There’s a certain mystique to the Ken Griffey Jr rookie card that’s difficult to explain. If you are of a certain age, you know the status of this card because you were there when it hit the scene. You were there when ‘he’ hit the scene. The Kid – Ken Griffey Jr.
As the number one draft pick in 1987 by the Seattle Mariners, Ken Griffey Jr. was on the radar of the entire baseball world before even putting on a professional uniform.
Once he was drafted, Griffey reported to the Class A minor league Bellingham Mariners.
The following year Griffey remained in the minor leagues, but this time with the class AA Vermont Mariners.
Speculation started to swirl that “The Kid” would report to the big leagues for the start of the 1989 season.
Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card
Just around the same time, Griffey Jr’s class AA Eastern League Vermont Mariners season ended in 1988, the Upper Deck Company, LLC was founded.
Upper Deck was a private company entering the business of producing baseball trading cards. The timing was perfect.
Their goal was to create an expensive premium card with higher quality material, clear photos, and a hologram on each card to prevent counterfeiting.
Back in 1989, Upper Deck card packs were a mind-blowing $1 each for just 15 cards per pack. So they knew they had to deliver something new and exciting.
On December 23rd, 1988, Upper Deck was granted a license by Major League Baseball to manufacture baseball cards. Immediately, the biggest question for the newly formed company became clear.
Who would be the Upper Deck baseball card inaugural set, featured card #1, for the 1989 baseball season?
Tom Geideman Connects with Griffey
One of Upper Deck’s young employees, Tom Geideman, only a freshman at UC-San Bernardino, suggested using Griffey as a possible choice for the number-one card.
Historically, the famous Topps baseball card brand would feature the biggest stars in the MLB for their number one cards.
The Upper Deck Star is Born
Geideman’s reason for using Griffey as the feature card was that he was a top prospect.
Even though he hadn’t played in a pro game yet, it was fitting for Upper Deck to use him in the company’s first card set. A rookie ballplayer, a rookie employee, and a rookie baseball card company.
It makes perfect sense. As Upper Deck’s employee No. 1, Geideman selected the player featured as card No. 1. What would soon be known as “The Griffey Card.”
The photo used for the card was a smiling Griffey in his San Bernardino Spirit uniform from the Minors of the California League.
Geideman called V.J. Lovero, a contracted photographer for Upper Deck. Lovero supplied a few pictures of Griffey from a Sports Illustrated shoot, and Geideman decided on one photo which stood out above the rest.
The only problem was the photo didn’t feature Griffey in a Seattle Mariners uniform, it was Griffey in his minor league uniform.
The Famous Griffey Upper Deck Photo
Geideman sent the photo to the Scitex machine, an ultra-expensive photoshop machine before software took over the world. Upper Deck changed the “S” color on the hat from silver to yellow.
Griffey’s navy turtleneck remained, but the color of the cap was changed from navy to royal blue. The photo was complete and sent to the printing press, where an estimated 2 million Ken Griffey Jr. cards would be created.
There were other suggestions for the 1989 Upper Deck number one card. Griffey Jr., along with Gregg Jefferies, Gary Sheffield, and Sandy Alomar Jr., were the other considerations.
Griffey Goes to Number 1
Geideman, who was a Seattle Mariners fan, decided it was Griffey who would be the featured card number one in the very first 1989 Upper Deck set.
Working at Upper Deck was Geideman’s first job, but the new kid hit one out of the park with his Griffey pick for Upper Deck’s first card.
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card was a smash hit. Its fresh premium card was something never seen before. And the groundbreaking Upper Deck card company was the least of the reasons the card was on absolute fire.
Ken Griffey Jr. hit the major league scene as a true legend would. His very first at-bat in the major leagues against Dave Stewart, he ripped a double off the wall at the Oakland Coliseum.
Instant Legend on the Field
Legends do things that amaze and surprise spectators, even when they expect greatness. In April of 1989, “The Kid” Ken Griffey Jr. appeared before our very eyes, and he was an instant favorite among virtually every baseball fan.
Youngsters especially took to his mannerisms, spinning their hats backward and attempting to copy one of the smoothest left-handed swings in MLB history.
His constant smile and easy-going persona, along with his amazing feats on the baseball diamond, made Griffey one of the most popular athletes in the world almost instantly.
It’s hard to describe how huge of an impact The Kid was making on the game of baseball. At that time, kids wanted to “Be Like Mike” and swing like Griffey.
Griffey the Superstar
After winning the home run derby in 1994, Griffey’s star power went sky-high. Over the next couple of years, he continued to amaze baseball fans with his athleticism in the outfield and power at the plate.
Even with homerun sluggers like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds growing in popularity, Griffey was on another level.
After winning the Home Run Derby in back-to-back years in 1998 and 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. became the only player to win the event three times.
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez became superstars in the 2000s, but the 1990s belonged to Griffey.
Instant Classic Baseball Card
It was a perfect storm for the baseball card industry, sports cards, and sports memorabilia. The planets aligned.
Card collecting was on a roll in the late 1980s, and now Upper Deck debuted its first year of groundbreaking fresh cards with one of the brightest stars to play the game as their feature card #1.
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr rookie card was on every kid’s wish list.
How Much is a Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card Worth?
Unlike Upper Deck, most baseball card producers waited until their 1990 sets to print Ken Griffey Jr rookie cards after he was already a major superstar.
Therefore, the number of Griffey rookie cards in various makes and models is huge.
