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Bo Jackson (True) Rookie Cards

With their pick in the 4th Round of the 1986 MLB June Amateur Draft, the Kansas City Royals selected Bo Jackson from Auburn University. But wait, there’s more! With their pick in the 7th Round of the 1987 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Raiders selected, you know who, Bo Jackson.

A Breakdown of Bo Jackson’s Rookie Cards

In the hobby of sports card collecting, Bo Jackson is beloved as a fan favorite. He has Hall of Fame status but officially is not. I consider him a “Should Be Great” and worthy of this article. A quick overview of his rookie cards he has:

  • 4 True Rookie Cards in baseball
  • 2 Parallel Rookie Cards in baseball
  • 2 Pre-Rookie Cards in baseball
  • 1.5 True Rookie Cards in football
  • 3 Iconic cards that are NOT RCs but collector favorites.

Bo Jackson a Marketing Marvel

The story of Bo Jackson is short and bittersweet. Bo Jackson was raised in Central Alabama in an environment of severe poverty. Add to his living conditions a severe speech problem growing up. He also had a violent nature caused by his mother, who would discipline him with whatever she had near her.

Jackson was a three-sport athlete, track, baseball, and football. In High School, his favorite sport was track. He loved baseball but hated pitching, and he was good at it. However, he didn’t win athlete of the year at the High School level even though he was the best at multiple sports, and many feel that decision was rigged.

In college, he was shy, suffered from social anxiety due to his speech impediment. He would sit in his room and eventually get homesick. He was accused of faking injuries, perhaps due to his mental health.

The Multiple Drafts of Bo Jackson

With a baseball bat, he had explosive power on impact. As a football player, he was extremely fast. But he did everything well, a five-tool player without a doubt. Power, speed, fielding, throwing. He was quick off the snap and only got faster as he approached the secondary. Ability and speed to the highest levels anyone had ever seen.

He was the kind of guy that when he walked into a locker room, people stopped what they were doing to watch him.

He was such an impressive athlete in High School the New York Yankees drafted him in the Second Round of the 1982 MLB Draft, but he declined. The California Angels also drafted him in the 20th Round of the 1985 MLB Draft, but he also rejected that. Finally, the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 4th Round of the 1986 MLB Draft, and he accepted!

On the NFL football side, he was drafted 1st overall, in the 1st Round, of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but guess what? Yep, he declined!

However, Jackson accepted the Los Angeles Raiders when they drafted him in the 7th Round of the 1987 NFL Draft! My guess, he wanted to finish college. If that’s the case in hindsight, I would say well played.

Bo Jackson’s Fast Start But a Faster Ending

Jackson was a mainstream personality that made everyone feel comfortable. He had a great smile and was a marketing superstar. Bo was on t-shirts, commercials, Sesame Street. You name it. It seemed there were nightly or at least a weekly highlight of this fantastic athletic ability.

For at least a year, he was the most famous athlete globally.

When he got to each sports pro level, he delivered! He was the only athlete to be voted into the baseball All-Star Game in 1989 and voted as a Pro-Bowler in 1990. A two sport All-Star, amazing!

But in January of 1991, he had a hip injury. He played through it, but you could tell it was bothering him. By April of 1992, he needed a hip replacement. The Royals released him just before the season started in 1991, he was quickly scooped up by the White Sox in 1991, and while recouping from hip surgery in 1992, his mom passed away.

Devastating times for a still young Bo Jackson. He played in 85 games for the White Sox in 1993, but you can tell he just wasn’t quite the same. After that, he dedicated his life to being a father, a motivational speaker, and an advocate for health.

What if? That is the question. Top of the world one minute and in a snap gone. But not forgotten. Those of us who witnessed it, well, it brings a smile to our face when we think about it.

Bo Jackson Baseball Rookie Cards

1987 Donruss, #35 (RC)

’87 Donruss is a black-bordered beauty and it has a really distinct card design that reminds me of a bumblebee. Chronic chipping along the edges and off-centering plague this set. The photo shows that hobby favorite Rated Rookie logo and it goes well with Bo’s uniform.  There are no parallels for this set.

1987 Leaf, #35 (RC)

The best way to describe this one, it is an abridged version of the Donruss set, with some differences of course. Card design at first glance mimics the American Donruss version quite a bit. But the primary difference is in the number of cards in the set. This one has 264 cards as opposed to 660 cards in the Donruss set.

