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Followng the players’ strike that tore through the 1994 and 1995 seasons, collectors were understandably guarded when it came to plunking down our money for 1996 Topps baseball cards.

After all, not only had we lost a World Series and the denouement of several historical diamond stories, we just felt insecure investing our emotions and dollars in the game — when would the next rug-pull come? The trust was gone.

Topps read the room pretty well and pared down their offering from 660 cards in 1995 to a 40-year low of 440 base cards in 1996, split among two 220-card series (along with several inserts and parallels, of course).

Those base cards were sort of scaled down in terms of design, too, giving us a full-card photo, modulo the standard white Topps borders and some light design elements. It was sort of an updated version of the classic 1957 Topps design.

Today, 1996 Topps sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, especially considering the lack of big-name rookie cards. But that doesn’t mean these fetching cards aren’t worth collecting.

In fact, the top of the top 1996 Topps baseball cards in top condition still draw plenty of collector interest and can pull in decent prices all these years later.

What follows, then, are the most valuable 1996 Topps baseball cards by measure of recent selling prices for PSA 10 copies. We’ll start at the bottome of the pile, nearest the old commons bin, and work our way up from there.

(Note: The following sections contain affiliate links to eBay and Amazon listings for the cards being discussed.)

1996 Topps Frank Thomas (#100)

1996 Topps Frank Thomas

Given the moonshot angle of Thomas’ gaze and tight-end physique in this shot, you may be tempted to say that he’s just popped up.

But when you consider just how big the Big Hurt loomed in the batter’s box during the 1990s, it’s entirely possible he’s just launched one to another planet.

After winning MVP Awards in 1993 and 1994, Thomas hit 40 homers in the abbreviated 1995 season and would match that total in 1996.

Collectors ate it up.

Still do.

Value: $20-30

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1996 Topps Cal Ripken Jr (#222)

1996 Topps Cal Ripken Jr

Ripken was the toast of baseball in 1995 as the game struggled to win back fans following the 1994 player’s strike (more on Cal’s magical season elsewhere in this post).

So you can bet your bottom bubble gum stick that Topps was going to do all they could to squeeze some extra Cal sightings into their 1996 base set.

Enter Star Power, a 22-card subset split between Series One and Series Two. Ripken landed in that second run on this card that looks more like it belongs to a garish 1991 Score subset than here among subdued 1996 Topps baseball cards.

Still, it’s a Ripken card from a pivotal stretch of baseball history, and collectors continue to “vote” for it with our dollars.

Value: $20-35

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1996 Topps Will Clark (#299)

1996 Topps Will Clark

Depending on who you asked, and your perspective of the game, Will Clark was a hard-nosed throwback, a malcontent jerk, a great pure hitter, a sour-grapes complainer, a surefire Hall of Famer, a first baseman who didn’t carry a big enough power stick, or one of any other number of descriptions.

As with all of us, the truth about The Thrill probably lies in a mixture of all these traits and others. What’s undeniable is that Clark displayed one of the sweetest left-handed swings the game has ever seen, that he helped his teams win a lot of games, and that he still has a decent case for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

The other sure thing about The Natural is that his hardline stance and outspoken views on PEDs in the game helped to make him an even more polarizing figure than he already has. His supporters are about the staunchest you’ll find, and there are pockets of the hobby that still go all-in on Clark cards.

This late-career entry featuring him with the Texas Rangers is no exception, though, luckily, it’s pretty easy to find in most grades and won’t set you back an arm and a leg. Just a couple smears of eye black should suffice.

Value: $25-35

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1996 Topps Wade Boggs (#323)

1996 Topps Wade Boggs

You might be forgiven for assuming this is a Don Mattingly baseball card.

After all, here we have a) a left-handed hitter b) in a Yankees uniform c) with a 1980s mustache peeking out from under his nose d) on a card with no in-your-face player ID.

But then maybe you’ve glanced at the rest of this list and realize the Mattingly card appears elsewhere.

Or maybe those hairy forearms give you pause.

Or, just perhaps, the faint smell of fried chicken emanating from the card causes you to rethink your position.

And then you realize – this is Wade Boggs!

And THEN you remember that Chicken Man and the Hit Man were Yankees teammates for three seasons, from 1993 – when Boggs defected from the Red Sox – through 1995, Mattingly’s last year in the majors as a player.

It’s still sort of jolting to think of Boggs as a Yank (or a Devil Ray!), but there’s no denying he did good work in the Bronx or that he’s one of the greatest pure hitters of all time.

No wonder his cards are still popular, even if he does have to declare his identity now and then.

Value: $28-32

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1996 Topps Cal Ripken Jr (#200)

1996 Topps Cal Ripken Jr

Ripken put up his third below-average offensive campaign in four seasons during the summer of 1995, but that hardly mattered to fans or collectors.

After all, this was the man who “saved” baseball after the putrid player’s strike killed the 1994 season in August, wiped out the World Series, and even ate the first 11% of 1995.

Many fans were slow to come back, and even many collectors found our diamond appetites blunted by the vulgarities of the work stoppage.

