If you’ve ever wondered what hobby royalty looks like, you can scroll back just a few years (what do you mean 30?) and stop right there at 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards.

That set stands at the far right end of a hobby timeline punctuated by sets that changed the world forever …

1909-11 T206 … 1933 Goudey … 1952 Topps … 1981 Fleer … 1984 Donruss … … … 1989 Upper Deck

And to the right of that? I can’t really think of anything, because — for me, at least — the center of the whole thing begins to unravel at that point.

See, Upper Deck came along as the hobby boom was ready to peak and brought us all the modern baubles we love/have: tamper-proof packaging, anti-counterfeit holograms, chase cards, super-premium photos on front and back of each card, thick white card stock.

And, while we know today that 1989 Upper Deck is not really scarce, it’s less plentiful than the other contenders of the era — Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Score.

Yet those first UD cards are new enough and sturdy enough that there are plenty of actual “perfect” copies out there.

All of that leads to an interesting scenario when we consider the most valuable 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards … specifically, this list is built from recent eBay sales figures for blazing PSA 10 specimens of each card.

But, of course, you can’t talk about 1989 Upper Deck — and, indeed Upper Deck might not exist at all — without starting here …

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card (#1)

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card

So, as things stand now, this looks like the most important baseball card of the 1980s.

And it is … at least sort of. I mean, it’s the first card of the set (1989 Upper Deck) that changed everything …

And it’s the first card of one the game’s top five or ten talents of all-time …

And, well, it’s been selling like gangbusters for more than 30 years now.

So I won’t mention that 89 UD Griffey stands on the shoulders of 1980 Topps Joe Charboneau and 1981 Topps Fernando Valenzuela and 1982 Topps Traded Cal Ripken Jr. and 1983 Topps Ryne Sandberg/Tony Gwynn/Wade Boggs/Traded Darryl Strawberry and, especially, 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly.

Or … 1985 Topps Mark McGwire or 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco or 1987 Bruce Fields (huh?) for that matter.

Nope, this is The Card of The Man, and the Griffey rookie sells for something like $600 in PSA 10 today.

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1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson Rookie Card (#25)

1989 Upper Deck Randy Johnson Rookie Card

In 1989, when this card was issued, Randy Johnson was just the latest of three Randy Johnsons to play in the Major Leagues, joining the Twins’ Randy Johnson and Braves’ Randy Johnson.

They could have had a Randy Johnson part, I suppose, but this is more or less a family channel.

Anyway, the Big Unit was already scaring batters across the land by the summer of 1989, but it was a May 25 trade that sent him from the Montreal Expos to Griffey’s Seattle Mariners that changed the world.

Because, not only did the ‘Spos land Mark Langston, but Seattle also added Gene Harris, Brian Holman, and — as the PTBNL — Mike Campbell.

I mean, Randy Johnson would go on to win 130 games and a Cy Young Award while striking out 10.6 batters per nine for the M’s, but how could he hold a candle to the aura of a Brian Holman? C’mon!

Anyway, collectors seem to like Randy Johnson III, so much so that his 1989 Upper Deck rookie card sells for about $75 in PSA 10.

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1989 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan (Rangers) (#774)

1989 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan Hi Number

Nolan Ryan has been a baseball legend of one sort or another since he first took the mound as a wild youngin’ for the New York Mets back in the 1960s.

He spent the next couple decades as the game’s preeminent flamethrower, first with the California Angels, then with the Houston Astros.

By the time the Ryan Express chugged into Arlington to begin the 1989 season with the Texas Rangers, he was the all-time strikeout leader and had five no-hitters to his name, a record or something.

Even with all that, some still questioned his resume — he was all flash, no substance.

With Texas, though, Nolan picked up two more no-hitters, sailed past 300 wins, and bumped that K record up north of 5700.

It all amounted to a more or less automatic Hall of Fame plaque and a spot near the top of just about every baseball card list you can think of, including this one.

Ryan’s high-number 1989 UD card, showing him tossing a football in a Rangers uniform, is a $35 item in perfect slabbed condition.

