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Babe Ruth

Summary & Career Highlights

Rookie Year: 1914

Iconic Rookie Card: 1916 Sporting News #151

Highest Public Sale 1914 Baltimore News SGC 3 for $7.2M

Similar Career Players: Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez

Players with Similar Cards to Check Out: Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Walter Johnson


Career Highlights

  • All Time WAR Leader (183.1)

  • All Time OPS Leader (1.164)

  • 3rd in Career Home Runs (714)

  • 2nd in Career OBP (.474)

  • 7x World Series Champion

  • 1st batter to hit 30, 40, 50, & 60 HRs in a season

  • 1st batter to hit 500 HRs

  • MLB All Century Team

  • MLB All Time Team

Iconic Cards

There were baseball stars before Babe Ruth: Cap Anson, King Kelly, Ty Cobb, and Cy Young to name a few. Ruth however, was the first player whose popularity transcended the sport and was a big reason that baseball became America's pasttime. As a result, Ruth was prominently featured in many of the pre-war sports card sets after his debut with the Red Sox in 1914. If you're new to pre-war sports cards, I encourage you to check out our Beginner's Guide to Pre-War Sports Cards.


Icon Key

Prospective Card Cost:

💰 - Under $250

💰💰- Under $1,000

💰💰💰-  Under $5,000

💰💰💰💰-  Under $15,000

💰💰💰💰💰- Over $15,000


Rarity

💎 - Common & High Serial Number

💎💎- Serial Numbered or Pop Under 200

💎💎💎 - Serial Numbered or Pop Under 100

💎💎💎💎 - Serial Number or Pop Under 50

💎💎💎💎💎 - Does this card even exist? Serial Number or Pop under 10

1914 Baltimore News

N/A - Not Numbered
1998 Metal Universe PMG Front
1998 Metal Universe PMG Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The highest-selling Ruth card of all time, and the third highest-selling sports card ever, the 1914 Baltimore News card is in rarified air among Ruth's trading cards. Exceptionally rare, with only 10 known copies, this card marks Ruth's first appearance on a trading card. Considered an XRC or pre-rookie card, it depicts the 19-year-old Ruth as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, then in the International League. The set, issued with members of the Baltimore Orioles and Terrapins, was released in both red and blue variations.

1916 M101-4 (or M101-5) Sporting News

#151
1999 Metal Universe PMG Front
1999 Metal Universe PMG Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The M101 set features Babe Ruth's rookie card and is one of his most valuable cards outside of the 1914 Baltimore News issue. The M101 series includes two different 200 player sets, the M101-5 (issued first) and M101-4. Each set features identical front images, with varied numbering except for Ruth and 18 other subjects who have the same number between both sets. Although the set is commonly referred to as the "Sporting News" rookie, the M101 series cards were issued with blank backs and sold to 18 different publications who added their own language for promotional use.

1917 E135 Collins-Mccarthy

#147
1997 E-X2000 Credentials Front
1997 E-X2000 Credentials Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The E135 Collins-McCarthy card features a young "BABE" Ruth warming up in his Red Sox uniform. Issued a year after his rookie 1916 M101 release, the E135 is an extremely rare example of Ruth's rookie offerings. Its total graded population is low double digits and has only sold publicly a handful of times. Even more rare is the H801-8 Boston Store version of this card which has an identical card front with a different advertisement on the back. 

1921 E121 American Caramel

Series of 80
1998 E-X2001 Essential Credentials Now Front
1998 E-X2001 Essential Credentials Now Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎


About the Card: Look familiar? That's because the E121 American Caramel Ruth features the same image as the the E135 Collins-McCarthy. Key differences to the E135 are that Ruth is no longer identified as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but as a right fielder for the New York Americans. Additionally, the back of the card includes advertising language for the American Caramel Company. While not common or cheap, low grade copies of this card may be accessible to non-elite collectors.

1922 E120 American Caramel

N/A - Not Numbered
1999 E-X Century Essential Credentials Future Front
1999 E-X Century Essential Credentials Future Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎


About the Card: The E120 set is a 240-card set issued in 1922 by the American Caramel Company. The set was issued in two distinct colors, tan and green, which correspond to the American and National leagues, leading collectors to refer to it as the "Tan and Green" set. According to Heritage Auctions, this card portrays "Babe holding the baseball used for a contest to determine if a surf caster could place a weight farther than Ruth could hit a ball." A fun and bit of a quirky card for collectors of Ruth's early Yankees days.

