The Legend of the Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card


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 much of the baseball world before he even put on a professional uniform. Once he was drafted, Griffey reported to the Class A minor league Bellingham Mariners. The following year Griffey joined 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.

As Ken Griffey Jr began his minor league career, talk began to swirl around the baseball community that The Kid was ready for the big leagues.

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 as a private company that would go into the business of producing baseball trading cards. Their idea would be to create a more expensive premium card with higher quality material, clear photos, and a hologram on each card to prevent counterfeiting.

On December 23rd, 1988, Upper Deck was granted a license by Major League Baseball to manufacture baseball cards, and immediately the biggest question for the newly formed company became clear. Who would be Upper Deck’s featured card #1 in the inaugural set for the 1989 baseball season?

One of Upper Deck’s young employees, Tom Geideman, 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 game for their number one cards. Geideman’s reason for using Griffey as the feature card was that he was a top prospect, and even though he hadn’t played in a pro game yet, it was fitting for Upper Deck to use him in their very first set.

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. 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.

Ken Griffey Jr rookie card
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card

The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr rookie 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.

Ken Griffey Jr. in his first major league at-bat, April 3rd, 1989. Facing Dave Stewart, who won 20 games the previous season and was the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Dodgers, Griffey didn’t waste any time showing the baseball world he was not just hype.

Instant Legend

Legends do things that amaze and surprise spectators, even when they are expecting 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 hat backward and attempting to copy one of the smoothest left-handed swings in baseball 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 impact The Kid was making on the game of baseball. At that time, kids wanted to “Be Like Mike” and swing like Griffey.

It was a perfect storm for the baseball card industry. The planets aligned. Card collecting was on a roll in the late 1980s, and now Upper Deck debuted their 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.

Oldsportscards.com has said about the card, “It’s importance to the hobby cannot be understated, and it’s arguable that this is the most important modern baseball card you can find.” They went on to say, “sure, there are others that are more expensive, but this card helped define an era of card collecting craziness during the late 1980s.”

Ken Griffey Jr hits his first major league home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat in the Seattle Kingdome. Like I said, Legends do legendary things even when everyone is expecting greatness.

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 were made at the height of the baseball card craze. Even the most epic, the Upper Deck Griffey rookie, was printed in huge quantities.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Upper Deck Griffey 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.

The Ken Griffey Jr Rookie card

Even when rarity is one of the most important traits of an iconic collectible, 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 rookie card. It’s the 1989 Upper Deck, and I would still say it’s one of my favorite cards of all time.