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1989 Upper Deck Mark McGwire (#300)

1989 Upper Deck Mark McGwire

I’ve written about this card before, but suffice it to say that McGwire looks sufficiently Bunyanesque here to make most mere mortals feel physically inadequate by comparison.

It also reminds us that McGwire was a monster slugger long before anyone ever heard of Andro and that Big Mac made 1998 a magical season for millions of fans still smarting from the 1994-95 strike.

So, yes, steroids — but also baseball cards and home runs and memories and ROY and Bash Brothers and 1985 Topps Olympic cards.

This Upper Deck beauty sort of brings it all crashing back, and it’s a $30 buy in PSA 10.

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1989 Upper Deck Omar Vizquel Rookie Card (#787)

1989 Upper Deck Omar Vizquel Rookie Card

In an era that saw the birth of the shortstop as a major offensive weapon (sorry, Ernie Banksrebirth), Omar Vizquel was something of a throwback.

Because, while Ripken, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and others were tearing the cover off the ball, Vizquel made his hay with Gold Glove defense and decent-but-not-great plate performances.

And, while Vizquel has a steep climb to Cooperstown, he was a building block for those early Griffey-Unit Mariners teams and an absolute cog in the middle for the great Indians teams later in the 1990s.

Add it all together, and you have a recipe for a $30 RC in PSA 10.

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1989 Upper Deck Edgar Martinez Rookie Card (#768)

1989 Upper Deck Edgar Martinez Rookie Card

Are you sensing a theme here?

Those late 1980s Mariners were the breeding ground for multiple Hall of Fame-caliber careers, and their third baseman fit right into that mold.

Well, except for the fact that Edgar was a designated hitter in waiting.

Still, the fact remains that Martinez was one of the great hitters of his generation, and his legend in the Northwest — along with stellar plate numbers, of course — was enough to get him a plaque.

Today, his Upper Deck rookie card is a $30 buy in PSA 10 condition.

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1989 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan (Astros) (#145)

1989 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan (Astros)

Ryan always shows up on “most valuable” lists, but two in one set?

Yep, thanks to our expansion to include the high numbers here.

Nolan’s first UD Rangers card (that high-numbered number above) is iconic, but his only UD Astros card is also popular with collectors.

Expect to pay about $30 for a graded copy in GEM MT condition.

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1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield Rookie Card (#13)

1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield Rookie Card

Something that’s been sort of lost over the years in the glut of cards from the late 1980s is that the 1989 sets are fairly loaded with rookie cards.

In most cases, it doesn’t matter too much, because 3 billion cards are 3 billion cards.

But, as you can see in this list, Upper Deck’s debut issue maintains enough swagger that the rooks can come to the fore.

And speaking of swagger, that’s something Mr. Sheffield has excelled in for decades.

Oh, and also hitting home runs — to the tune of 509 in his 22-year career. Dude also had good enough OBP skills and speed to rack up 60+ WAR.

Sheffield has faced plenty of backlash over PED concerns and his general churlishness, but his UD rookie card is still a $30 get in PSA 10.

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1989 Upper Deck Cal Ripken Jr. (#467)

1989 Upper Deck Cal Ripken Jr

By 1989, Cal was starting to take heat for his consecutive games streak, with detractors charging that his pursuit of Lou Gehrig was diminishing his overall game.

Ripken weathered those slings and arrows and charged right ahead, kicking his game to another notch in winning the 1991 American League MVP award, his second (first was in 1983).

By the time Rip sailed past the Iron Horse in 1995, his legend was cemented, and collectors had latched on forever.

Today, the Orioles hero’s UD debut checks in around $30 in PSA 10.

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1989 Upper Deck John Smoltz Rookie Card (#17)

1989 Upper Deck John Smoltz Rookie Card

Ho hum … another 1989 Upper Deck rookie, another $30 price tag for a perfect copy.

In Smoltz’s case, it’s also, “ho hum, another Atlanta Braves ace.”

And another Atlanta Braves ace who landed in Cooperstown, to boot, though Smoltz took a few twists and turns to get there.

Nevertheless, another popular rookie card from a landmark set, and a fitting end to our list of most valuable 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards.

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