17 Sports Cards That Defined the Hobby in 2017


2017 was a big year for sports cards. Baseball had Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger setting rookie records.

Football had late-2016 releases featuring a pair of Dallas Cowboys super rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Then when the 2017 season kicked off, Carson Wentz took off.

Basketball had some of the biggest Ben Simmons cards arrive along with the delayed start of his pro career. The 2017-18 rookie class has brought with it plenty of notable names.

Auston Matthews wrapped up the 2016-17 hockey card season just like he started it — in dominant fashion.

This past year didn’t see any major changes in the way of licenses in the big four sports. That meant plenty of continuity. It also meant some experimenting and new trends as well.

Here’s a look back at 2017 in the world of sports cards through the lens of 17 cards. Some are valuable but that doesn’t mean they’re all the most valuable. The hobby is shaped in many ways. Prices are just one.

With that in mind, here are 17 cards released in 2017 that sum up the year that was.

17 Sports Cards That Helped Shape the Hobby in 2017

2017 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge ruled the hobby in 2017. Heading into the baseball season, interest in his cards was limited primarily to Yankees fans. But by the time spring gave way to summer, he’d reached phenom status. There were a couple of ups and downs along the way but there’s no hiding for Judge anymore. He’s a superstar on a young and exciting Yankees team that is poised for greatness very quickly.

As for the Aaron Judge 2017 Topps Heritage Real One Autograph, it’s got a couple of layers to its significance. Heritage autographs have long been popular. But with Judge, it showed they could be something more. As Bowman Chrome autographs get too expensive for many, these are one of the most popular alternatives. Along with the set’s following, there’s the promise of on-card signatures. For Judge and 2017 Topps Heritage, there was the added benefit of being based on the popular 1968 design.

Put it all together and you’ve got a card that transcends many of the other Aaron Judge autographs that are out there.

2017 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs Aaron Judge

2016-17 Panini National Treasures Ben Simmons RC

Ben Simmons proved that Rookie Cards don’t always need autographs and memorabilia to generate a lot of interest. Because he signed an exclusive deal with Upper Deck, Panini couldn’t use his signature in their products. The result? His Rookie Cards all take a more traditional approach. Sure, there’s more technology and some come with small print runs, but they still feel like something of a throwback.

And you know what? Values held up just fine. And that was even after Simmons was hurt for the duration of what was originally going to be his rookie season. Things have picked up even further in 2017-18 as Simmons is healthy and both he and the 76ers are living up to the hype known as The Process.

2017 Bowman Platinum Cody Bellinger RC

2017 was a big year for retail exclusives. They’re not a new trend, but some performed very strong. First, there was the 2017 Bowman Mega Box with the first North American Shohei Ohtani cards. Then came 2017 Bowman Platinum, which arrived around the peak of Aaron Judge’s first spike. Perhaps even bigger at the time was the fact that the product had the first Cody Bellinger Rookie Card.

Several others have arrived in the ensuing months and the product isn’t nearly as hot as it once was, but it’s tough to ignore how it was driving the market for a time.

2016 Panini Prizm Dak Prescott Autograph

The 2016 Panini Prizm Dak Prescott autograph got the most attention of any card in the hobby in 2017. Technically, the set came out in the fall of 2016. However, the redeemed cards didn’t start to show up until several months later. And when they did, it was determined that some that had been sent out were not signed by the Dallas quarterback.

This led to attention and heated discussion in the mainstream media that may not have been comfortable, but hopefully the end result makes the hobby stronger. Prescott and Panini both worked to make things right.

2016-17 Upper Deck The Cup Auston Matthews RC

Like Connor McDavid before him, Auston Matthews isn’t just any hockey prospect. He’s a young superstar who just so happens to be playing for one of the NHL’s highest profile teams. To top things off, hockey-mad Toronto hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in over 50 years.

So the biggest card of one of the biggest rookies in the past decade carries a lot of significance.

2017 Topps Steve Winfree

The 2017 Topps Steve Winfree is a card that was legitimately life-changing. It’s not one that you could find in a pack. It was actually a custom card that gained lots of attention for all the right reasons.

With her husband in need of a kidney transplant, Heather Winfree discovered that she was a match to be a donor. She broke the news to Steve on the back of a custom Topps baseball card. The couple’s emotional video and touching story quickly went viral.

In the months since, the transplant went through and the Winfrees have become ambassadors in raising awareness for the fight against kidney disease.


2017-18 Panini Prizm Silver Prizms Jayson Tatum

Over the past while, Prizm Basketball has gained significant traction. It’s bigger than just the deep rookie crop of in 2017-18 products. It’s chromium. And colorful. The two combine for a lot of popularity. Consider the Jayson Tatum here to be more symbolic of a bigger trend.

2017 Topps Now Aaron Judge #654

Aaron Judge had a lot of 2017 Topps Now Baseball cards–more than 40 in the main set not including autographs and memorabilia cards. Not all of his accomplishments were as big as others, but most were among the top-sellers for the print-on-demand brand’s sophomore season. But then there’s card #654, which commemorates his record-breaking 50th rookie home run.

It sold 16,138 copies, the highest for the main 2017 Topps Now Baseball set.

2016 Panini National Treasures Carson Wentz RC

When 2016 Panini National Treasures Football first arrived last spring, Rookie Cards Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were commanding much of the attention, even though both were redemptions. But not long into 2017 and there was a new king of the 2016 football rookie crop–Carson Wentz.

