Randy Johnson (True) Rookie Cards

With their pick in the 2nd Round of the 1985 MLB June Amateur Draft, the Montreal Expos selected Randy Johnson from the University of Southern California. The Big Unit has 7 true rookie cards along with 2 parallels and another 7 cards that are oftentimes viewed as rookie cards but are not!

Randy Johnson Nightmare – This Guy’s a Beast

Imagine if you will, a left-handed pitcher that can throw the ball at 102mph on demand. This same pitcher is 6’10” tall. Add to this the MLB regulation of a 10″ pitchers mound brings his height to 7’8″ respectively.

It gets better. If his long-armed swooping delivery didn’t scare you perhaps his mean-mugging death stare will do the job.

On the mound, he looked angry, he often spoke to himself, and it seemed like he wanted to take out all of his life’s frustrations on you, the batter.

Think about it, an eight-foot angry giant getting ready to throw a hard object towards you and you can’t see it! Do you understand now how he’s recorded 4,875 career strikeouts?

Career Stats & Accomplishments

According to Baseball-Reference.com Randy Johnson career stats are:

Wins 303 | Loses 166 | ERA 3.29 | Innings Pitched 4,135.1 | Strikeouts 4,875 | WAR 101.1

  • 10x All-Star
  • 5x Cy Young Winner
  • 4x ERA Title
  • 2001 World Series Champion
  • 2001 World Series MVP
  • 2002 NL Triple Crown Winner

Notable accomplishments include pitching a complete game shut out in Game 2 of the 2001 ALCS and pitched a perfect game on May 18, 2004, versus the Atlanta Braves.

Let’s look at where Randy Johnson All-Time. He ranks 2nd All-Time in Career Leaders for Strikeouts. For 22 years batters were reluctant to face him because they feared him.

Among lefties, many have placed him in between Sandy Koufax and Warren Spahn as one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game of baseball.

During his Hall of Fame Induction, Randy explains how it took him a long time to harness his talent. He spent 4 years in the Minor Leagues and when he finally got the call to the Montreal Expos roster it took him an additional two years for him to find himself.

Randy says, he had people who believed in him and attributes the success of his career as a byproduct of his teammates.

Randy Johnson 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 Donruss, #42 (RC)

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) 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 suffers from miss-cut cards, which is a common characteristic of mass-produced cards. There are no parallels in the Donruss set.


1989 Fleer, #381 (RC)

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 number 616 which is the infamous Billy Ripken error card. But “The Big Unit” Randy Johnson also has a variant rookie card that is worthy of mention here.

Just over Randy’s left shoulder is an electronic billboard that originally displayed a Marlboro Cigarette Ad. As one can imagine this was not kosher for a hobby that extended to a much younger audience. I won’t get into all the details but what ensued was several failed attempts at getting it right.

The Marlboro Ad with “green tint” ad still visible. The Marlboro Ad that was “partially blocked” and finally the Marlboro Ad that was completely “blocked out.” The variant with the actual Marlboro Ad is the hardest to find.

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


1989 O-Pee-Chee, #186 (RC)

The best way to describe this one, it is an abridged version of the ’89 Topps set, with some differences of course.

Card design at first glance mimics the American Topps version quite a bit. But I typically like to quote Rafiki from the movie Lion King when he says, “looooook haaaaaarrrder” and you will notice: the primary difference is in the number of cards in the set.

This one has 396 cards as opposed to 797 cards in the Topps set. O-Pee-Chee was the Canadian version of Topps and primarily depicted full 25 man rosters of the late Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos of course, which were former Canadian MLB franchises the other teams only had partial rosters within the set.

Three ways to tell the difference between Topps and O-Pee-Chee are, the brand is proudly displayed on the upper right-hand corner of both the front and back. O-Pee-Chee copyright on the lower backside of the card and of course English with French translation where ever applicable. There are no parallels for this set.


1989 Score, #645 (RC)

This 660 card set was distributed as a single series. The Score brand made a hobby splash as they made their very successful debut in 1988. This encore release offered collectors a not so popular design, at least that’s how I remember it.

Great photo as we see The Big Unit torquing his upper torso to release that fireball from his hand. There are no parallels.


1989 Sportflics, #224 (RC)

To have a 225 card set in 1989 was considered a small set. All other sets in this era were 2x, 3x bigger in size. Another feature that makes this set unique is the technology offered. Identified as “Magic Motion” cards because when tilted the card front displayed three different players.

While researching for this post this one really caught me by surprise. Up until a few days before this post, I did not know that Johnson had a Sportflics rookie. It made me question myself, “how did I not know that?” I whispered.

So obviously, like any legit collector, I had to go on eBay and immediately purchased one. I picked up a PSA GM-MT 10 for under $30.00 shipped! I was ecstatic! There are no parallels for this card.


1989 Topps, #647 (RC)

Topps kept it simple, not too much razzle-dazzle here just a clean, simple card design that allows us to see more of the photo. White borders outlined in a navy blue line that have a couple of rounded edges and a couple of sharp edges on the photo give it a nice touch and that all impressive team/player name swoosh is classic!

The card back gives us a good player-bio, stats and commentary but can be challenging to find gem mint copies due to the black, reddish/pink card stock. There is a Topps Tiffany parallel for this one.

This is a generational set. There are many collectors today that will tell you their favorite set is the 1989 Topps, why? Because this was the first set of cards introduced to them, and/or because of the unforgettable card design.


1989 Upper Deck, No. 25 (RC)

Upper Deck was the new kid on the block in 1989 and promised collectors quality photos, quality paper stock, quality printing, and let’s not forget the security holograms. Man! Did they deliver?

This product was second to none and lit the hobby on fire. There are many notable Hall of Fame rookies in this set including this one of Randy Johnson.


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.

Featured here top row, left to right we have 1989: Donruss Baseball’s Best, Donruss Rookies, Fleer Update, Score Rising Star. Bottom row, left to right. 1989 Score Traded, Score Young Super Stars, Topps Traded.

Why Aren’t They Rookie Cards?

Cards distributed in specialty boxed sets which are an extension or a spin-off of mainstream card sets are not considered RCs. He already has a rookie card featured in these sets and the rule of thumb is update and traded sets don’t count as true RCs if they are featured on a card in the base set.

For example. If he didn’t have the Topps #647 card then the Topps Traded would’ve been deemed the true RC but since that is not the case the Topps Traded should be identified as a “rookie year card.”

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the sacred rookie card. I get into this topic in much more detail here, History of the Rookie Card.

Watered Down Rookie Cards

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 is sure to arise that 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 is a scary thought.

The cards listed above are oftentimes referred to as “Randy Johnson 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.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy. 

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