Ranking Michael Jordan’s five best baseball cards

Three minutes and 11 seconds into the first episode of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan, the greatest baseball player ever to lace up a pair of sneakers grins and says, “I took an 18-month vacation, hiatus.”

He doesn’t talk about what he did during that vacation, but we know. Michael Jordan played baseball. He suited up for 127 games with the Double-A Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization. Jordan batted .202, stole 30 bases, hit three homers and knocked in 51 runs for the Barons. 

He also added a wonderful spark into the baseball-card world. In a moment, we’ll look at the best (not necessarily most valuable) MJ baseball cards. First, though, a quick story of regret and baseball/basketball cards. 

My buddy Tommy lived down the block from me in suburban St. Louis growing up, and we both loved baseball cards. We’d ride our bikes up to the Ben Franklin dollar store or to the local baseball card shop and buy as many packs of 1987 Topps as we could with our allowance/lawn-mowing money.

His dad, Big Tom, would sometimes take him to a different card shop, one that was too far to ride bikes to. One day they were there, talking with the shop owner, when the conversation turned to basketball. Big Tom liked basketball, and the store owner had product to move. 

“We just got these in,” he told Big Tom. “No one’s going to buy them. They’re yours if you want.”

Big Tom quickly bought three boxes of 1986-87 Fleer basketball cards, for $12 each. Yeah. You’re getting ahead of me. The cheapest “buy it now” price for ONE SINGLE PACK of 1986-87 Fleer on eBay right now is $600. 

Anyway, the Toms busted open the packs of basketball cards, then put them in a box and shoved them in a closet. Nothing much more was thought about the cards for a couple of years. Then, Beckett released its first basketball card magazine, the April/May 1990 issue with MJ on the cover. Tommy flipped to the 1986-87 Fleer listing and, let’s say, was stunned. 

“It might have taken us 10 seconds,” he told me Monday, “from the time we saw that first Beckett to the time we sold that first batch.”

The first batch included one complete set and one extra Michael Jordan rookie. They cleared $1,000, which was an insane return on a $36 “investment” a couple of years ago. Tommy bought, appropriately, his first pair of Air Jordans and a pellet gun. They sold the rest of the lot years later for $2,500. This included the final MJ rookie and other cards from that set. 

But I’m the real winner here, because I still have ALL my 1987 Topps cards. 

Anyway, here are the five best Michael Jordan baseball cards. 

No. 1. 1991 Upper Deck, SP1

Why this card is great: This was the first MJ card released in a baseball set, and obviously it was long before the hoops legend traded sneakers for cleats. One day, Jordan took batting practice wearing a White Sox uniform — remember, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf owned the ChiSox, too — and Upper Deck smartly used a picture from that moment on this card. And, Upper Deck smartly made the card a “short print” insert for its 1991 set, creating the idea of scarcity. Turns out, it wasn’t as scarce as once thought, but it’s still a fun card. I’ve bought four boxes of 1991 Upper Deck over the past year — it’s a fun set for a minimal investment ($10ish) — and I’ve found two of the SP1s. Thrilling both times, I can promise you. 

No. 2. 1994 Collector’s Choice, No. 661

Why this card is great: It’s Michael Jordan taking a jump shot with a baseball. Look at the form and the focus. It’s damn near perfect. And Collector’s Choice packs had a reasonable price point, which meant this was your best shot at getting an MJ card (though you can’t even find Series 2 boxes on eBay right now). 

No. 3. 1995 Upper Deck, No. 200

Why this card is great: I mean, you would be hard-pressed to name two Chicago sports icons more immediately recognizable than Michael Jordan and Harry Caray. I irrationally love this baseball card. 

No. 4. 1994 Upper Deck, No. 19

Why this card is great: We’re used to seeing an intense Jordan attacking the rim or staring down an opponent on the court. This one, though, is an intense Jordan charging after what is certainly a rapidly-sinking baseball heading toward the outfield turf. 

No. 5. 1995 Collector’s Choice, No. 500

Why this card is great: Another great photo from Collector’s Choice (underrated sets for photography). This one is MJ as he always seemed to be: With a camera pointed directly in his face. 

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