By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor
The hobby has plenty of superstars but only a handful of icons. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of them. Rising to fame when the hobby was hitting its mainstream high, those growing up in the 1980s had plenty of opportunities to experience the thrill of pulling Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards. It starts with his 1989 Upper Deck debut, which remains a part of ’80s pop culture. But that’s not the only one. In fact, it’s far from it.
The number of Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards isn’t all that big. But when you add in the various box sets, premium offerings and food-issue cards, there’s not shortage of choices.
Once upon a time, Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards seemed like a viable investment opportunity. But something happened along the way. While the industry of sports card collecting rose to new heights in the late 1980s and early part of the ’90s, a lot was based on speculation. Lots of people entered the hobby thinking it was easy money. And with more people buying more packs, production numbers ballooned.
As popular as Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards are, they’re not immune to the basic laws of supply and demand. Other than a few exceptions, most of Junior’s early cards sell for a fraction of what they once did. If you set a stack aside for your child’s education, you’ve probably already realized this. Sadly, don’t expect to pull them out in another 25 years to help you out with retirement either.
In top condition, and certified as such, select Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards can still bring in solid numbers. Most, though, are best enjoyed for what they are rather than what they’re worth — early cards of a generational talent that sparked the imagination of many and gave baseball one its most exciting role models.
Most Valuable 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Cards
Rankings based on the Beckett Baseball online price guide.
1. 1989 Topps Heads Up Ken Griffey Jr. #5
2. 1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #220
3. 1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr. #548
4. 1989 Topps Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #41T
5. 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #1 RC
Below is a detailed look at all of the Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards. But we don’t stop there. We also delve into some of his other 1989 releases that might not be quite as well known.
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards and Beyond
1989 Bowman Ken Griffey Jr. RC #220
Part of the first set of Bowman cards in more than 30 years, Topps brought it back with slightly larger dimensions. This would be the only year they did this. Easily the cornerstone of the set, it’s still not expensive due to massive availability. Released at a time when the hobby was hitting its peak, there’s still tons of these out there lurking in packs and boxes, not to mention the singles market. That’s a common trait among most Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards.
1989 Bowman Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr. #259
And to think, that box was considered a modern style TV set at the time. Besides the regular Ken Griffey Jr. card, 1989 Bowman Baseball has a separate card picturing the young outfielder with his famous father. It’s one of four cards in the set that highlight MLB-playing fathers and sons. The Ripkens, Stottlemyres and Alomars are also included in the subset.
1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #220
Like their regular sets from the era, Topps released a special edition 1989 Bowman Tiffany factory set. These are highlighted by a glossy card stock that’s easy to feel. Card backs on the Tiffany cards are also much brighter. While the print run of 6,000 may seem like a large number by today’s standards, it is tiny for the era in which it was made. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most valuable Ken Griffey Jr. cards released during his rookie season.
1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr./Ken Griffey Sr. #259
The same slightly upscale and limited print run applies for the entire 1989 Bowman Tiffany set, including the subset cards. Still more expensive than either of the regular 1989 Bowman Ken Griffey Jr. cards, it’s much cheaper than Griffey’s solo Tiffany card.
1989 Classic Travel Orange Ken Griffey Jr. #131
Classic made a couple of different Ken Griffey Jr. cards in 1989. The 1989 Classic Travel Orange came as part of a factory set that came in a blister pack. It’s speculated that 150,000 of these sets were made, which helps to further illustrate how scarce the 1989 Bowman Tiffany Griffeys are.
1989 Classic Travel Purple Ken Griffey Jr. #193
The second “Travel Update” set from Classic in 1989, this Griffey also came in a blister pack set. Like the earlier Orange card, it’s off the radar of a lot of collectors. As a brand, Classic was never quite in the oddball territory for cards but it wasn’t exactly mainstream either. That said, with so much out there that’s easy and affordable, it doesn’t take much to go a step further with these Ken Griffey Jr. cards.
1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. RC #33
Let’s be honest. While Junior has a smile made for baseball cards, you have to capture that smile. The 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. joins Fleer, Bowman and Upper Deck as being his only mainstream pack-inserted rookie cards, but it’s all kinds of drab. The dark borders do no favors to the shadowed, smile-less photo. They also make the card susceptible to corner and edge damage. However, with the sheer number of copies that are out there, it’s still cheaper than it has been in years.
1989 Donruss Baseball’s Best Ken Griffey Jr. #192
1989 Donruss Baseball’s Best looks a lot like the brand’s regular set. However, it was sold as a box set at retail stores. As far as visuals go, Griffey looks a little more at home batting as opposed to his posed Rated Rookie card. While not as common as the main set, it’s still far from rare.
1989 Donruss The Rookies Ken Griffey Jr. #3
Donruss didn’t stop there with their 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. cards. He was also a part of the 1989 Donruss The Rookies set, the company’s version of Topps Traded. With Griffey in the flagship release, this isn’t considered to be a rookie card.
