be hard to find, but the Exhibit Salutations card fits the bill.
The black-and-white, oversized, blank-backed issue was initially distributed in vending machines by the Exhibit Supply Co. of Chicago.
The Yankee Clipper is depicted in a batting pose beneath the superimposed "salutation" "Cordially Joe DiMaggio."
With some persistence, raw copies can be found on eBay in the $100 range.
What's The Investment Potential of DiMaggio Rookie Cards?
Demand for any early cards of the great Joe DiMaggio remains high. And for good reason. The legend of Joe DiMaggio lives on and his reputation remains as one of the all-time greats.
For card investors, I always recommend sticking with the top tier of players. Ruth, Cobb, Mantle, Mathewson, Wagner, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, etc.
But I also recommend looking for those cards with tight supply which has the potential to increase when demand surges.
If a card issue has a big population, you need to find the highest grades possible.
With DiMaggio's Goudey rookie cards, I expect that demand will continue to dwarf the cards' extremely limited supply.
Graded samples in virtually any condition are long-term keepers for the serious investor.