His season ended early due to injury but there’s a bigger picture to look at that extends far beyond 2017. That picture includes key pieces for a potential Super Bowl run sooner rather than later.

2016 Panini National Treasures Carson Wentz RC

2017 Leaf Inscriptions Lavar Ball Autographs

If you were into sports in 2017, you knew Lavar Ball. His cocky attitude and over-the-top one-liners got him plenty of airtime and online impressions. And that was before he got in a public spat with Donald Trump. In July, Leaf released 200 Lavar Ball autograph cards through eBay, each with one of those over-the-top sayings.

They immediately sold out at $60 a pop and soared well over $200 within hours.

The cards have since fallen back down significantly in what they’re selling for (most dealers are still trying to get the original high prices). That doesn’t take away from the fact that these captured one of the year’s biggest sports personalities, whether you consider yourself a big baller or not.

2016-17 Studio From Downtown LeBron James

Most of the big inserts today have autographs and big swatches of memorabilia. When it comes to regular inserts, even those that aren’t the easiest of pulls, many don’t capture the same sort of attention or values that they did in the late 1990s. 2016-17 Studio From Downtown cards are a notable exception.

Similar to Panini’s Kaboom! inserts, From Downtown highlights top players with over-the-top illustrated designs. It’s the kind of thing that would have been right at home in the ’90s.

Ben Simmons leads the way as far as prices go, but he’s a marquee rookie so that’s to be expected. Maybe more surprising is the fact that LeBron James and other longtime stars command lots of attention and big prices. To many, it’s probably a refreshing sight to see for cards that stand on their own, not additional elements like signatures, relics and low serial numbers.

2017 Topps Now Off-Season Shohei Ohtani

It didn’t take long for Shohei Ohtani to get his first MLB card after signing with the Angels. The two-position star comes from Japan with a massive spotlight and huge expectations. The 2017 Topps Now Off-Season Shohei Ohtani was an immediate record breaker.

The 17,323 copies are a record for the program, selling more than the cards for Aaron Judge’s 50th home run, Ichiro’s 3,000th hit, Bartolo Colon’s home run and the thousands of other Topps Now cards made in the last couple of years.

2017 Panini Impeccable Kareem Hunt RC

Kareem Hunt put together an incredible rookie season. Early on, the running back was a legitimate MVP threat. The second half of the season didn’t play out quite the same. Hunt still finished the season with an impressive 1,292 rushing yards and ten touchdowns.

The 2017 Panini Impeccable Kareem Hunt ranks among his best Rookie Cards. Numbered to 75, it’s signed on card and has both a patch swatch and a helmet piece to help it stand out. The design is also among the most elegant of the season.

2017 Panini Impeccable Kareem Hunt RC

2017 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Exquisite Autographs Ben Simmons

It was a bit of a shock when Upper Deck announced they’d signed Ben Simmons to an exclusive autograph deal. Sure, he had the potential to be a generational talent. But Upper Deck didn’t have an NBA license. As a result, there are very few Ben Simmons autograph cards on the market.

No stranger to surprises in its products, what turned out to be the biggest card on the 2017 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions checklist wasn’t originally on there. The card maker revisited its most prestigious basketball brand for the Exquisite Ben Simmons autograph. Numbered to 99, it already commands thousands on the secondary market, even with Simmons in street clothes instead of a 76ers uniform.

2017 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Exquisite Collection Ben Simmons Autograph

2017 Topps 1987 Topps Autographs Gene Hackman

Topps incorporated their 1987 baseball design into several products in 2017. It was a year-long celebration of the set’s 30th anniversary. Some of these tributes were direct. Others were a little more indirect, such as the 2017 Topps Transcendent base set. And then there were the New Era caps that aimed to make wood grain a fashion statement.

Circling back to the direct tributes were a large collection of flagship inserts spread across 2017 Topps Series 1, Series 2 and Update. Similar to Heritage and Archives, they took the old design and made new cards from them. This being 2017, some had autographs as well. Among them was the first certified Gene Hackman autograph card done for the 30th anniversary of Hoosiers.

2017-18 Panini Contenders Draft Picks Lonzo Ball

Lonzo Ball proved that you don’t have to be the first in the draft to be the one that everyone talks about. With his dad taking pages from WWE’s Paul Heyman and doing most of the talking, all eyes were on Lonzo when the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off. There have been growing pains, but it’s way too soon to bring out the bust label.

2017-18 Panini Contenders Draft Picks Basketball got a huge boost from Ball and the presence of his signature. Tatum, Markelle Fultz and others helped as well. Besides the regular version, there are several parallels as well.

2017 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autograph Ronald Acuna

Get ready to hear a lot more about Ronald Acuna. He became the cream of the massive 2017 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autograph crop after a monster year in the minors. And that was before Braves prospect became the youngest ever to win Arizona Fall League MVP honors.

Inserted in packs of 2017 Bowman Baseball, the card has been soaring with prospectors having high hopes for 2018 and beyond.

2017 Bowman Chrome Ronald Acuna Autograph

What’s your favorite card of 2017? Let us know in the comments below or talk with us on Twitter.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks or by email.


Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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  1. Troy Maxcy 3 January, 2018 at 02:36

    Not one soccer card in the bunch. Messi and Ronaldo as global superstars and not one of their cards makes the list. Also, Pulisic?

    • Ryan Cracknell 3 January, 2018 at 13:16

      @Troy — This isn’t necessarily a “best of” list but rather what helped shape the hobby in 2017. With the World Cup this year, a 2018 list will likely have some soccer.

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