1989 Fleer Ken Griffey Jr. RC #548
This might be the only 1989 set with Ken Griffey Jr. where it’s not the most talked about card. We can thank Billy Ripken’s bat for that. As far as rookie cards go, this one is plain except for the fact of who’s on it. It’s not expensive or hard to find either.
1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr. #548
Topps wasn’t the only company to offer slightly slicker versions of their base cards in the form of a premium factory set. Fleer did the same in 1989, as they had for the previous few years. Visually, the 1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr. is the same as his main card. But to touch it, the Glossy version has the added sheen. The scarcest of the Fleer Glossy baseball sets, it’s still estimated that about 30,000 were produced. Making things tougher for those looking for top-condition cards is the fact that the Griffey is often found with rough centering.
1989 Mother’s Ken Griffey Jr.
Food-issue sets were still common in 1989. That comes into play here with a set of four Ken Griffey Jr. cards that were included in specially marked boxes of Mother’s Cookies for a limited time. The photos, which were shot by Barry Colla, show tons of personality and make for a fun oddball release. Because it’s believed to be slightly short printed, card #2 — the one where he’s holding a ball — might cost a little more.
1989 Mariners Mother’s Ken Griffey Jr. #3
Mother’s produced a fifth Ken Griffey Jr. card in 1989. Not to be confused with the four-card set dedicated to the rookie, this one was given out as part of a stadium-issue team set.
1989 Pacific Griffey Candy Bar Ken Griffey Jr. (blue, yellow and white backgrounds)
Designed to promote a Ken Griffey Jr. chocolate bar, Pacific’s first cards of the Hall of Famer come in three different versions. The only different between them is the background color: white, yellow and blue. In a bit of irony, Griffey is actually allergic to chocolate.
1989 Score Rookie/Traded Ken Griffey Jr. #100T
After failing to include him in their main release, Ken Griffey Jr. was included on the 1989 Score Rookie/Traded checklist. Like Topps Traded and Donruss The Rookies, it came as part of a box set. This particular card is one of the few from a major manufacturer to show Junior in action in 1989. That makes it stand out a little more than its value.
1989 Score Young Superstars II Ken Griffey Jr. #18
In its early years, Score had plenty of little side sets. Case in point, 1989 Score Young Superstars II, which has just 42 cards. Ken Griffey Jr. and his beautiful swing are the highlights on the checklist.
1989 Scoremasters Ken Griffey Jr. #30
Those box sets didn’t stop there. 1989 Scoremasters, which is a Score release, was available through a mail-in offer as well as hobby shops. The artistic look and colorful backgrounds have a definite Peter Max vibe to them.
1989 Star Ken Griffey Jr. (11-card set)
Like they did with a lot of players over the years, Star produced a small set dedicated to then-rookie Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989. Sold as a bagged set, the 1989 Star Ken Griffey Jr. set has 11 cards. Most feature action shots. Taken together, the backs form a short biography of sorts for the soon-to-be superstar.
1989 Topps Heads Up Ken Griffey Jr. #5
For most, this is the Holy Grail of early Ken Griffey Jr. items. Issued in very small numbers as a test issue, it’s not really a baseball card in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s a die-cut floating head of sorts intended to be stuck to a locker, window or wall. A year later, Topps gave Heads Up a full release that is much more common. You can tell the 1989 Topps Heads Up Ken Griffey Jr. by checking the copyright year on the back. Otherwise the 1990 version looks the same.
When a 1989 Topps Heads Up Ken Griffey Jr. comes up for sale, they don’t go cheap. Unlike the majority of his rookie cards, sales are measured in the hundreds and up.
1989 Topps Traded Ken Griffey Jr. #41T
You’ve heard the story before — there are lots of these out in the wild. Lots. While that’s killed values for the most part, that’s about all it hurts. The 1989 Topps Traded Ken Griffey Jr. is widely considered to be one of his most attractive early cards. Issued as part of the annual box set, it’s still easy to find.
1989 Topps Traded Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #41T
Like Bowman Tiffany, the 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. is a little nicer that its regular counterpart. That means a glossy front and a back that’s a little more crisp. As far as print runs go, it’s believed about 15,000 sets were produced. While that’s more than double that of the Bowman Tiffany set, it’s still a fraction of what most of Griffey’s other cards are.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #1
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. transcends baseball cards. It’s a legitimate piece of pop culture history and easily Griffey’s most recognizable card. How much so? Well, a middle-aged Junior recreated the look the best he could 25-years-later for a Macklemore music video.
The card helped launch Upper Deck in their debut set and, over the course of Griffey’s career, the momentum continued to build. While graded copies at the top of the scale can still bring in significant values, the card has suffered from a large supply. It’s a common story from the era. Everyone started buying cards thinking they could get rich off of them 30 or 40 years down the road. That led to massive print runs that today’s market simply can’t handle.
But don’t let that take away from the beauty and importance of Griffey’s infectious smile captured on this classic card.
Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.