Will Seippel | March 9, 2023

Baseball has been and will always be known as America’s pastime sport. Those of us who grew up playing baseball fell in love with the crack of the ball as it met the bat and the smell of a brand-new leather glove. As the sport developed, so did we. Now, as adults, we pass down our love for the game to our children and unravel a more sophisticated perspective on the sport.

If you’re anything like me, your adolescent trading card collection has transpired into a young child’s dream to include balls, bats, jerseys, and more. In the same way that children want to share their trinkets, I could no longer keep one of my favorite treasures hidden away in its case.

The Rainbow Jersey

Nolan Ryan, i.e., the “Ryan Express,” is arguably one of the most legendary pitchers in Major League Baseball history. This jersey of his in my collection is a personal favorite, tracing back to Ryan’s time playing for the Houston Astros during the era of the team’s “rainbow uniforms.” While the jersey is not old enough to be flannel, it is game-used. Looking at the coloring, it is not as aesthetically pleasing as the baseball jerseys we see today. I refer to this as the “ugly jersey era” because it features the modernist shades of the late 1960s and early ’70s. 

Ironically, the jersey’s unique coloring contributes to its desirability as one of Ryan’s more sought-after memorabilia items. I had to smile to myself when the Astros enshrined Ryan back in the ’90s, and they didn’t have an authentic uniform of his to include in his deal down at the Houston Astrodome. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Astros personnel who had tucked away the uniform for prosperity, but I am still trying to get my hands on one of Cal Ripken’s game-used jerseys.

What Are Early Baseball Jerseys Worth?

Early baseball uniforms are a treasure of the past. These jerseys were made from either a cotton-wool blend or entirely wool flannel, and the players received three or four jerseys for the entire season. We can see how the quality of the fabric, game usage, and team popularity affect the item’s value.

Nolan Ryan Houston Astros baseball jersey
One lucky collector received this Nolan Ryan baseball jersey for $15,600 in 2018. MEARS Authentications gave it a perfect A10 grade because of its quality.
Photo courtesy: WorthPoint

According to WorthPoint®, Goldin Auctions sold a similar 1982 Nolan Ryan game-used Astros home jersey in 2018 for $15,600. On the other hand, a 1992 game-used Texas Rangers uniform only sold for $9,820 in 2019. This price difference is likely because of Ryan’s high recognition as an Astros player, as he helped lead them to the postseason for the first three times in the franchise’s history. During his twenty-seven-year career, he remained with the Astros the longest, between 1980 and 1988.

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Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.