If you were to build the perfect Rickey Henderson baseball card, what elements would you include?

Here … let me help you out …

The perfect Rickey card would have to include …

  • A crouch, if he’s at-bat
  • That other crouch, if he’s on the basepaths
  • A steely stare
  • The vibrant Green & Gold of the Oakland A’s
  • The staid navy blue pinstripes of the New York Yankees if you prefer mid-1980s vintage
  • A clean, classic card design
  • His gaudy numbers on full display on the card back

And … well, this should go without saying, but … the card should spell Henderson’s name correctly. Both of his names.

The good news is that there are plenty of cards that check all those boxes.

His 1980 Topps rookie card is a pretty good example:

1980 Topps Rickey Henderson

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His 1984 Topps card fits the bill, too:

1984 topps rickey henderson

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And this 1983 Topps Record Breaker …

1983 topps rickey henderson record breaker

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And his 1985 Fleer card …

1985 Fleer rickey henderson

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And even his 1989 Topps card …

1989 topps rickey henderson

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But you know which Rickey Henderson card wasn’t quite so perfect? That would be his very first card …

Humble Beginnings

Henderson spent the 1977 season as an 18-year-old prospect with the Single-A Modesto A’s. He did just OK … he hit .345, stole 95 bases, and scored 120 runs.

Pretty pedestrian stuff.

Anyway, a group named Chong Enterprises produced a team set for Modesto that season, and they included a card of Rickey.

And boy, was it a doozy!

Consider …

  • The photo was in black-and-white.
  • The photo was about half bat.
  • The photo was grainy enough that you can’t really see his eyes very well. Maybe he’s glaring?
  • The back is blank.
  • The card number appears prominently on the card front, in the upper left-hand corner, like so:  “5)”
  • There is no card design to speak of.

And, oh my — Rickey’s name is spelled wrong.

1977 Chong Modesto A's Ricky Henderson

So Rickey Henderson’s first-ever baseball card is actually a “Ricky” Henderson baseball card, and it could be a Dave Henderson baseball card for all we can tell from the photo.

Looking at pictures of the card, you also get the feeling it might actually just be an old newspaper clipping.

The thing is, though, looking at pictures of the card may be just about as close as you’re ever going to get to one of these things. You see, the Chong cards are about as rare as a game without Rickey on base.

According to Matthew Glidden, an estimated 500 of the team sets were issued in 1977, at a time before everyone thought every baseball card would be worth a fortune someday. You can be sure that not all of those sets made it through the last 40 years, in other words.

So far, in fact, PSA has graded 29 of the Henderson cards, with none scoring a perfect 10 and only one rating a flat out 9 with no qualifiers.

Click WHERE to Buy One?

As you might imagine, sales of this first Rickey (Ricky) card are pretty unusual, too. According to a PSA post from nearly a decade ago, an off-centered PSA 9 Rickey sold for $1300+ way back in 2007.

The card comes up for auction occasionally these days, but it’s not one you’re likely to find on an eBay whim or at your local card shop or show, and it’s hard telling how much you’d have to pay for an actual copy at the moment. Huggins & Scott auctioned a PSA 7 Henderson for $1400 (11 bids) in October 2014, so today’s price undoubtedly would be north of that.

As Glidden notes in the piece above, Chong reprinted the card, with some modifications, as part of their 1989 Modesto A’s alumni issue. And, considering the *ahem* quality of the originals, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to find counterfeit versions of the 1977 card running around out there (though I haven’t explicitly heard of any).

All told, if you want to own Rickey Henderson’s first baseball card, his 1977 Modesto A’s issue is the only game in town.

You’ll need lots of persistence and good luck to catch one, though — just like Rickey himself.

(Check out the rest of our player-focused posts here.)

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