1921 Exhibits

N/A - Not Numbered
1998 Fleer Brilliants 24-Karat Gold Front
1998 Fleer Brilliants 24-Karat Gold Front

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎


About the Card: The inaugural 1921 Exhibit set is significant to Ruth's catalog as they represent the first trading cards released as a standalone product. The oversized trading cards, sold for 1 cent in vending machines, resembled a post card with a black and white image on the front and blank backs. "Geo" H "Babe" Ruth is identified in script at the bottom of the card along with "Am. L" which was used as an abbreviation for "American League".

1922 E121 American Caramel

Holding Ball Series of 120
1999 Skybox Premium Star Rubies Front
1999 Skybox Premium Star Rubies Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎


About the Card: Once again using the image of Ruth holding the ball from the E120 set, American Caramel introduced the E121 set in 1922. The main difference in the E121 set were the black and white color and simple borders rather than the tan color and ornate bordering in E120. Instead, American Caramel opted for a simpler design for the 120 card set (which coincidentally included 126 players). Ruth is featured 3 times in the set with poses titled, "Holding Ball" (Seen above), "Holding Bird", and "Photo Montage". Ruth is also included in American Caramel's E121 "Series of 80" released in 1921.

1928 F50 Harrington's Ice Cream

#6

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The F50 ice cream set was released as part of a regional ice cream advertising program for Harrington's, Yeungling, Tharp's, and Sweetman. The front of each issue is identical for each brand while the backs signify the brand. The cards were one of the earliest redemption programs. Collectors could trade a Ruth in for an ice cream novelty or collect the full 60 card set to be traded in for a gallon of ice cream. As a self-proclaimed ice cream aficionado, I don't know if I could have resisted!

1932 U.S. Caramel

#32
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Quantum_Leap_Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: A short 32-card checklist, the 1932 U.S. Caramel set features baseball's biggest stars alongside notable boxers like Jack Dempsey and golfers like Bobby Jones. The distinct red background is instantly recognizable and evocative of the bright red backgrounds used in the 1914 Cracker Jack set. Issued regionally around the Boston area, this is a primary reason for its relative scarcity compared to other 1930s Ruth cards. However, some critics have pointed to a somewhat goofy depiction of Ruth and poor print quality as reasons to avoid this card.

1933 Goudey

#53
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: 1933 Goudey is the most recognizable and important set of the 1930's. It defined an era, and the four Ruth examples within it are the poster children for the set's high-contrast design and beautifully painted images. Ruth's first card in the set is #53 which depicts Babe posing with his bat set in front of a bright yellow backdrop. This is Ruth's scarest card in the set and holds the record for highest selling Goudey when a PSA 9 copy sold in 2021 for $4.2M.

1933 Goudey

#144
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: Ruth's next card in the set is #144, and it is the only card in the set that depicts a full-body action image of Babe. Some collectors argue that this is the, "best" Goudey Ruth given the myriad of colors compared to the single-color portraits elsewhere in the set. #144 was double printed by Goudey and is the most common of the set, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to acquire it cheaply. Despite it's relative availability and the set release occurring later in Ruth's career, the hobby has embraced its significance for the era, and prices reflect this. 

1933 Goudey

#149
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: The #149 card uses the same portrait of Ruth as #53, but uses a vibrant red background instead of the yellow in Ruth's first card in the set. This has a slightly higher population than its yellow counterpart and market prices typically reflect that for similar conditioned copies. 

1933 Goudey Fact: 1933 Goudey was not only the company's first set, but the 240 player checklist was the largest of any Goudey issue.

1933 Goudey

#181
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: #181 is Ruth's final card in 1933 Goudey and is generally the least expensive of the bunch. The painting of Ruth looking back over his right shoulder is an illustrated depiction of a photo taken by master American photographer Charles Conlon who is known for his poetic documentation of baseball's history. This card more than the other Goudeys capture Americana at its finest. 1933 Goudey Fact: A quarter of the players in the checklist are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1933 Sport Kings

#2
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: Sport Kings was a multi-sport card set produced in 1933 by Goudey, honoring the "kings" of sport. Ruth was one of only three baseball players in the 48-card checklist but stood alongside other sports giants like Jim Thorpe, Eddie Shore, and Bobby Jones. Ruth's Sport Kings card has fewer graded copies than his '33 Goudey run but can typically be had for around half the price, making it a more affordable option for collectors looking to add a Ruth card to their collection.

1948 Leaf

#3
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Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: Released well after Ruth's playing days ended, his 1948 Leaf card honored the Sultan of Swat as the "Greatest of all home run hitters". The card would also be one of the last released during his lifetime as he passed away from cancer in August 1948. The set, most well known for its rookie cards of Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, and Ralph Kiner among others is one of the most iconic early post-war sets. Its pop-art style design preceded Andy Warhol's rise to fame by a over a decade. 