Over 130 Ken Griffey Jr rookie cards from various brands were made at the height of the baseball card craze. Even the most epic, the Upper Deck Griffey rookie, was printed in huge quantities.
Huge Quantities? Who Cares?
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Upper Deck baseball rookie card is worthless.
Huge production numbers of the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey rookie can’t keep the iconic card from reaching thousands of dollars per sale on eBay recently.
Some rumors confirm a print run of over 1 million of each base card for the 1989 Upper Deck set.
In perfect condition, PSA GEM mint 10 cards are currently selling for over $2,000. A Beckett BCCG Griffey Upper Deck rookie with a 10 grade is valued at $4,000.
But even in excellent and near-mint condition, you can buy non-rated cards for under 50 dollars.
If you love this card, the best move might be to consider a top-condition, unrated Junior rookie card for your collection. Or, another idea. Drop down to a PSA 8-graded NM-MT Griffey rookie and values are just 60 bucks.
Even when rarity is one of the most important traits of iconic baseball cards, I’m going to make an exception here. Even if everyone owns a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr rookie card, which very well could be the case, there really is only one Ken Griffey Jr star rookie card.
It’s the 1989 Upper Deck, and I would still say it’s one of my favorite cards of all time.
From Rookie Card to Hall of Fame
As a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the greatest players to ever play center field, Griffey’s career is loaded with incredible stats, records, and highlights. He has the seventh-most MLB career home runs with 630.
He was his team’s number-one overall pick and didn’t look back. Now, a member of the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
The Kid was a 13-time All-Star and voted first-ballot HOF, with 99.3% of eligible votes.
From his high school years as a future phenom to his All-Star rookie season to his retirement as a Hall of Famer, the baseball card business may never see anything like “The Kid” again.
Other Griffey Rookies
There are minor league cards that can be worth good money, and others are virtually worthless. The 1987 Bellingham Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. baseball cards are some of my favorite minor league rookie cards.
A BGS 9-rated card sells on Amazon for just over $400. eBay shows a BGS 9.5 rated Bellingham Mariners Griffey rookie card selling for $1,200.
Nearly every baseball card shop in the country featured Ken Griffey rookie cards as their premier merchandise in the early 1990s.
Other than the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card, I can’t remember a more prominent card at the time.
The Best Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card is one of the most important sports cards in the hobby.
But if you’re wondering what other Griffey star rookies are out there, look no further. There’s a boatload of alternatives to the Griffey Upper Deck rookie card.
Remember, this was during the card-collecting boom of the late 1980s. Nearly every manufacturer had multiple series and sets for each year. This means there are dozens of Griffey rookie cards to collect.
Ken Griffey Jr Baseball Card Values
You don’t need to have a Ken Griffey Junior Upper Deck rookie. There are plenty of other options. Some Griffey junior rookie cards below in pristine condition are valued in the thousands of dollars.
Many others can be had for a reasonable price. Even if you don’t have much money to spend, you can still add great Griffey rookies to your collection.
1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card – $13,000
The most valuable Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card is the 1989 Bowman Tiffany #220. At nearly $13,000, what makes this card special is the extra large size, and the extremely low print runs. PSA reports a population of only 156 PSA 10 graded cards.
1989 Topps Heads Up Test – $9,000
With only one single PSA 9 graded card, and zero PSA 10 cards, the Topps Heads Up is the second most valuable Ken Griffey Jr. card out there.
1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card – $3,500
1989 Ken Griffey Jr Topps Traded Tiffany Rookie
You can’t possibly forget about another valuable Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, the Topps Tiffany Traded from 1989.
1989 Ken Griffey Jr SCD Baseball Pocket Guide #3
1989 Phoenix Collect The Stars Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card
1989 Baseball Card Magazine Repli-Cards
1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card
The 1989 Ken Griffey Jr Donruss Rated Rookie card value has steadily increased over the last few decades. Recently, there’s been renewed interest in the card, especially for the PSA 10 graded card.
Values for the 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. Rated Rookie card range from $400 – $500 for the GEM Mint PSA 10, while the PSA 9 card is valued at $30.
The population of graded 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. RC rookie cards is exceptionally high. Nearly 2,000 PSA 10s and over 11,000 PSA 9 cards have been graded by PSA alone, not including the other card rating companies such as BGS and SGC.
1989 Topps MLB Debut Ken Griffey Jr Rookie
1988 San Bernardino Spirit Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card
1989 Classic Travel Purple Ken Griffey Jr.
1989 Bowman Tiffany #259 Griffey Father-Son
Just four cards were printed featuring father-son major leaguers on the 1989 Bowman cards. Griffey Jr, along with his Dad, Ken Griffey Sr, was one of the Bowman cards.
Others were the Ripken father-sons duo, Sandy and Roberto Alomar, and Todd & Mel Stottlemyer.
1989 Donruss The Rookies Griffey
1989 Star Ken Griffey Jr. Yellow Border Promo
1989 Fleer #548 Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card
2017 Topps Chrome Ken Griffey Jr.
2015 Panini Immaculate Ken Griffey Jr. Dual Materials
Most Valuable 1990 Donruss Baseball Cards
While it’s not his rookie card, the 1990 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. is my favorite from this set. It’s also the most valuable.
The 1990 Donruss was about as massively produced as any set out there. The sports card printers were running full-speed at this point in time, but the ’90 Griffey Donruss remains a great card.
READ MORE on the card-collecting craze of the 1980s –
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1986 Topps Baseball Cards and the Start of an Era
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