Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Couple of Long Overdue Classic Rookies

October is coming to a close, and winter is nearly upon us here in New England.  As seems to be the case every year, I've got a whole backlog of interesting cards purchased in 2012 that I just haven't gotten around to posting yet.  While I don't have the time to devote to something like last year's Top 20 Under $25 countdown, I am still going to make an effort to get many of them posted by year end.  Today we'll start with a familiar junk wax era rookie card that I finally got around to picking up this past May:

Yup, I am now the proud owner of a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.  Collectors that I've talked to seem to be pretty split on this particular piece of cardboard.  I know some who would rank this among the greatest baseball cards ever, while others feel that it's just another over-rated, over-produced junk wax rookie card. 

I haven't given this card a ton of thought myself, but I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.  I don't find it to be a particularly striking card based solely on its appearance, but as a child of the late '80s/early '90s it was impossible not to admire Griffey, and this was the rookie that everyone wanted.  Not only that, but one thing you cannot argue is the significance of this card (and this set) in our hobby's history.  For better or worse, Upper Deck changed the game for good when it burst onto the scene in 1989.  At a minimum, the '89 Upper Deck Griffey is undoubtedly in the top tier of sought-after rookies from the '80s, alongside the '82 Topps Ripken, '83 Topps Gwynn, '84 Donruss Mattingly, etc.  In fact, off the top of my head the only '80s rookie I can think of that does better in the secondary market would be the '80 Topps Rickey Henderson.  Whatever your point of view, I think we can agree that this little cardboard square has left a larger footprint on the hobby than most others.

I love the rookie cards from this era in particular; so sought after and so instantly recognizable.  Because of the shape of the baseball card landscape at the time, they've really become iconic works of art in a way.  You basically had one single, solitary, true rookie card of any player from each brand.  Not like today's watered down sets with dozens of inserts, serial-numbered cards, patches and autographs.  While those cards may be fun to chase, the result is that they just don't seem to mean as much.  I would say that nearly every single baseball card collector, whether they own one or not, recognizes this Griffey card and can visualize it in their head even if they haven't seen one in person in years.  Think of your favorite active player in the league right now though...can you do the same for them?  I can tell you that without looking it up I can't visualize what Justin Verlander's rookie card looks like right now.  How about Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, can you picture his rookie card?  CC Sabathia?  Felix Hernandez?  You get the point.  Maybe it's just me.

So why, 20+ years later, did I finally decide to land an UD Griffey RC of my own?  Well, a couple of years ago I scored an absolute steal on an unopened wax box of 1989 Upper Deck Low Series ($40 if you can believe that!), but I struck out on pulling a Griffey.  Ever since then I've wanted to chase one down to fill that hole in my set.  Aside from being a really nice mint copy from a reputable seller, the real reason I settled on this one was because it was a package deal auction, and included a second rookie that I wanted as much as, if not more than, the Griffey:

The 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas rookie was an absolute prize among my childhood group of collecting friends.  Out of all of us, only my best friend ever owned a copy, a birthday present from his father that we were all in awe of.  I remember it being stored in one of those absurdly thick screw-down holders at the time, the ones that made your card roughly the size and weight of a small hardcover book. 

Maybe this is my imagination glorifying my memories, but I could swear that at one point this card had a book value north of $80.  As it stands in my latest Beckett (which is over a year old, shows you how much I care about book value), the card books at $12.  The point is, people went absolutely crazy for 1990 Leaf when it hit the shelves, the same kind of buzz I remember for sets like Flair and Finest a few years later.  To this day I think it holds up better than most sets from the era.  Thomas was the card to have from the set.  The Sosa rookie was up there as well, but looking back on it now which one would you rather have?  I'll take Frank here, easy decision.

That right there is a great looking card back.  Anyone who can use that much silver in a design and still make a nice looking set of cards deserves some props in my book.  In my opinion, unlike Upper Deck (who released great sets in '92, '93, '95, etc), Leaf kind of went downhill after its pinnacle in 1990.  Sticking with the silver again in 1991 and 1992 was just too much.  I will always love that 1990 set though, it's one I'd like to complete one day.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the Upper Deck Griffey RC...cardboard classic, or not impressed?  If you had to pick one single baseball rookie from 1987 - 1993 what would it be?


Roy-Z said...

Easily a classic. And with so many produced, it can easily slot into anyone's collection for a reasonable price.

night owl said...

I can appreciate its history and significance, but I don't have the card nor do I care if I ever have one.

It's a generation thing. I was 24 when that card came out. The rookie craze is something I dealt with only briefly in the early '80s. I just don't care.

Robert said...

It is a significant card because of how the Griffey UD RC stands head and shoulders above any other RC of Griffey. People don't talk about the Fleer Griffey, they talk about the UD.

jacobmrley said...

The 1992 Leaf black parallel set was pretty sharp.

Captain Canuck said...

as a card I think it's over rated. However, I do have one. I went through a phase a couple of years ago where I acquired RC's of most of the key guys from the '80's.

Zayden said...

It's a very iconic card to me as well. I don't think I've ever even seen one in person. I wouldn't mind owning it at the right price, not really for the card itself, but for the history behind it and what it means for our hobby.

I kind of see it this way...If I were to show my collection off to a friend or someone that knows a little bit about cards, showing the Griffey would be sure to score tons of favor points and get a lot of wow factor.

I would definitely be proud to own that one! Great catch!

Casey said...

No doubt this card is iconic.

At the very least, it is the best rookie card of one of that generations greatest and fan favoritest players, Griffey. I can't remember anyone disliking him but I may be clouded by my own fanboyism; after Marty Barrett, Griffey was my man. I was a super collector up until 93ish, buying regional stuff from a guy in Tacoma.

Besides all that, it is the first card in the Upper Deck universe; their luck couldn't have been any better. What if this card was card #37? Would it still be THE card?

Also, the design is just awesome. Simple, clean, and a classic portrait shot of Griffey. What if the card featured him in action? Not the same, right?

Add all of these things together and you have an iconic card. I would name this card as the face of the 90s; name me a more recognizable one.

Also worth nothing, the first pack up 89 UD I ever bought I pulled this card. I promptly traded it for another pack. Fail.

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