Original 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. RC Polaroid Sells for Almost $14,000

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Anyone can have a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card. But how about an original photo that was part of the foundation for the card? The Polaroid, which was used as a basis for one of the most iconic cards of all-time, sold at auction on May 19 for nearly $14,000.

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr Polaroid

Including the buyer’s premium, the final price came in at $13,887.60. The sale was through Memory Lane Inc.’s Spring Fever Auction 2018.

The pose and beaming smile on the head shot are recognizable in the photo. But there’s a big difference that jumps out faster than one of those “What’s Wrong?” puzzles at the back of a Highlights magazine. The Polaroid was taken when the first overall pick from the 1987 draft was a member of the San Bernadino Spirits. Of course, the final card, which kicked off Upper Deck’s first set of baseball cards, has Griffey in a Mariners cap and uniform.

It was through a little pre-Photoshop magic that the change was able to happen.

Prior to the Memory Lane sale, the Polaroid had two previous owners. It started with Tom Geideman, the man responsible for making Griffey #1 on the checklist. From Geideman, the photo went to Jay McCracken, the consignor from this sale.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks or by email.

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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16 comments

  1. Joseph 21 May, 2018 at 21:01

    It being “shopped” kind of kills some of the mystique for me. I didn’t realize they were doing that stuff to cards as far back as the late 80s.

  2. Sal Barry 21 May, 2018 at 22:14

    Ryan,

    This is a cool story. But is this really the photo that was used for Griffey’s baseball card? Or is it a photo of a photo, meaning a Polaroid of the original?

    The reason I suspect this is that the Griffey card shows more of the bat, part of his hand and the pendant hanging from the chain. But the Polaroid photo does not. I know that Upper Deck digitally altered the hat to change the logo, but I doubt they would have also added more bat, part of his hand, the pendant — basically the lower 20% of the photograph.

    Also, on the Polaroid, notice the white specs on Griffey’s right temple and left corner of his mouth. That appears to be dust that would have been on a negative when a print was made of it, and not on a Polaroid.

    Plus, any photographer worth his salt would have used a standard SLR camera, and not a Polaroid or instant camera for a professional photograph of a baseball player.

    I think that the Griffey picture was originally taken with a regular SLR camera, and that a print — perhaps 8″ x 10″ — was made from a negative. That print was then photographed with a Polaroid camera for one reason or another.

    So I really don’t think that this was the original photo. An old photo, sure…but a photo of a photo, if that makes sense :)

    Sal Barry

    • Ryan Cracknell 21 May, 2018 at 23:26

      @Sal — The description states pretty strongly that it was the actual photo. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure if it was the only one. My understanding of Polaroids is that they’re not the best quality to begin with. But the way it’s explained and the provenance, I have no doubt it played a role in the making and history of the card. A talk with the original owner could probably shed more light on the extent it was used, whether that’s the whole thing or part.

  3. Jeremy 22 May, 2018 at 02:00

    Jay McCracken was a big wig at The Upper Deck from its inception if I remember correctly. Met him a few times at card shows when they were first getting ready to launch. Makes since he would have possession of the photo and be original.

  4. Scott F 22 May, 2018 at 16:50

    @Sal is 100% correct. That photo above is a print. It’s cropped too small to be the actual photo UD used to make the card. Did the auction come with a negative?

  5. Paul Angilly 22 May, 2018 at 20:28

    I’m with Sal. As someone who works in the printing business, including printing photos, I don’t see the baseball card coming from this Polaroid. I agree, this must have been a picture of the original picture.

    Plus, according to an early story right here at Beckett.com: “Sports Illustrated photographer V.J. Lovero was on assignment to capture Ken Griffey Sr. on a day off and was able to add Junior in the shoot.”

    Then there’s this, from an ESPN story:
    “Geideman called V.J. Lovero, a West Coast baseball photographer for Sports Illustrated and a contractor for Upper Deck. Lovero happened to take pictures of Griffey in San Bernardino that season for an SI story.
    A picture was found with a smiling Griffey in his San Bernardino Spirit uniform, and Geideman decided this would be the picture to take to the Scitex, a $1 million machine that essentially did what Photoshop would do in the future.
    The “S” on the cap was changed from silver to yellow, and the star behind it was removed. The color of the cap was changed from navy blue to the Mariners’ royal blue, but Griffey’s navy turtleneck wasn’t lightened to match it.”

    I can’t imagine an SI photographer using Polaroids on assignment, so I can’t believe this is really the original photo.

