The Beckett Blog

Cardboard icon Ken Griffey Jr. retires by Chris Olds

We all know the card.

And we probably all have one.

But on Wednesday evening, just minutes ago, times officially changed … an era ended.

“The Kid” called it quits as Ken Griffey Jr. opted to retire in the midst of his 22nd big league season, ending a Hall of Fame career with 630 home runs. He ranks fifth on the career list in an era marred by steroid allegations but perhaps first as a player who never faced such scrutiny and as one who was a first in one more significant way in collectors’ hearts.

The poster boy for the modern era of baseball cards, the guy who despised the “kid” nickname as an adult and yet often was seen with his cap on backwards and with a childlike disposition on the field, the face of the first 1989 Upper Deck baseball card … is no longer a part of the game.

That, for many, should resonate loudly. (Makes you feel kind of old, too, right?)

Griffey’s youthful image was captured on that first card… the toothy smile, the slightly puffy 1980s hair, the hint of some bling. And it was only reinforced as he made his major league debut at age 19 that summer with the Seattle Mariners all those years ago and took the field alongside his father, a moment not only significant in baseball history but also one that tugs at the inner child heartstrings of those who remembered “having a catch” with pops.

And yet it did even that one better.

But that was just the starting point not only for a kid who would become a man and a legend before our own eyes summer after summer. He would become a 13-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glover and an American League MVP. It also was a start of something different in baseball cards, an era of more slickly made memories, ones with tamper-proof measures, holograms and technology instead of bubble gum and symbolically, he was the player leading the way.

Have we seen the last of Griffey on cardboard? Definitely not, but his autographs were an exclusive find in Upper Deck baseball products … something with an apparent similarly vanishing, perhaps similarly gone, presence this year. Could one of the game’s most elegant and desirable (yet available) autographs be found in packs of Topps baseball cards down the line?

One will have to wait and see but for the love of the game, let’s hope he can find a place.

Until then, though, there are 13,252 different cards — 1,224 different autographs — for us to chase. And while there are plenty of those memorable 1989 Upper Deck RCs out there — and likely plenty more than we can imagine left to go around — now is the time as the highlight reel moments and odes to Junior roll that fans, collectors and others dig out their treasures for another look. They seek them out for another reaffirming glance, to soak up and hold in their hands a relic of an era that is now officially over.

Legends rarely get those exits that are truly worthy of their legacy — at least not without help — but there’s comfort knowing that Griffey’s better years, those youthful years where there was plenty more to come, can always be found and revisited.

Those memories can be revisited at any time, after the highlight reels are no longer played and after the Twitter tags trend downward, on baseball cards. That goes for any player, but something tells me that this one, card No. 1 of a certain Star Rookie … a kid who was that and so much more, will be remembered for a long, long time.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.


4 Comments so far
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All I can say is that I was shocked & saddened to hear the news. You knew it was coming, but still…We went to Seattle this past weekend for a few days, and I can proudly say that we were able to witness his final at bat. Not an ideal ending, but I don’t care. I remember him for his smile, sweet swing, incredible defense, and the 95 ALDS series winning run. Congratulations on an incredible career Junior!

Comment by Steve Cornell

now he can rest in peace

Comment by President Obama

He is a legend, and BY FAR, my favorite player to ever grace the baseball diamond. Remembering the good old days of his career definitely brings me back. To me, he is a classy guy who I was able to watch grow and mature as I did. The most important note we can make on his “file” is the fact that he ultimately loved and respected the game. Something that you don’t see too often anymore. And yes, it does make me feel old, lol. Gonna miss seeing you out on the field Griffey… you and that sick swing.

Comment by Ken

Now BGS should do a grading special with his cards

Comment by Travis Leflar

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