Leaf was the Canadian version of Donruss and primarily depicted full 25 man rosters of the late Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos because they were Canadian MLB franchises at the time. The other teams only had partial rosters within the set.

1987 Fleer, #369 (RC)

1987 was the early stages of the junk wax era but many collectors have considered this one to be one of the better sets of this era. Big-bold, gradient color, borders, surround the photo of Bo Jackson.

Card back suffers from chipping along the edges and offers collectors player bio, stats, and a Bo related cartoon at the bottom. There is a Fleer Glossy parallel for this one, it came in a tin boxed set and was sold via Hobby Shops and QVC. It’s believed over 75k of these sets were printed!

1987 Topps, #170 (RC)

1987 Topps set is considered the most memorable of any other Topps set of the 1980s. The reason? The very desirable wood grain design is one for the ages which was similar to the wood grain design of the 1962 Topps design.

It was a huge hit within the hobby, demand was high, but card manufacturers continued to print the cards and met the demands of the day, which was the operating procedure of that era.

Not only did they meet demands, but they also exceeded it. Therefore, to this day these cards are readily available but secondary card values are very low.

Great action photo on this Bo Jackson rookie card. Card back uses the standard cardboard stock and gives us all pertinent information you’ve learned to expect from the Topps brand.

There is the popular Topps Tiffany parallel that were released in factory set form and sold only at hobby shops.

1986 Donruss Rookies, #38 (PRC)

These were distributed in a 56 card boxed set that featured rookies only. At first glance, the box resembled a deck of playing cards and the pack inside was similar to a pack found inside a Hanger Box today. The card design mimics the Donruss brand except for The Rookies logo and the border color is a blueish green instead of blue. There are no parallels for this set.

1986 Topps Traded, #50T (PRC)

Topps Traded is my favorite of Bo Jackson’s cards. It mimics the 1986 Topps set which carries a ton of nostalgia weight with me. I really like the photo used too. Card back has a traditional Topps design and gives us everything a good card back should have. This is a 132 card set that sold in Hobby Shops only.

There is also a Tiffany parallel for this one which offers a glossy front, they too were sold at Hobby Shops only and the print run for these Tiffany sets is only 5000, respectively.

Bo Jackson Football Rookie Card

1988 Topps, # 325 (RC?)

So here is where I get a little upset with our beloved hobby and especially our hobby publications. A long time hobby standard is, if there is more than one card of a particular player in any given set than the first card featured in that set gets the RC designation. A beautiful, intelligent concept.

Following this rule of thumb would technically make this card #325 the true rookie card and not #327. Some where along the line hobby publications considered this an action card and gave the RC designation to card #327.

Moreover, card manufacturers knowing that the hobby is trying to figure out rookie cards, you’d think they would help out and not release something like this.

However, for years hobby publications were trying to get a handle on what constitutes a true rookie card but were succumbed by hobby pressure and they developed a belief that says, “the hobby decides what a rookie card is.” I’ve done a video on this and you can click the link to check it out.

1988 Topps, #327 (RC)

The talented multi-sport athlete is featured here in his only NFL football rookie card. 1988 Topps was a 396 card set and this Bo Jackson card is arguably the best card in the set.

Card #325 is the first card in the set that featured Bo Jackson. Now technically speaking by way of The 10 Commandments of the Rookie Card, Rule #6 states, “A rookie card must appear in the base set. If a player has more than one card in the base set the first appearance of that player shall be considered the RC.” So the hobby dictated to Hobby Publications that this was the rookie card instead of card #325.

In my opinion, compared to other years, this is a bland card design by Topps. The “Topps Super Rookie” is a nice feature but that’s about it for me. However, Bo Jackson is the one that makes it a special card in the set. He was a special player, in a special time in sports history.

Collector Favorites

Here we have the 1987 Classic MLB Game #15, the purple frame of the 1989 Score Supplemental #384, and the 2021 Baseball Card Hall of Fame inductee, the 1990 Score #697 ala Calvin Klein snap shot. LOL!

These cards have captivated collectors due to their fantastic photography which really ties in well with the marketing personality of Bo Jackson. Thanks Bo for all the great memories!

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.