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/hate: 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. As you’ll see, the values are stout but not outrageous, at least not compared to other monumental cards that sell for 5, 6, 7 figures on a seemingly daily basis these days.

(Note: The following sections contain affiliate links to eBay and Amazon links for the cards being discussed.)

But, of course, you can’t talk about 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards — 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 more than all other 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards today (as always).

Value: $1400-1600

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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 party, 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 lands in the second spot here.

Value: $100-130

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1989 Upper Deck Jose Canseco (#371)

1989 Upper Deck Jose Canseco

Fresh off the first 40-40 season in major league history, Jose Canseco was looking pretty smug on his 1989 Upper Deck baseball card. Hey, you probably would have, too.

I know I would have, what with all the talent in the world, youth, a great team, and miles and miles of high-end baseball cards all in my future.

Sure, Jose got pretty darn ridiculous pretty darn fast — and stayed that way — but collector memories die hard, especially the good ones.

Value: $70-75

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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 an eye-catcher, and a hobby favorite.

Value: $60-90

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1989 Upper Deck Kirk Gibson (#666)

1989 Upper Deck Kirk Gibson World Series

The enduring image of the 1988 baseball season is Kirk Gibson limping to the plate in the ninth inning of Game 1 and then smashing the game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley, Natural-style.

This card captures the immediate aftermath, as Gibby rounds the bases, hobbling toward immortality. Any wonder why it’s so high on this list?

Value: $60-80

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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.

Value: $60-70

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1989 Upper Deck Rickey Henderson (#210)

1989 Upper Deck Rickey Henderson

After four years of smashing success in the Bronx, Henderson returned to the Oakland A’s before the 1989 season.

In that second go-round, Rickey turned up the heat on his game (which might have seemed impossible) to the extent that he becoame one of the most complete players in the game … and a hobby icon.

Upper Deck got in just under the wire for showcasing the Great Hot Dog in his Yanks garb.

Value: $50-60

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1989 Upper Deck John Smoltz Rookie Card (#17)

1989 Upper Deck John Smoltz Rookie Card

This card exhibits a pattern we’ll see throughout our list — a 1989 Upper Deck rookie card of a superstar player, with only a sort of middling price tag for a even 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.

Value: $45-65

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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 beauty sort of brings it all crashing back, and it’s certainly one of the more striking of all 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards.

Value: $45-50

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1989 Upper Deck Barry Bonds (#440)

1989 Upper Deck Barry Bonds

If you like to remember Bonds as the lithe, athletic, five-tool dude who could do pretty anything on the baseball field rather than the more lumbering, hulking, beast would do absolutely everything in the batter’s box later in his career, well, this card is for you.

Still a year shy of nabbing his first National League MVP Award, the future home run champion show up here on his UD debute peering in to the catcher, waiting for his chance to race from first to second.

And, if you don’t like to think of Bonds at all, or to just sneer in derision when his name comes up, well then, you’re just jaded. Try to stop and smell the holograms once in awhile, why don’t you?

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Value: $35-50

1989 Upper Deck Bo Jackson (#221)

1989 Upper Deck Bo Jackson

Coming off a season in which he topped league-average offensive production for the first time (by measure of OPS+), Jackson entered 1989 as one of the most exciting players in the game.

He delivered on that cresting hype with his first (and only) All-Star appearance while connecting on a career-high 32 home runs, driving in 105 RBI, and stealing 26 bases, all in a relatively meager 135 games played.

Meanwhile, hobbyists took to building their Bo Jackson collections in earnest, an avocation which has continued nearly unabated across the decades and despite a promising career truncated by a devastating hip injury suffered on the football field during a January 1991 playoff game.

This bright Bo card, like so many of his other diamond issues, remind us of sunnier, more hopeful days.

Value: $30-50

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1989 Upper Deck Don Mattingly (#200)

1989 Upper Deck Don Mattingly

Mattingly followed three seasons of Hall of Fame prodution (1984-86) with three more at mere superstar levels.

That slightly immortal run wrapped up in 1989, which put this inaugural Upper Deck card of Donnie Baseball right in the wheelhouse of the hobby boom, for which Mattingly and his amazing 1984 Donruss rookie card could claim a big hunk of the credit.

The 1990s brought a gradual (or not so much) slide into Cooperstown oblivion for the Yankees captain and left us all wondering what might have been if not for his chronically bad back.

This UD gem, though?

It’s close enough to primetime Hit Man so as to be indistinguishable from the same.

