Why Collectors Want Ozzie Smith’s 1979 Topps Rookie Card So Much

Most baseball fans who saw Ozzie Smith play can easily argue that “The Wizard of Oz” was one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game. While Ozzie’s.262 career batting average wasn’t your typical MVP caliber, Smith still accumulated 2,460 career hits. His glove at shortstop made some fans believe he was a human vacuum cleaner and his acrobatics were unique. He was a candidate for Rookie of the Year in 1978, and he was a 15-time All-Star player. What made Ozzie Smith’s career stand out even more was that he won the National League Gold Glove Award for 13 consecutive seasons. He was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 in his first year of eligibility.

Most of us remember Smith as a St. Louis Cardinal, but his career began with the San Diego Padres for his first four seasons. Smith’s trade timing, and his contribution, helped the Cardinals win the World Series title in his first year. And despite only 28 career home runs, Smith slugged one out of the park to clinch a Cardinals victory that took them to the World Series again in 1985. And Smith’s best season in 1987 (hitting .303, scoring 104 runs, 75 RBI, and 43 stolen bases) contributed yet again. Smith ended his career with 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases.


The 1979 Topps card of Ozzie Smith (#116) is the recognized rookie card, although there is a more rare O-Pee-Chee issue (see below). Topps had a monopoly on Major League Baseball cards at that time so the image for either rookie is identical. The 1979 Topps card is highly sought after by collectors and set builders, and the year 1979 also just happens to be the bridge for what collectors consider modern cards (1980 and later) or vintage cards (1979 and earlier) even though Ozzie played well into the 1990s.

There are some amazing issues that make Ozzie Smith’s rookie so desirable to collectors. The vintage-to-modern bridge is one issue, but Topps almost seems to have gone out of its way to make this card very rare to find in great condition. Card #116 of the 1979 Topps set is notoriously off-center and it is often found with a very rough edge.

Topps also wasn’t making card paper in the 1970s with the same durability that became known in the 1990s and later, so it often has many dings and nicks in the card. The 1970s and very early 1980s were also still a time when kids collecting cards were using rubber bands to keep their cards together by team, position of just in bricks. In many ways, it shares some condition characteristics with Rickey Henderson’s 1980 Topps rookie.


Ozzie Smith rookie


PSA itself has seen about 117,000 total cards slabbed from the 1979 Topps set as a whole, and like most sets the most valuable cards dominate the graded population. PSA has slabbed more than 10,500 examples of #116, but there are 1,945 which have the “Q” designation (usually off-center) and 121 in half-grades. The two most common grades in PSA are PSA 7 (2,290 exist) and PSA 8 (2,297 exist).

Here is the testament to the poor cuts and paper issues from 1979. PSA has slabbed just 382 PSA 9 cards (plus another 307 with the “Q” designation) and there are only 5 examples of this card in a perfect PSA 10. Most collectors know to get this card graded regardless of condition, and it is more than twice as popular than all of PSA’s 5,300+ slabbed examples of card #115 for the great Nolan Ryan.

SGC’s population report of 1,474 total graded examples of Ozzie Smith’s rookie includes just 1 in the SGC 10 grade. There are 21 SGC 9 grades, 29 SGC 8.5, 132 SGC 8, 124 SGC 7.5 and 228 SGC 7 grades. Just more proof that Ozzie Smith’s rookie card of #116 from the 1979 Topps set is hard to find in stellar condition.


With a high population of cards, Smith’s rookie sells in almost every major auction with many sales seen every month. As of June 2022, the last PSA 8 sales was for $343.83 and a PSA 7 sold for just $132.50 (both on eBay). The last PSA 9 sale fetched $1,930.80 in the May 2022 Memory Lane auction.

A testament to the scarcity among the perfect PSA 10 grades should be more than evident using PSA data and outside data. These are the last known sales tracked in the perfect PSA 10:

  • 5/10/2021 for $144,000.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 2/27/2021 for $222,000.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 11/18/2017 for $31,200.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 10/30/2017 for $27,000.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 05/11/2017 for $30,702.00 (PWCC Marketplace)

And PWCC Marketplace also sold an autographed example graded PSA 9 with an AUTO 10 grade for $8,000.00 on June 25, 2021. One additional card that stands out is a PSA 10 O-Pee-Chee example sold by for $79,200.00 on April 6, 2021 but that was designated as just 1 of 2 known examples in the perfect PSA 10 out of a total 650 PSA graded population at that time.


Some collectors over the last decade or two have even bought the entire 1979 Topps baseball set just to pluck out the Ozzie Smith card (and maybe the Ryan) if the card was in great shape and using an acceptable off-center example as a replacement. And for that matter, because there are so many complete 1979 Topps sets at shows, there is a large phantom population of Ozzie Smith rookie cards that could be graded if (or when) collectors ever decide to send that card in for grading.

Finding an Ozzie Smith rookie card is not that difficult. Finding one in pristine condition is another story entirely.