  6. St. Willis Williams 22 May, 2018 at 22:15

    I think an actual “news”-worthy story has been stumbled upon here… I’d like to hear more on the investigation into the validity of this …
    polaroid? Huh? How do they turn a polaroid into a reprintable color card image back then anyways?… Where’s the negative? Surely it wasn’t processed into a.polaroid. lol.
    Thats.just. absurd.
    The headline of this article was the first seemingly obvious clue that some dubious sort of underhanded manipulation of the truth as foul as any Ive witnessed since I saw that old devil Winston Hancock himself send two innocent men to prison for life over a thieving murder he committed.
    Their innocence was as obvious as the cropping inconsistencies with the given story.

    I.just want justice for Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy and for whoever got fooled into paying 14k for this

  7. Tom Geideman 23 May, 2018 at 00:46

    Sal,

    You’re extremely astute. This Polaroid was taken by me using a small machine that took Polaroid images of actual slides. This Polaroid was taken of the original unaltered slide that was used for the ’89 Griffey rookie card image. Since the Polaroid film was a different size than the actual slide (I believe using Fuji flim) the bottom portion of the actual image isn’t included in the Polaroid (flim being more rectangular and the Polaroid more squarish). The full image that was used on the Griffey Jr. rookie card was pretty much cropped by the photographer (VJ Lovero) in his lens and little, if any, alteration to the dimensions was done at Upper Deck. A little known fact about the Griffey rookie card, they were supposed to Scitex (the name of the machine that did the color corrections and ‘photoshop’ work) the turtleneck to royal blue as well since it makes zero sense he’d be wearing a navy blue turtle neck under a royal blue and yellow ‘home white’ Mariners jersey.

    If you look closely at the “S” on the cap of the rookie card you’ll notice it doesn’t have the drop yellow ‘drop shadow’ effect that the 1988 Mariners logos had. That’s because the “S” from the San Bernardino Spirit (Class A California League, the uniform Griffey is wearing in the actual image) had just a plain “S” of roughly the same look as the Mariners’ “S” in silver over a red star on a navy cap. The color corrections/alterations only changed the red star and navy cap both to royal blue and the silver “S” to yellow.

  8. Scott F 23 May, 2018 at 14:25

    So the photo seen above was NOT actually used to make the card, correct? The card was made from a slide/negative. And the photo above is a cropped type 1 print made from that slide.

    Looking at the auction listing it says “The original Polaroid used in the making of the Ken Griffey Card”. That doesn’t appear to be true.

  9. Eddie P 23 May, 2018 at 17:14

    I agree the auction house seems to misrepresent the true nature of the photo as it seems the polaroid had no role in making the card. However, Its not clear if this would be considered a Type I (original negative, original era) or type III (duplicate photo, original era) I wonder if Tom Geideman can shed light on this, as this would have a significant impact on the value of the photo.

  10. Paul Angilly 23 May, 2018 at 20:43

    Tom – Thanks for posting with the inside look at the real history. Just curious – how were these Polaroids used? Was it just meant as a personal souvenir, or was there a purpose behind it?

    I think this is definitely a buyer beware kind of situation – even with the provenance, there should have been some serious red flags about this photo being the actual copy used to make the card.

  11. Sal Barry 24 May, 2018 at 00:57

    @ Tom Geideman – thank you for your compliment.

    @Scott F. – you are right…the auction is misleading.

    I wonder if the buyer really thought that this was THE picture that was somehow the basis of the Griffey Jr. card.

    Then again, anyone who spends more than 5 seconds looking at the way the Polaroid is cropped would probably come to the same conclusion we all did before Mr. Geideman enlightened us. So, maybe the buyer knew what he was getting after all.

  12. Scott F 26 May, 2018 at 12:16

    @Sal – As soon as I saw the photo, and before I read your comment, I was saying to myself that it was not the original photo/print used to make the card. It’s pretty obvious. But the description is very misleading. Purposely misleading? I don’t know.

    It’s a neat item and is definitely worth something, but would it have sold for $14K if it was described honestly? I don’t collect Griffey so I can’t say, but if it was a similar situation with a Mariano Rivera card/photo I would have been asking all kinds of questions before I bid and would not have paid a premium for a print/copy, which it appears this photo is.

  13. Jay McCracken 15 June, 2018 at 21:51

    My understanding is that there were several polaroids and Tom gave me one of them back in ’88 or ’89, That would explain the slight differences as someone using a polaroid will never be able to take two exactly the same unless the camera was on a tripod. The original in the auction is a really a “one of one” – no others exist today……..Jay

  14. Sally Johnson 9 July, 2018 at 10:21

    I have a box of the official complete set 484 cards. The 1989 baseball comeback edition never been opened with Ken Griffey Jr on the front. Whats the best way to sell this?

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