(This is the 30th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

Look, we all know that the Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card is the greatest card in the 1989 Upper Deck set.

I admitted as much when I anointed it as the best card in all of 1989 last year as part of a similar (but different) series of posts on the best card from each year from 1960-89.

Heck, the Junior rookie is one of the greatest baseball cards of all time when you consider everything. It’s the first card in the first set of cards from a company (Upper Deck) that changed the hobby forever, and it pictures a once-in-a-generation player in Griffey.

It looks pretty darn good, too.

1989 Upper Deck Mark McGwire

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But I’ve already written about that card, so it can’t be my choice for best 1989 Upper Deck card here and now (unless it somehow morphs into a catcher card — then we can talk). Them’s just the rules.

So that frees us up to thumb through the other bazillion 1989 Upper Deck cards in search of The Best 1989 Upper Deck Card, Senior Division (as opposed to Junior, get it?).

There are plenty of strong candidates, too:

  • Ramon Martinez banking into a turn as he prepares to land a pitch on his rookie card (#18)
  • John Smoltz looking in for the sign from his rookie card (#17)
  • Gary Sheffield actually *smiling* in the dugout on his rookie card (#13)
  • Bo Jackson on the hot corner  talking with Royals third base coach Adrian Garrett about how easy it will be to score on card #221
  • A young and lean(ish) Kirby Puckett leading off first base with Mark McGwire lurking and hulking behind (#376)

They’re all great, and they’re not alone. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that 1989 Upper Deck is jammed full of some of the best photography the hobby had ever seen.

So which is the best card among the non-Junior crowd?

As with so many of my selections in this series, it comes down to personal choice, guided by aesthetics and a sense of history.

Setting Junior aside, then, the best baseball card in the 1989 Upper Deck set is McGwire’s own pasteboard at #300.

By that point in history, of course, everyone knew that Big Mac was a slugger (if not a hitter) of Ruthian proportions. McGwire had smashed the rookie home run record with 49 in 1987, after all.

He followed that up with 32 home runs and 99 RBI as the Oakland A’s rolled to an American League pennant in 1988.

With 1989 dawning, the young slugger was looking to bounce back to the 50-homer potential he displayed as a rookie, and Upper Deck captured the feeling of giant expectations — and ability — that swirled around McGwire.

Big Mac stands in stark profile against a twilight sky, just a young baseball god and his weapon (a wooden baseball bat). The camera angle helps McGwire dwarf the trees in the background and makes it seem like anything is possible.

There is also a striking desolation, a loneliness, to the shot, and the overall effect is eerily prescient.

1989 Upper Deck Mark McGwire (back)

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Within 10 years, McGwire would demolish Roger Maris‘s single-season home run record by slamming 70 of his own in 1998, and he’d also separate himself from the pack as a legendary slugger.

But there is sometimes a fine line between standing alone and being alone, and the whispers of steroid use that exploded to shouts in the late 2000s helped to separate McGwire from the game he loves.

There has since been some repair as Big Mac has moved back into the game as a coach, but what once looked like a surefire Hall of Fame resume still has him on the outside looking in at Cooperstown.

No matter what, though, he’ll always have the Best 1989 Upper Deck Baseball Card, Non-Junior Division.

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(This is the 30th in our series of posts about the best baseball cards from the 1980s. Check out the rest of those posts here.)

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