When Upper Deck was putting together the checklist for their inaugural set back in 1989, they decided to grease the skids on their entry into the hobby by slotting the Ken Griffey Jr., rookie card at card #1.
After all, Junior had the pedigree — as Ken Griffey Sr.’s, son — the advance scouting reports, and the minor league track record to make him a hot hobby name before he ever stepped foot on a Major League Baseball diamond.
When Junior broke camp with the Seattle Mariners that spring, the hype only intensified.
And, by the time he finished up a strong first season that included 16 home runs, 61 RBI, and 16 stolen bases, his rookie cards had moved to the front of the hobby hot line and never looked back.
Right from the beginning, that UD Junior RC stood above the rest, but collectors were thrilled to pull Fleer, Donruss, and Bowman Griffey’s from wax packs that summer, too.
We’d have to wait until the fall to get our first shot of The Kid from Score and Topps, courtesy of those companies’ year-end traded sets.
And, about the same time those holiday treats hit the hobby, eagle-eyed collectors spotted yet another Griffey rookie card.
See, back in those days, Baseball Cards Magazine produced a series of “repli-cards” most years, mimicking a classic card design from the past. For 1989, Baseball Cards put together a set of 72 cards paying homage to the 1959 Topps set but featuring players who were active in 1989.
Issued in two conjoined panels of three cards each (six cards total) in each monthly issue, the set grouped players by position — January featured six star first basemen, for example.
In November, with the positions exhausted, Baseball Cards featured six rookies, done in red-white-and-blue style of 1959 Topps ‘The Sporting News Rookie Stars of 1959.’
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The Baseball Cards rookie checklist contained the biggest first-year players of the day:
- Ken Griffey, Jr.
- Jim Abbott
- Jerome Walton
- Tom Gordon
- Junior Felix
- Jaime Navarro
While all of those players had their days in the sun, Griffey of course remains the big name all these years later.
Today, you can still find this Junior rookie card as part of a full panel, or as a hand-cut single.
As of March 2021, PSA had graded 128 of the hand-cut Griffey repli-cards, with PSA 9 and PSA 10 being the most common grades.
PSA 9 copies of this oddball Griffey RC sell for more than $150, while copies in PSA 10 can bring more than $800 according the the PSA Auction Prices Realized tool.
All in all, a fun addition to the rookie card portfolio of one of the greatest players of all time.
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