But then, we remembered that Cal was back on the field, that he hadn’t missed any scheduled games, that he was continuing to march toward the Iron Man title then-currently held by Lou Gehrig.

The glacial advance all came to a head in the fifth inning of the Orioles’ tilt against the Yankees, when the game became official and Cal’s consecutive-games streak ran to 2131 games.

Flashbulbs popped, fans wept, dogs howled, babies were born, Cal circled Camden Yards, and baseball was healed.

OK, maybe not so much that last one, but the old game sure looked and felt pretty amazing for at least a little while.

And Ripken guaranteed – again – that his baseball cards would be hot pack pulls again next year (1996, that was).

Value: $30-40

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1996 Topps Barry Bonds (#300)

1996 Topps Barry Bonds

Immediately upon donning his San Francisco Giants uniform, Bonds transformed himself from a 30-30 five-skills guy to a 40-40 five-skills guy who could mash with the best power hitters in the game and had the potential to win a batting title.

That Bonds didn’t actually reach 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season through his first three summers in theBay can be attributed to a slight de-emphasis of his running game in 1993 and, at least partially, to the player’s strike that sliced through both the 1994 and 1995 campaigns.

In the meantime, fans and collectors had to “settle” for Barry’s third MVP award on the back of a .336/46 HR/123 RBI/129 runs scored/29 SB monstrosity in 1993, along with 70 home runs in 1994 and 1995 combined.

It was enough to get his cards perking a bit, though his reputation for churlishness tempered hobby enthusiasm to some degree.

Then, while the raw ingredients for the coming home run battles were beginning to stew in other reaches of the game, Bonds went out and knocked off that 40-40 target in 1996, at the same time collectors were pulling this aim-for-the-sky card from our Topps packs.

Value: $35-38

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1996 Topps Kirby Puckett (#50)

1996 Topps Kirby Puckett

Puckett put up a pretty Kirby-typical season in 1995 – .314/23 HR/99 RBI/130 OPS+/league-leading smiles total.

He looked to be right on track for an eventual Hall of Fame plaque, with the more pressing priority of trying to help his Twins get back on the winning side of the ledger after three losing seasons.

But late in Spring Training of 1996, Puckett woke up with no vision in his right eye. Soon thereafter, he was diagnosed with glaucoma, and surgeries to try and restore his sight through the spring and early summer failed.

Puckett announced his retirement on July 12, 1996, leaving collectors with this bittersweet career-capper that materialized all too soon.

Value: $35-40

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1996 Topps Don Mattingly (#185)

1996 Topps Don Mattingly

Though Mattingly was unsigned entering the 1996 season, he decided to sit on the sidelines and see how his various injuries – chief among them chronic back problems – progressed with some rest rather than either head to a non-Yankees team or retire outright.

Topps erred on the side of featuring a living legend (at least) one more time instead sticking to their tacit no-non-active-players-in-our-set rule, and we were able to see Mattingly in a Yanks uniform even while he was in parts unknown.

Then, Donnie Baseball felt good enough to swing a bat in a November 1996 tune-up … but then officially retired in January of 1997.

And, thus, we have this rare-for-Topps career-capper, even if we didn’t realize its significance at the time.

Value: $40-45

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1996 Topps Rickey Henderson (#397)

1996 Topps Rickey Henderson

As Henderson entered his mid-30s, he embarked on a ping-pong tour of the major leagues that would see him play for eight different teams over the course of a decade, sometimes with multiple stops at the same place (he’d already finished his Yankees tour in the late 1980s).

One of those repeat destinations, of course, was Oakland, where Rickey always seemed to land between stops to more exotic locales.

No surprise, then, that we find him with the A’s here, sliding into a base during the 1995 season. Also no surprise that Rickey was already with another team (the San Diego Padres) by the time this card debuted.

By that point in his career, the only questions surrounding Henderson were … just how many bases will he steal? What other records will he break? Where will he break them?

We all knew he was a lock for the Hall of Fame and figured he’d play forever. And also knew he was a hobby legend.

Value: $40-50

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1996 Topps Derek Jeter (#219)

1996 Topps Derek Jeter

Jeter debuted for the Yankees on May 29, 1995, but appeared in just 15 games for them overall that summer. He spent most of the summer with Triple-A Columbus before squeezing in two more games in the bigs in September.

The next month, New York made the playoffs for the first time in Don Mattingly’s storied career, but Jeter wasn’t part of the roster for the Yanks’ American League Division Series loss to the Seattle Mariners.

Things had changed by the next spring, when this striking card was issued.

For one thing, Mattingly was gone, forced into unofficial retirement by a bad back.

For another, Jeter was the starting shortstop right out of Spring Training, on his way to winning the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award.

And the Yankees?

They won the first of three straight World Series titles, their first in 18 years.

It all set Jeter on a Hall of Fame path and made him a hobby icon, a status he’ll never relinquish.

And it all makes this a top pull — still — among 1996 Topps baseball cards.

Value: $50-60

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Does your favorite appear among this list of most valuable 1996 Topps baseball cards, or did we miss one of the best? I’d love to hear your picks!