The Barry Sanders Rookie Cards and Other Vintage Cards


Barry Sanders Rookie Card Info

The 1989 Score Barry Sanders rookie card #257 is one of the most iconic cards produced during the wax junk era. It has very good value for a card produced in this time, but there are some other Barry Sanders rookie cards collectors should be aware of. In addition to the Score rookie, he has a traded set rookie, a less-expensive mass-produced rookie, and an obscure regional issue rookie. In this article I’ll walk you through all of those plus a second-year card that some dishonest sellers try to pass off as a rookie card.

1989 Score Barry Sanders- The Best Barry Sanders Rookie
1989 Score Barry Sanders- The Best Barry Sanders Rookie

1989 Score Barry Sanders #257

The 1989 Score Barry Sanders card #257 is one of the most valuable and sought-after football cards of the 1980s. It comes from an iconic set that is loaded with Hall-of-Fame rookie cards. Despite the inclusion of Troy Aikman and Dion Sanders rookie cards in this set, the Barry Sanders rookie card is the most valuable in the set.

Barry Sanders was an instant fan favorite due to his explosive running. He played in the NFL for 10 years and rushed for more than 1,000 yard in each of them. Not many players in NFL history have rushed for 2,000 yard in a single season, but Sanders accomplished that feat during his MVP 1997 season. Upon the conclusion of his career, his jersey number 20 was retired by the Detroit Lions. In 2004 Barry Sanders was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Any rookie card for a Hall of Fame player will attract the attention of collectors, but there are additional factors that make the 1989 Score Barry Sanders card even more sought after.

Other Factors:

  • Four Rushing Titles: The running back position in the NFL is one of the most physically demanding positions in all sports. Athletes who play this position tend to have short career spans. Most of the running backs who make the Hall of Fame defy the odds and sustain excellence for a long period, and that’s certainly the case for Barry Sanders. He was an elite running back for 10 seasons and won the rushing title on four separate occasions. Emmitt Smith and a few other players also have four rushing titles, but only one player, the great Jim Brown, won more.

  • Human Highlight Reel: Several running backs should be considered in the conversation of being the greatest ever. One factor that will propel Sanders in this discussion is the collection of amazing runs he put on video during his career. Earl Campbell is probably the only other running back who left as many jaw-dropping runs for fans to remember him by. As time passes a player’s “YouTube Legacy” will become more important to the longevity of collector interest, and help keep Sanders relevant and collectible for a long time to come.

  • Walked Away on Top: Most athletes play as long as they can and arguably stay too long. That can’t be said about Barry Sanders. After playing 10 seasons, Sanders surprisingly walked away from the sport on the heels of an All-Pro season in which he rushed for more than 1,400 yards. He was just one year removed from a 2,000-yard rushing season for which he was named the league MVP. It’s generally thought that more stats are better for a player’s legacy, but walking away during his prime enhanced Sanders’ legacy because we never saw a older and diminished version of him.

1989 Score Set Details

1989 Score Football Box and Packs
1989 Score Football Box and Packs

The 1989 Score Football set is one of the bright spots of the wax junk era. This set wasn’t as mass produced as many from this timeframe were and benefits from a 330-card checklist that is loaded with Hall of Fame Rookie cards. This set contains rookies for Michael Irvin (#18), Chris Carter (#72), Rod Woodson (#78), Tim Brown (#86), Thurman Thomas (#211), Deion Sanders (#246), Barry Sanders (#257), Derrick Thomas (#258), Steve Atwater (#263), and Troy Aikman (#270).

In addition to all the rookies, this set also struck a positive chord with collectors from a design perspective. It features very colorful borders and good photography throughout. Score chose to do close-up portraits of all the rookies, which helped turn many of them into iconic rookie cards.

