We’re taking the opportunity to look at the 1955 Roberto Clemente rookie card in-depth, as well as some of the more important options released over the course of his MLB career.
Roberto Clemente (1934-1972) was a Hall of Famer who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons. The star and four others were killed when a cargo plane bound for earthquake-stricken Nicaragua crashed shortly after takeoff on New Years Eve in 1972.
A 15-time All-Star, the 1966 NL MVP, and a two-time World Series champion, he became both the first Caribbean and the first Latin-American player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. (In fact, they changed the rules to be able to do so, as it was so soon after his final game.)
Given his legacy, the Roberto Clemente Award “is bestowed annually to the player who best represents the game of Baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
The Best Roberto Clemente Rookie Cards
With a sole Roberto Clemente rookie card on the market, we’ve added two of the best older options to round out the list.
Altogether, there are 19 base Roberto Clemente Topps cards and a single Fleer release from 1963. Clemente can also be found in Post Cereal sets, if you’re looking for a cheaper option with no licensing.
For the purposes of this list, we’re sticking with the best Topps Clemente cards.
3. 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente Card #630 (eBay)
If you’re looking at Clemente cards released in later years, few are as valuable as the option found in 1971 Topps. It benefits from a strong design, with a black border and a facsimile copy of his autograph at the bottom.
However, the true value is derived from the overall condition. The dark borders are fragile, and the set is known for poor centering. For example, over 3,850 copies have been sent to PSA at the time of writing. Only 16 were able to get a PSA 9 grade, and there’s a sole PSA 10 copy.
Check prices of 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente Card on eBay
2. 1956 Topps Roberto Clemente Card #33 (eBay)
If you’re looking for a more affordable option compared to the 1955 RC, why not look at the base card released a year later? The 1956 Topps Baseball set is another classic collection, featuring profile pictures set against a color action scene in the background.
It’s actually reasonably popular as it shares a similar design to the rookie card seen below, right down to the close-up image of a rookie Clemente wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap. However, you can see small advances in the overall quality compared to the 1955 version.
Check prices of 1956 Topps Roberto Clemente Card on eBay
1. 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente Rookie Card #164 (eBay)
Clemente’s true rookie card can be found in 1955 Topps Baseball. It uses a horizontal format to fit in a couple of images of the player. As you can see, it looks a lot like the 1956 Topps release, with a few elements placed slightly differently.
An exceptionally valuable card, a mint PSA 9 graded version sold for $1,107,000 in July 2021. Only 11 have been able to achieve the grade, and there’s also a sole PSA 10 copy. As you might have guessed, it suffers from various condition-related issues.
Check prices of 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente Rookie Card on eBay
Why are Roberto Clemente RCs so expensive?
His tragic passing, and the fact that the 1955 card was released nearly 70 years ago. There’s a lack of more recent options, and a premium attached to the older cards. Of course, record-breaking prices are reserved for pristine graded versions, which are few and far between.
The accident means that he’s one of the more memorable players from his era, but his stats speak for themselves. He would have been a Hall of Famer either way, without the need to romanticize his legacy. In his prime, he was one of the more complete players that the league has ever seen.
Roberto Clemente Rookie Cards: Final Thoughts
Clemente is a legend within the sport, with a collection of high-end vintage options to chase.
They were released in an era before parallels and autographs, but they’re still some of the best baseball cards on the market. As well as Pirates card collectors, the 1955 Clemente RC is a major hit with most fans.
He has a sad story, although he’s celebrated in the form of an annual award that pays homage to his philanthropy.