Why is a 1916 Babe Ruth baseball card worth $2.46 million?
CASTLE PINE VILLAGE — Brian Drent held the rare, well-protected 1916 Babe Ruth baseball card in his hands and talked about its value.
“We all know that coins are worth a lot of money, and so are pieces of fine art,” Drent said. “Well, why shouldn’t baseball cards be viewed the same way? Especially a high-grade card like this one — Babe Ruth’s rookie card. I mean, he’s one of the most iconic sports figures in history, and our whole society revolves around sports. This is a piece of history. And really, I think a card like this is art.”
On Thursday, Drent’s Mile High Card Company sold the card in an online auction to an anonymous buyer for $2.46 million, setting a record for a Ruth rookie card. The same card sold just four years ago for $600,000.
So, what’s so special about this particular card? It’s age and condition.
“The 105-year-old card is in near mint condition and one of the finest known of the surviving, iconic Ruth cards issued by The Sporting News magazine in 1916,” Drent said. “This was Ruth’s first major league baseball card of his legendary career.”
The card, depicting the 21-year-old as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, is in remarkably good shape. It’s encased in a protective plastic casing. It’s certified genuine and graded by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) as near-mint PSA 7 (on a grading scale of one to 10).
“It has excellent centering and does not have any of the ‘print-line’ defects usually seen on the few surviving Ruth, 1916 Sporting News cards,” explained Drent.
The previous record price for a 1916 Sporting News Ruth rookie card was $1.45 million, set this past summer. It had a PSA grade of 6.
When collectors believe a card has value, they often turn to PSA, or other companies such as Beckett or Certified Collectibles Group (SGC), to have their card evaluated and graded.
PSA remains the gold standard. Founded in 1991, PSA now averages more than 3 million graded cards per year.
A card encased with a high PSA grade that gets a 9 or 10 on the company’s scale greatly enhances the card’s value. Sometimes the worth increases as much as 10 times over. For example, a near-pristine, 1952 Mickey Mantle card, which earned a PSA 9, sold for $5.2 million last January.
In 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, with the sports card industry booming, PSA received such an overwhelming number of cards to grade that it had to halt submissions for a time.
According to Sports Collectors Daily, PSA graded a one-month record 830,883 cards in September as the company continued to dig out from a backlog of millions of cards.