(This is Day 30 of our series on the “Best Card From” each year, 1960-1989. Read all the entries here.)
Look, we all know that the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card is the best baseball card issued that year and probably in the entire decade of the 1980s.
Heck, if there had been several million less of the cards issued, it might be the greatest card since the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle faux rookie.
But just because Junior was an all-time great and his best rookie card was the first card in the Upper Deck set that changed the hobby, that doesn’t mean you have to love said awesome rookie card.
In fact, I’ve been able to build up a level of resentment toward this card that is, if I say so myself, most impressive.
And you can get there, too, if you just follow my simple 16-step process.
But before we get started, take a good long look at the Griffey rookie:
See that radiant smile? Appreciate the goodness of the first real premium card on the market? Feel the power that the marriage of the first card of an all-time great player with the first card of an all-time great set can unleash?
Great. Remember all that, because it’s about to change.
To truly resent this card, just …
1) Become a Cincinnati Reds in the early 1980s.
2) Listen to all the old-timers tell you about how great The Big Red Machine was. If possible, these idolators should include your own father, who never liked baseball but loves you enough to support your interests and knows just enough to make you miss the Big Red past you never knew.
3) Flirt with the Chicago Cubs in 1984 … heck, they are just as close to home as the Reds and looked like they might actually do something with their lives.
4) Visit Riverfront Stadium that same summer — 1984 — and fall in love with the ethereal green Astroturf and the debilitating-sounding *pop* of Dan Driessen‘s throws during infield practice.
5) Live and die each season of the Pete Rose homecoming. The best Reds teams of your (baseball) life take the field from 1985-88 but come up empty on any sort of post-season activity, including individual hardware (except for Chris Sabo‘s 1988 Rookie of the Year award).
6) Read the scouting reports for a young player named Ken Griffey — Junior — and think that he’ll never be as good as his father, no matter what the experts say.
7) Give up hope in 1989. You’ll still root for the Reds but know they’ll never win — anything — again.
5) Resent Seattle for stealing “your” clubhouse phenom as Junior makes his Major League debut at age 19. He grew up rubbing elbows with the superstars of the 1970s Reds and their children. How could he be in the Bigs wearing any other uniform than Cincy’s?
8) Be amazed by the 1990 World Series winners even if you feel somehow detached from them. It’s not the same team that you’ve poured your soul into for more than five years.
9) Become disillusioned, then jaded, throughout the 1990s. Sure, Davey Johnson comes to town and delivers some flashes of brilliance, but then the Reds let him walk in typical Reds fashion. The bottom falls out again.
10) Resent Griffey from afar for beginning to fulfill the scouts’ predictions about him. He is becoming one of the very best players in the game and helping to make Seattle a baseball town. That’s great for the northwest and the game, but he should be doing it all in Cincinnati, if anywhere.
11) Kiss Jim Bowden’s feet (metaphorically). Somehow, the cocky young Reds general manager swings a mega-deal that will bring Griffey home, making him the LeBron of Cincinnati before anyone knows who LeBron is. Or maybe LeBron is the Junior of Cleveland.
12) Withhold judgment in 2000. At age 30, Griffey smacks 40 homers in his debut season on the Riverfront, but his peripherals slide from his days in Seattle, and he appears in just 145 games.
13) Resent Griffey up close as he gets fat and falls apart. Junior is making big bucks, especially by Cincinnati standards, and he can’t stay on the field. Conditioning seems to be part of the problem, and an increasingly sullen attitude makes it all worse.
14) Wish for a trade to send Griffey out of town. It pains you to even think, but you realize in 2003 or 2004 that the Reds would be (much) better off without Griffey and his big salary.
15) Resent Griffey from afar. After eight-plus mostly forgettable seasons, Griffey is shipped to the Chicago White Sox at the end of the 2008 season. Things are even worse for him there, but a return to Seattle in 2009 makes everyone happy and fall in love with Junior all over again. Everyone except you.
16) Resent Griffey’s Cooperstown plaque. When Griffey is inducted into the Hall of Fame, you know he’ll go in as a Seattle Mariner because Seattle is where he did his best work on the field. Heck, the Griffey you saw in Cincinnati probably wouldn’t have even sniffed enshrinement. But you can’t shake the feeling that Junior should have been even more than he was, and he should have been that more right there on the Riverfront all along.
And that’s it.
Now, look up above at that Griffey rookie again.
Doesn’t his smile feel more like a smirk?
Can you even believe he’s not wearing a Reds uniform?
Don’t you wish there weren’t 40 billion of these cards out there, slapping you in the face everywhere you turn?
Yeah, me too.