A Few of My Favorites

Collecting playing days cards of Babe Ruth isn't cheap. With that said, some cards are more affordable than others, which I'll highlight below. My favorites also pay homage to another Boston great and recognize a few of the coolest modern Ruth cards out there.

1932 Sanella Margarine

Type 4
Nomar_1999_Skybox_Premium_Spring_Fling_Star_Rubies_Front.jpg
Nomar_1999_Skybox_Premium_Spring_Fling_Star_Rubies_Back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: The only international release on the list, Ruth's Sanella Margarine issue is one of the most beautiful cards released during his playing days. The oversized card depicts a full-color painting of Ruth set in front of a stadium full of fans. There were three types of card backs manufactured, varying by the placement of the Sanella logo and whether the card was numbered. Another margarine brand, Astra, also released a version of this card that's significantly shorter printed than the Sanella runs. Its sub-$1k market price provides new Ruth collectors with an accessible entry point.

1935 R321 Goudey "4-in-1"

#1J
F15.jpg
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Why It's a Favorite: The 1935 Goudey "4-in-1" is a unique set in that each card in the 36-card set features four players on the front and puzzle pieces on the back. Collectors looking to complete the puzzle would need 72 different backs. Ruth's card uses a similar image to the painting used for his 1933 Goudey #181 but can be acquired for a fraction of the cost of any of his 1933 Goudey cards. 1935 Goudey was one of Ruth's last playing days cards before he retired in June 1935.

1955 Fleer Ted Williams

#2 Ted's Idol Babe Ruth
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Why It's a Favorite: The 1955 Fleer Ted Williams set was an 80-card series honoring the life and career of Ted Williams. It was a mass-printed set that provides set collectors with a fun and affordable chase. Regarding Ruth, the second card in the checklist depicts Ted meeting his idol, Babe Ruth. The two are pictured here meeting during a charity home-run derby in 1943 at Yankee Stadium, held to raise money for the American Red Cross. Boston's two greatest hitters, perfectly captured in cardboard form.

1999 Upper Deck

#PH A Piece of History 500 HR Club Memorabilia
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Nomar_1998_Fleer_Ultra_Platinum_Medallion_Pizzazz_Back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: One of the ways Upper Deck responded to the late 90s/early 00s card manufacturers' arms race was by introducing the "A Piece of History 500 HR Club" memorabilia set. Building off the hugely successful introduction of game-used memorabilia, Upper Deck created a set that would be inserted across products featuring pieces of game-used bats from players in the 500 HR club. Ruth was the focal point of the set and was included as the product chase in Upper Deck Series 1. Some of the earliest debates around use of game used memorabilia in cards began when Upper Deck purchased Ruth's game-used bat for $23k to use in the product. Its a shame they couldn't continue the set after they lost their MLB license!

2005 SP Legendary Cuts

#RMFW Quad Cuts Ruth/Mantle/Williams/Foxx
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Why It's a Favorite: Upper Deck released the first Babe Ruth cut autograph in 1998 UD Retro, marking the beginning of many Ruth cut autograph product chases from Upper Deck and Topps released over the years. This particular cut autograph from 2005 SP Legendary Cuts is on another level: a QUAD cut autograph card featuring Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Jimmie Foxx. INCREDIBLE. There's another quad cut autograph from the same set featuring Ruth and fellow contemporaries Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson. Modern Ruth cut autographs aren't cheap, but there have been a few hundred released over the years, so you should be able to find one if you're looking.

Honorable Mentions

  • 1917 Standard Biscuit D350-2 #147

  • 1919-1921 W514 Strip Card #2

  • 1921 Schapira Brother Candy Portrait

  • 1922 Neilson's Chocolate Type 1 #37

  • 1922 W573 Strip Card

  • 1924 Willard Chocolate #5

  • 1926 W512 #6

  • 1927 Honey Boy Ice Cream #14

  • 1928 Fro-Joy Champions Series #1-6

  • 1931 W517 Strip Card Throwing #4

  • 1932 Bulgaria Schmeling/Ruth #256

  • 1932 D32 Drakes Yankees Cakes #61

  • 1933 Uncle Jack’s Candy King of Swat

  • 2001 Upper Deck Legends of NY Cut Signature Auto #LC-BR

  • 2011 Topps #271B Diamond Anniversary /60

  • 2020 Panini Flawless Dual Cuts #FDC-RG Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig Dual-Signed Card (#1/1)

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