Value: $30-50

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1989 Upper Deck Greg Maddux (#241)

1989 Upper Deck Greg Maddux

Maddux struggled fairly mightily in his first two seasons with the Cubs, to the tune of an 8-18 combined record.

Then, just in the nick of time to make some waves heading into the debut of Upper Deck, King of the Kardboards, the future Mad Dog completely reversed course in 1988, posting an 18-8 record with a 3.18 ERA.

A new star for a new set!

And not only that, UD was one of the few 1989 cards to show Maddux in anything other than Cubbies pinstripes … for better or for worse.

Value: $35-40

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1989 Upper Deck Jim Abbott Rookie Card (#755)

1989 Upper Deck Jim Abbott Rookie Card

Much of the context and mystique has been lost over the years and in the fine print of Abbott’s journeyman major league record, but this was one of the coolest cards most of us had ever seen when it debuted in 1989.

Here we had an Olympian and first-round draft pick who had all the makings of a staff ace.

And, of course, the inspiration his story provided.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Upper Deck captured Abbott in crystal-clear action THREE times and flipped the whole thing on its side — they ate Sportflics’ magic-triple-super-secret-motion lunch, peed in the empty food tray, and kissed their girlfriend on the way out of the lunch room.

Also, thanks to DeWayne Buice, the first UD design always looks better when an Angel is involved.

This is still a cool card, and enough collectors remember that to keep it here among the big hitters of the set.

Value: $30-40

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1989 Upper Deck George Brett (#215)

1989 Upper Deck George Brett

This is sort of an anomaly among 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards — a superstar cast in shadows, when most of the issue’s pasteboards were bright and SPF-worthy.

Still, here we have a gritty baseball legend who had had to move to first base as his body crumbled bit by bit thanks to the diamond wars he had endured over 15 years or so in MLB.

A guy headed for the Hall of Fame, but who had run out of Elite Juice.

A veteran who taped it all together one more time in 1990 to win a third batting title — which gave him on each in 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

And then, he tacked on a couple more years, and picked up his 3000th hit along the way.

Yeah, Mr. Pine Tar may have been overcast here, but he wasn’t quite done with the limelight just yet.

Value: $30-40

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1989 Upper Deck Tony Gwynn (#384)

1989 Upper Deck Tony Gwynn

After home runs flew like f-bombs at a Billy Martin revival during the 1987 season, pitchers reclaimed their territory in 1988 with a vengeance, particularly in the National League.

Want evidence?

Tony Gwynn won his third batting title that summer with a (not) gaudy mark of .313.

Collectors still loved him, though, and were happy to see him in the nifty new Upper Deck set. Mr. Padre rewarded us with a heftier .336 en route to yet another crown in 1989. It would be five more years before Tony climbed to the top of the leader board, but when he did, he was a real smart aleck about it — .394, .368, .353, .372.

Four straight titles in his mid-30s from 1994 through 1997, all but reserving his wing in upstate New York.

Value: $30-40

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1989 Upper Deck Mike Schmidt (#406)

1989 Upper Deck Mike Schmidt

Schmidt reeled off a surprise MVP season in 1986, picking up his third National League trophy, and then followed up with a top-drawer .293/35 HR/113 RBI campaign in 1987 at age 37.

But 1988 featured a tumble in production (112 OPS+), and then a rotator cuff injury killed the end of his summer, limited to 108 games overall. The Phillies legend came back mostly healthy in 1989 but struggled through two months … then abruptly retired in 1989.

Somehow, Upper Deck managed to capture the flavor of that craptastic run (for Schmitty fans, at least), by showing the Phillies’ legend in front of a microphone rather than in front of the bag at third or at the plate.

Ugh.

Value: $30-40

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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 popular get in PSA 10.

Value: $30-40

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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 checks in with a solid premium-card debut here amongst the upper reaches of 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards.

Value: $30-35

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1989 Upper Deck Ryne Sandberg (#120)

1989 Upper Deck Ryne Sandberg

After winning the N.L. MVP Award in 1984 and helping the Cubs to their first division title, Sandberg settled in to mearly All-Star-level play for the rest of the ’80s.

But while collectors were pulling this sunny, in-the-box Ryno from our foil packs, Chicago’s beloved second baseman was ramping up again, hitting .290 with a career-high 30 homers.

That would be short-lived, though, as Sandberg hit 40 dingers in 1990 to lead the National League.

And, suddenly, Cooperstown seemed like a pretty good bet.

