Ken Griffey Jr (True) Rookie Cards

With the 1st Overall Pick in the 1st Round of the 1987 MLB June Amateur Draft, the Seattle Mariners selected Ken Griffey Jr. from Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, OH. Ken Griffey Jr has six true rookie cards, and two rookie parallels.

The Legend of Ken Griffey Jr

Jr. was raised by players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez because his father Ken Griffey Sr was an important piece to The Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s.

Dad didn’t care about his son watching him play baseball, he cared about quality time, and made Griffey Jr a part of the everyday operations in the clubhouse.

In hindsight, it makes perfect sense.

A player that appeared so relaxed with the game of baseball, who had so much fun with it, and played it with such ease and dominance. Had to be a player that was born and raised into it.

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 legends!

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 Ken Griffey Jr 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.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

Ken Griffey Jr. played in the MLB for 22 years. He played for 13 years with the Seattle Mariners, 9 years with Cincinnati Reds, and a 1-year stint with the White Sox.

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

According to Baseball-Reference.com Ken Griffey Jr career stats are:

Games 2,671 | Hits 2,781 | Home Runs 630 | Batting Average .284 | Runs Batted In 1,836

Accomplishments:

  • 13x All-Star
  • 10x Gold Glove
  • 7x Silver Slugger
  • 1992 All-Star MVP
  • 1997 AL MVP
  • 1997 ML Player of the Year
  • 2005 Comeback Player of the Year
  • 2016 Hall of Fame Induction

The Story of the Iconic 1989 Upper Deck RC

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 Gerdeman.

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.”

Ken Griffey Jr True Rookie Cards

Before We Begin

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True Rookie Card

Identifier (RC) Defined

A rookie card is a trading card that is the first to feature an athlete AFTER that athlete has participated in the highest level of competition within his or her respected sport. It must be licensed by both the League and the Players Association. An RC identifier is only given to cards that fit this criteria. Below is an exhaustive list of the featured players true rookie cards.

1989 Bowman, #220 (RC)

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1989 Bowman can be considered Bowman’s premier set but it’s 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 .25 of an inch taller than the standard size.

Card design is made to resemble the 1953 Bowman Color set.

There is one parallel, the 1989 Bowman Tiffany which parallels this Bowman set entirely. It was sold at Hobby shops in boxed set form.


1989 Donruss, #33 (RC)

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This 660 card set is one of my favorite sets printed in 1989.

What impressed me most was the 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 are:

1) 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) Miss-Cuts – this year’s offering of Donruss suffered 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, #548 (RC)

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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.

Let’s not forget about the multiple Randy Johnson Rookie Card variants due to a miscue in printing production over a Marlboro Cigarettes Ad.

I digress, let’s not forget about our featured Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. 100% nostalgia here.

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


1989 Score Rookie Traded, #100T (RC)

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This 110 boxed 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 were 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, #41T (RC)

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This 132 card extended 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.

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 one parallel, Topps Traded Tiffany was sold at Hobby shops in factory set form.


1989 Upper Deck, #1 (RC)

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Upper Deck was the new kid on the block in 1989 and promoted quality photos, quality paper stock, 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 this one, the most iconic card in the modern era.

You can read more about the story of this iconic rookie card above.


Ken Griffey Jr Rookie-Year Cards

Rookie-Year Card

Identifier (RYC) Defined

An RYC identifier is given to the cards of a rookie player that: are not the first card featured in the base set, subset cards, insert cards, print on-demand cards, food and beverage issues, or cards that are not properly licensed by the League and the Players Association.

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 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 above 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, A) a product must be distributed Nationally in pack form.

Regional sets may be desired by some collectors but the industry doesn’t include those because of the limited distribution.

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

Finally, C) cards distributed in specialty boxed sets that 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 much more detail in my article The 10 Commandments of the Rookie Card.


Ken Griffey Jr Pre-Rookie Cards

Pre-Rookie Card

Identifier (PRC) Defined

A PRC identifier is given to cards that feature an athlete BEFORE they’ve participated at the pro level or prior to the designated rookie card release year. These cards are often labeled as minor league cards, prospect, cards, draft pick cards, collegiate cards, etc.

As it sounds, pre-rookie cards are exactly that. Cards that were released before a players debut at the top level in their sport.

Here’s a common error that has evolved over the last couple of decades. Many hobby enthusiast are confused on what is and is not a rookie card. They’ve heard rumblings, debates, but when it comes to clarity, nothing. No one is teaching and all we’ve got is muddy water.

You see the misconception with Ken Griffey Jr is all cards between 1987-1990 are all rookie cards. Friends, they are not. The reason this assumption is made is because of one of three reasons: 1) we are either ignorant, 2) uncertain, or 3) we have a blatant disregard for what is and is not a true RC typically due to personal agendas.

Now I’m not saying, these cards are not cool to own, don’t get them because they have no value. On the contrary! They are fantastic cards to own and they definitely have value but what I am saying is let’s call them what they are and not what we want them to be.

My hope is this information would be helpful to you. This way you can make informed purchases.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.

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