Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Cards

Griffey Capsule 2019

Along with his jaw-dropping career achievements The Kid was a cultural icon, known for his silky-smooth swing, big smile and backward ball cap Ken Griffey Jr has left his mark in the game of baseball as one of the All-Time Greats!

Griffey played for the Seattle Mariners between 1989-1999, the Cincinnati Reds between 2000-2008, traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008 and back home to Seattle to cap off his career in 2009-2010. He played for a total of 22 years and his career achievements are staggering: He is a 13x All-Star, 7x Silver Slugger Award, 10x Gold Glove Award and the 1997 AL MVP.

His defensive skills in center field were second to none, he was the standard by which all other center fielders were measured. I had the privilege of watching Griffey’s entire career and I must say for his era of baseball he was the greatest baseball player in the game and arguably the greatest ever.

When he was voted into the HOF he received a record 99.32 percent of the vote which broke Tom Seaver’s record of 98.84 percent.

Career Stats: Batting Average .284 | Home Runs 630 | Hits 2,781

Ken Griffey Jr’s most iconic baseball card is his 1989 Upper Deck Rookie Card (pictured below). This is his most attractive and beloved rookie card among collectors. It’s not only popular for a great photo but this was the debut set of Upper Deck.

Upper Deck was the new card manufacturer on the block and promoted quality photos, quality paper stock, and quality printing. Griffey Jr. featured as card No.1 in the 800 card set was a roll of the dice. In 1989 card manufacturers would all debut a rookie subset and that year everyone was highlighting Mets prospect Gregg Jefferies.

But Upper Deck had a young employee by the name of Tom Geideman and he had a hunch about Griffey Jr. and recommended to put Griffey Jr. as the front running prospect for its debut set, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This baseball card is viewed by many as a modern-day Mickey Mantle card and its desirability among collectors does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As many Millenials and Generation X’ers return to the hobby this is one of the first cards they set their sights on. Also, on the 20th anniversary of the card’s release, Sports Illustrated called it, “The Last Iconic Baseball Card.”



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1989 Bowman, Card #220

1989 Bowman can be considered Bowman’s premier set but its more of an awakening. Bowman is no newbie to the hobby. During World War II there were no sports cards produced until after the war. The first release was the 1948 Bowman, they continued to produce cards until 1955 when Bowman conceded to their own war against rival Topps Co. Bowman’s 1989 awakening, as I like to call it, was this 484 card set.

It’s a bit bigger than the traditional 2.5″ X 3.5″ size. These cards measure 2.5″ X 3.75″ and are made to resemble the 1953 Bowman set. Griffey Jr. is the key card in the set. Topps also produced the 1989 Bowman Tiffany which parallels this Bowman set entirely. It was sold at Hobby shops in boxed set form.

1989 Donruss, Card #33

This 660 card set is one of my favorite sets printed in 1989. What impressed me most was card design, they really did something special with the borders on the front of these cards. The border sides are a gun-metal black, the top and bottom borders are a dual-colored gradient fill. Stamped on the front is the “Rated Rookie” logo the hobby has grown to love.

A couple of things that hurt this set: 1) is print runs. Decisions made by Donruss caused many cards to be DP meaning Double Printed. Trends of the day already produced high print runs and to double print is borderline irresponsible. 2) Also, this year’s offering of Donruss also suffers from miss-cut cards, which is a common characteristic of cards that were mass-produced. There are no parallels in the Donruss set.

1989 Fleer, Card #548

The depressing gray / pin-stripe design appears to be a card design for the State Penitentiary. Nonetheless, it is an official rookie card of a Hall of Fame ballplayer. The set has a way of growing on you over the years. Especially, with all the history this set has within the hobby, how can you not appreciate all that it offers to collectors.

This set offers many rookie cards of Hall of Famers. And it also features card #616 which is the infamous Billy Ripken error card. And don’t forget about the multiple Randy Johnson variant rookie cards due to a miscue in printing production over a Marlboro Cigarettes Ad. Of course, one of the most popular Griffey Jr rookie cards. 100% nostalgia.

There is one parallel to this one. Fleer Glossy, sold in factory set form via Hobby Shops and QVC.

1989 Score Rookie Traded, Card #101T

This 110 card set was available through hobby dealers only. Technically, it shouldn’t even be considered as an RC because this type of distribution does not qualify. However, exceptions are made when the mainstream product line, in this case, Score did not include Griffey Jr in its base set so they included him in the rookie/traded set and now it qualifies.

Not much to be said about this one except not very popular among collectors, I can’t speak for everybody but for me, it’s always been the gosh-awful colors used in the design. Green, plum and hot pink!? Really?

1989 Topps Traded, Card #41T

This 132 card set was also available through hobby dealers only. The set was an exact design to the 89 Topps set that year. However, Griffey Jr was not included in the base set so they added him to this Traded set and now it qualifies as a true RC.

Yet another upper torso photo of Griffey Jr., this one is a collector favorite mainly because it’s a Topps product but also for its clean design like only Topps can deliver. There is a Topps Traded Tiffany set that was sold at Hobby shops in factory set form.

1989 Upper Deck, Card #1

Upper Deck was the new kid on the block in 1989 and promoted quality photos, quality paper stock and quality printing and man did they deliver. This product was second to none and lit the hobby on fire. Many notable Hall of Fame rookies in this set including one of our featured headliners.



A concern that I have deals with the misrepresentation of the term “rookie card.” Today, it seems to be used very flippantly. There is lots of confusion amongst collectors and whenever the topic is brought up a debate may arise or worse yet the resolution may turn to a “whatever” mindset. Meaning, every collector has his or her own opinion of what an RC is and that’s okay. This a scary thought.

The cards listed below are oftentimes referred to as “Ken Griffey Jr. RCs” but legally, officially, and logically they are not. The reasons are simple. For decades the hobby has had criteria that were used to determine true RCs.

Some of these criteria say, 1) a product must be distributed in a mainstream manner when released. Regional sets may be desired by some collectors but the industry doesn’t include those because of the limited distribution.

Also, 2) cards from unlicensed manufacturers depicting players in minor league uniforms shall not be considered an RC. Example: Just, Classic, Pro Cards, or cards sponsored by a product such as Post, Coca Cola, Hostess, etc.

And finally, 3) cards distributed in specialty boxed sets which are an extension or a spin-off of a mainstream set are not considered RCs. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the sacred rookie card. I get into this topic in a three-part series under the Keeping It Real category. The first of three posts can be found here, Understanding the Complexities of the Rookie Card.

Happy Collecting, Collectors

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Ken Griffey Jr Stats | (accessed December 14, 2016)
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