Barely a blip on baseball memorabilia’s sales radar screen, Major League Baseball lineup cards—including both dugout and official batting order cards—continue to tell their own unique stories of baseball’s history.
Trying to calculate annual lineup card sales would hardly be worth the effort, according to Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage Auctions.
“It would be a tiny fraction of 1 percent,” said Ivy. “Probably signed baseballs alone outnumber lineup cards by tens-of-thousands to one.”
But while their annual sales may be little more than a rounding error in the overall baseball memorabilia market, lineup cards continue to be an important niche.
“They are, effectively, the official documents of a particular game, in the same way a player's contract is the official document of his particular season,” said Ivy, “so they are absolutely historically relevant.”
“I consider them very historic,” collector Seth Swirsky said. “I mean, the manager, he was the general in the war. Imagine seeing Eisenhower’s list of who he wanted to go into battle, and he had to sign it? Imagine what that would be worth?
“I always saw that when I saw lineup cards. I saw them as very undervalued, and they are real pieces of the actual event that occurred.”
“The lineup card is like a game-used program,” offered collector Jeffrey Lazarus, who owns some 2,000 lineup cards, with the oldest dating to 1933. “It tells the story of the game in a way that a jersey or bat can’t, with the names written on it, particularly if the manager or umpire tracked the changes (on the card) throughout the game.”
One of the downsides to collecting lineup cards is their general scarcity before the turn of the 21st Century, especially the further back you go.
It’s not clear exactly when batting order cards were introduced, but the oldest such cards still in existence only date to the early 1930s, experts say, and there are few of them to be found.
The first dugout lineup cards are believed to have been used around 1960. They emphasized function over form, and for that reason, most ended up in the garbage after a game, along with the batting order cards.
“The meager supply of available examples from anything other than the 21st Century, when MLB started marketing them directly,” is a downside, said Ivy. “Virtually all of them were tossed in the trash after the game, and that's why they are so rare today.
“When you consider that that well over a thousand MLB games happened each year for decades, with six cards for each game, you can see that the surviving population is a microscopic sliver of the original population.”
And the 20th Century cards that do exist typically are not in very good shape because they were used during the course of a game and not thought of as collectibles at the time.
MLB began on-field branding efforts around 2000, which included the use of a 17x11-inch, more decorative dugout lineup card. MLB teams continue to sell those types of cards today.
“I think MLB does one of the best jobs of the major sports leagues of publicizing and marketing their memorabilia,” said Brian Dwyer, President of Robert Edward Auctions (REA). “This may contribute to interest in, and availability of, lineup cards.”
Said Lazarus, “I think the single biggest shift in the market has been MLB selling dugout lineup cards on their site. The prices that they net for the auctions and sales on their site are unmatched anywhere else and it seems safe to say that it is a unique marketplace.”
Some past regular-season dugout lineup cards for sale on MLB Auction in early June started at a “buy now” price of $35, making them an affordable collectible.
But there are options for higher rollers, too, as lineup cards for milestone, player debut, All-Star and World Series games typically sell for much higher prices.
According to those in the business, the $165,010 reportedly paid by Sky Lucas in an MLB auction for the Red Sox dugout lineup card from Game 4 of the 2004 World Series continues to set the bar for all lineup card sales.
Some other higher-priced cards include the first-ever All-Star Game batting order cards, which were sold for $138,000 in 2007, and batting order cards and the pen used to fill them out from Cal Ripken’s 2,130th and 2,131st consecutive starts for approximately $40,000 in 2000.
But whether it cost $35, $165,010, or somewhere in between, lineup cards offer collectors an item almost exclusive to baseball, and a unique look at the history of the sport long known as “America’s Pastime.”
Swirsky believes that lineup cards have “so much more value than I think people recognize. I just loved collecting lineup cards. I thought it was just such a thing of beauty.”
“My personal favorite that we've sold…is Casey Stengel's card from Game 7 of the 1960 World Series,” said Ivy of the card Heritage auctioned off in 2005 for $5,377.50. “You can almost feel the anxiety coursing through him as he struggled to find an answer before Mazeroski's walk-off. This is a line-up card that is more than just a documentation. It borders on a psychological study.”
REA handled the auction of Baltimore’s dugout lineup card from Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,131st consecutive game.
“It had impeccable provenance, which is key for the historically important and more valuable cards in the marketplace,” said Dwyer of the card that was sold by former Oriole pitcher/pitching coach Mike Flanagan for $15,405. “In Ripken's case, what symbolizes his longevity and his daily place in the lineup more than the card naming him as a starter each and every day?”
Item(s) Price Year Sold
Boston dugout card for 2004 World Series Game 4, $165,010, 2004
First All-Star Game (1933), AL/NL cards, $138,000, 2007
Orioles Cal Ripken 2,131st consecutive game played batting order card/pen, and 2,030th game batting order card, $40,000*, 2000
1995 Jeter MLB Debut batting order cards, $16,200, 2020
Cleveland dugout card for 2016 World Series Game 7, $14,650, 2016
1974 Hank Aaron 715th HR batting order card, $11,700, 2020
1985 World Series Game 7 batting order cards, $7,500, 2020
Yankee batting order card from 1960 World Series Game 7, $5,377, 2005
Braves batting order card from Hank Aaron 714th HR game, $4,056, 2007
Bryce Harper MLB debut batting order card (signed), $2,270, 2012
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers batting order card, $720, 2018
1991 Wilson Alvarez no-hitter batting order cards, $305, 2020