  • Year: 1989
  • Manufacturer: Score
  • Number of cards: 330
  • Subsets:
    • Rookies (#245-272)
    • Great Combos (#277-284)
    • All-Pros (#285-310)
    • Speedburners (#314-317)
    • Predators (#318-324)
    • Record Breakers (#326-329)

1989 Score Barry Sanders (#257) Card Details

  • Card no: #257 of 330
  • Card Title: 1989 Rookie
  • Name on card: Barry Sanders
  • Position: RB
  • Team: Detroit Lions
  • College: Oklahoma State
  • Year: 1st
  • Height: 5’8″
  • Weight: 197
  • Born: July 16, 1968 Wichita, Kansas
  • Drafted: Lions #3 1989

Front of the card

Design: The 1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 card has a clean and effective design anchored by the great portrait photo of Sanders. This card has a horizontal layout with a green border, which makes gem mint cards hard to come by. The top of the card has the Score logo and the text “1989 * Rookie.” Just below the photo on a green bar are Sanders’ name, position, and the Detroit Lions helmet. Overall I like the appearance of this card, but I wish Score had made the green bar below the photo a different color than the border.

1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 - Front
1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 – Front
Verdict: Rookie Card

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Back of the card

Design: In the late 1980s card companies started to do more design on the back of cards as a way to stand out from Topps, Donruss, and Fleer. You see that on this card because the top 40% is taken up with a 1989 Rookie graphic that features the Lions helmet. Below that we see Sanders’ name on a green bar, his position and team on a blue bar, and some biographical information and college highlights. Several logos and the card number appear along the very bottom of the card.

1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 - Back
1989 Score Barry Sanders #257 – Back

Barry, a slashing runner with marvelous balance and superb speed (40 in 4.39), was the first running back taken in the ’89 draft. As a junior at Oklahoma State in ’88, Barry won the Heisman Trophy and broke or tied 24 NCAA rushing records. Among the more spectacular were single-season marks for most yards (2,628), average per game (238.9), TDs (39), points (234), average points per game (21.27) all-purpose yards (3,250), and all purpose yards per game (2.95.5).

1989 Score Barry Sanders rookie (#257)

Barry Sanders Rookie Card Value

The Barry Sanders 1989 Score rookie card is one of the most valuable football cards 1980s. The chart below is from the popular card grading site, PSA. It shows auction prices for the Barry Sanders rookie card in various conditions.

1989 Score Barry Sanders Price Guide
1989 Score Barry Sanders Price Guide (Source: psacard.com 01/30/2022)

Keep in mind that prices fluctuate. While PSA is a great way to find out the value of a card, we recommend going to eBay to see what cards are currently selling for on the world’s most popular auction site. Click here to view current auctions for the 1989 Score Barry Sanders rookie card #257.


Other Relevant Barry Sanders Cards

The 1989 Score Barry Sanders card (#257) is my favorite Barry Sanders rookie, but it isn’t his only one. There are a couple of other major-release Sanders rookies as well as a cool regional card. I’ll also cover a couple of different versions of a second-year card that some people try to misrepresent as a rookie card.

1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T

This 1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T card is the first Topps card of Sanders that was ever made. It comes from a traded set, so it was never available in packs, but it’s still the Topps rookie. It’s an affordable Sanders rookie card, but can be valuable if graded in perfect condition. The 1990 Topps Sanders card, his first in a Topps base set, isn’t considered a rookie because there are some base set 1989 Sanders cards (Score and Pro Set). That makes this his only Topps rookie card.

1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T - Front
1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T – Front
1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T - Back
1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders #83T – Back
Verdict: Rookie Card

Shop for the 1989 Topps Traded Barry Sanders on eBay (affiliate link)


1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494

The 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 is another base-set Sanders rookie that can be purchased at a reasonable price. It’s also the only Barry Sanders rookie card that features him wearing his Oklahoma State Cowboys uniform, which makes it somewhat memorable. Although not the most expensive Sanders rookie, it can still be somewhat valuable when graded at gem mint condition.

1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 - Front
1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 – Front
1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 - Back
1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders #494 – Back
Verdict: Rookie Card

Shop for the 1989 Pro Set Barry Sanders on eBay (affiliate link)


1989 Detroit Lions Police Barry Sanders #11

The 1989 Detroit Lions Police Barry Sanders card is the most obscure, and in my opinion the most interesting, Barry Sanders rookie card. These were given out by Police officers in Detroit and Ontario. Despite being a regional issue, these aren’t all that rare because a lot of them were made. The set included 12 cards that each measure 2 5/8″ x 4 1/8″. The photo of Sanders on this card was taken at his post-draft press conference.