Value: $30-35

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1989 Upper Deck Astros Checklist – Nolan Ryan (#669)

1989 Upper Deck Astros Checklist - Nolan Ryan

This is an example of Upper Deck taking a page from their elders’ playbook — namely, thou must find a way to squeeze in as many cards of the hottest players as possible.

So, not only do we get an Astros Nolan Ryan Card and a Rangers Nolan Ryan Card, but we also get an Astros Checklist Nolan Ryan Art Card, courtesy of Vernon Wells, Sr. (yes, the father of the big-contract Vernon Wells).

Does this make Nolan Ryan the king of 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards?

Well, a young KGJ might have something to say about that, but The Express is certainly part of the royal court.

Value: $25-35

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1989 Upper Deck Craig Biggio Rookie Card (#273)

1989 Upper Deck Craig Biggio Rookie Card

Every card on this list (with the exception of the Ryan triple dips) is a first Upper Deck baseball card.

Biggio’s counts as a true rookie card, though, given that he had appeared in only the 1988 Fleer Update and 1988 Score Traded sets prior to ’89.

And, as with all ’89 Upper Decks, this one features a great design and quality photography.

Otherwise, though, this is a pretty boring RC of a future Hall of Famer, especially considering this Killer B came up as a catcher — that’s a position that supplies some amazing photo ops.

But, hey, moving a bat from one place to another with a blank expression on your face is a good way to spend a rookie card, too.

I guess.

Value: $25-35

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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.

Value: $25-35

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1989 Upper Deck Kirby Puckett (#376)

1989 Upper Deck Kirby Puckett

After leading the Twins to a World Series title in 1987, Puckett got ridiculous in 1988, hitting .356 with MLB-leading totals in plate at-bats (657), hits (234), and total bases (358). He also stole all of six bases while getting nabbed seven times.

So, of course, Upper Deck put him on the basepahts in their inaugural set.

But, hey, at least it gave us a Big Mac photo bomb as a bonus!

Value: $25-35

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1989 Upper Deck Roger Clemens (#195)

1989 Upper Deck Roger Clemens

Clemens looks pretty happy here on his first Upper Deck card, maybe a consequence of helping the Red Sox to their second division title in three seasons in 1988.

Or, maybe he foresees all the amazing things he would accomplish as his (multiple) peak(s) loomed.

Probably hadn’t glimpsed his ultimate baseball legacy, though.

Value: $25-30

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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 from a numbers perspective, 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.

Indeed, there was quite a groundswell of support for his candidacy that seemed to have him chugging toward eventual election a few years ago… until details about some of his recent and not-so-recent behavior likely sunk his HOF ship forever.

Still, plenty of collectors remember the good times on the field, and this card maintains a solid following.

Value: $25-30

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Bonus! Errors Among the Perfection

So, 1989 Upper Deck was the “perfect” set.

Just ask them and all their promotional material from the era.

But even perfection is relative, especially when you’re crashing the party of a bunch of companies who spent a decade feeding Error Card Mania, wittingly or not.

Here are a couple of UD’s early contributions to the artform…

1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield Rookie Card – SS Upside Down (#13)

1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield Rookie Card - SS Upside Down

See above for a discussion of why Sheffield was important as a prospect, and why he still might be important in future Hall of Fame discussions.

For the purposes of this entry, though, subtlety is the name of the game, not necessarily Sheffield’s strong suit.

Here, the position designation is the thing, where that little “SS” in the upper right-hand corner is, get this, upside down. It’s tough to see, but if you squint, you can tell that the fat ends of the two esses are on top here. Up in the “normal” Sheffield entry, those thick curves are on bottom, as intended.

And, according to the PSA Population Report, fewer than one out of every 30 Sheffield rookies they’ve handled is upside down. And, of those, only about one out of 15 grades a perfect “10.”

So, yeah, we’re in Premium City here.

Value: $500-1000

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1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy Reverse Negative (#357)

1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy Reverse Negative

While the Sheffield error is subtle and took awhile to surface in any kind of broad way in hobby circles, this one is in-your-face and rumbled through collectordom right away.

Here we have one of the handful of most popular players of the 1980s, smiling kind of cockeyed at us, with the Atlanta Braves “A” on his cap looking like it’s about ready to blow off into the Fulton County air stream.

And Murph has his bat on his left shoulder.

No matter where your fandom lay, this card just felt off whenever it was you first laid eyes on it. And then, your eye fell to Murphy’s jersey, and you saw it — the picture is flipped!

Mania ensues.

Unlike the Sheffield RC, PSA has actually graded more Murphy error cards than Murphy corrected cards.

But mere facts can’t stop a hobby juggernaut.

Value: $500-600

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