1989 Detroit Lions Police # 11 - Front
1989 Detroit Lions Police # 11 – Front
1989 Detroit Lions Police # 11 - Back
1989 Detroit Lions Police # 11 – Back
Verdict: Oddball Rookie Card

Shop for the 1989 Detroit Lions Police Barry Sanders card on eBay (affiliate link)


1990 Pro Set “Rookie of the Year” Barry Sanders #1

The 1990 Pro Set “Rookie of the Year” Barry Sanders #1 card isn’t a Sanders rookie, but I wanted to touch on it since it has the word “rookie” on the card. I’ve seen eBay auctions that mislabel this as a rookie, or that put a very high price on it hoping to confuse buyers. This card isn’t a rookie (or very valuable) because it was produced a year after several of the Sanders rookies including his 1989 Score, 1989 Pro Set, and 1989 Topps traded cards.

There are two variations of this card from the 1990 base Pro Set set, and another card that looks just like it on the front, but is from a different set that was made for a literacy program in Cincinnati, Ohio. All three cards have the same front, but different backs. I’ve included photos of all three backs below:

1990 Pro Set "Rookie of the Year" Barry Sanders #1 - Front
1990 Pro Set “Rookie of the Year” Barry Sanders #1 – Front
1990 Pro Set "Rookie of the Year" Barry Sanders #1 - Back (headshot version)
1990 Pro Set “Rookie of the Year” Barry Sanders #1 – Back (headshot version)
1990 Pro Set "Rookie of the Year" Barry Sanders #1 - Back (trophy version)
Trophy version of the 1990 Pro Set “Rookie of the Year” Barry Sanders #1
 1990 Pro Set FACT Cincinnati Barry Sanders #1 - Back
1990 Pro Set FACT Cincinnati Barry Sanders #1 – Back
Verdict: Not a Rookie

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Barry Sanders’s Legacy

Barry Sanders came into the NFL with high expectations after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State University and being selected third overall in the 1989 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He was known in college for having an amazing blend of speed, balance, and vision — skills that translated to the NFL and led to immediate success. Sanders rushed for 1,470 yards as a rookie in 1989 and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He followed his rookie season by leading the NFL in rushing in 1990, a feat that he did four different times over the course of his career.

Over the next several years of Sanders’ career he continued to put up incredible stats, including rushing for more than 2,000 yards and winning the league MVP award in 1997. After ten seasons Sanders was still playing at a very high level and he was poised to break the record for most rushing yards — then held by Walter Payton, but instead unexpectedly decided to retire from football. Even though he could have accomplished more, Sanders had done enough to establish himself as one of the best running backs ever.

Here are just some of Barry Sanders’ career accomplishments:

  • 1988 Heisman Trophy Award Winner
  • 1988 Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award Winner
  • 1989 Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • 2 time AP Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997)
  • 4 time Rushing Yards leader (1990, 1994, 1996, 1997)
  • 1 time Rushing TDs leader (1991)
  • 1 time Yards per Rushing Attempt leader (1994)
  • 4 time Rushing Yards per Game leader (1991, 1994, 1996, 1997)
  • 2 time Touchdowns leader (1990, 1991)
  • 2 time Yards from Scrimmage leader (1994, 1997)
  • 1 time All-Purpose Yards leader (1997)
  • 1 time AP MVP (1997)
  • 10 time Pro Bowl
  • 6 time All-Pro
  • Jersey #20 retired by Detroit Lions
  • Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004

Get a Barry Sanders Rookie for Your Collection

Do you want to own a 1989 Score Barry Sanders Rookie (#257)? If so, we recommend starting your search on eBay — the world’s #1 card trading place. Even if you’re not planning to buy one just yet, it’s fun to look at all the great cards currently for sale.


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All About Barry Sanders Rookies Infographic

Barry Sanders Rookie Cards Infographic
Barry Sanders Rookie Cards Infographic

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