The Beckett Blog

What was it like to pull a Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie card back in 1989? I don’t know … I never did by Chris Olds

It’s collecting confession time.

I never pulled a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card from a pack in 1989. In fact, I never pulled one until early last year.

Why? Where I lived at the time of its release it was a two-hour drive to the closest card shop. And when I got there, the packs were an unheard of $3 apiece and I could only afford a few.

While I own hundreds of thousands of cards today, I only own one Griffey — what some are calling the most iconic baseball card ever made. (I’m close to agreeing — it’s in my top three for sure. And it’s the only one of that three that I could ever afford)

Above is an item torn from the pages of Beckett Baseball from last April, where I finally found one of those famed Star Rookies upon his return to Seattle.

Read all about it after the jump …

Junior is home

Perhaps it was a nostalgia-fueled blunder.

That’s what I was thinking about halfway through opening a box of 1989 Upper Deck high number series recently. It was a journey that had some small ups, some small downs but a whole lot of consistency along the way.

Believe me, way too much consistency.

I picked up the box from a dealer in the Midwest for about half the price of its 2009 counterpart, knowing that the mission — landing a Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card — wasn’t a simple one. In fact, low boxes are twice as expensive as highs, as most figure it’s easier to find Junior there.

But I trekked onward, buying the box just hours after Griffey signed with Seattle, the team he made his debut with on April 3, 1989.

Why did I buy? The price was right.

Buying these boxes should come with a warning — they weren’t released sealed, and, despite what its lid says about “random sequencing,” there are people who swear they can grab Griffey by opening packs in just a couple of spots (at least in low boxes). But I took the chance, knowing full well that some packs could land two copies of the same card inside.

Of course, my luck in 1989 meant it was Juan Bell. Remember him?

Twenty years ago, my first pack would have been strong because of one card. One of the two high-numbers was Todd Ziele, a can’t-miss St. Louis Cardinals rookie.

But what I found in the next 35 packs was bewildering. Ten more included Ziele, and in most of those, the other high-number was Spike Owen. Later, the high-number mind-numbing turned to Todd Benzinger (12 times) and Jody Davis (15 times) along with one that was a good mistake — nine copies of a key Seattle rookie.

A guy you might have heard of as he’s a guy who should end up in Cooperstown someday.

A Mariner named Omar Vizquel.

So in a box that should have 72 high-number cards, 64 were of two Todds, a Jody, a Spike, an Omar and another guy … Walt Terrell.

No football-throwing Nolan Ryan. No Ozzie Canseco.

Just a Jim Abbott, a Bruce Hurst and two LaVel Freemans.

While buying vintage wax is risky — unless you’re buying sealed cases — I have no reason to think the dealer did anything wrong. Collation chaos was more common then, which is one of the reasons cards have evolved into more high-end products today.

Of course, there was a highlight I forgot to mention — one that took some of the high-number sting away with a smile staring back at me from the foil-paper wrapper.

In pack No. 28, I found a pair of Star Rookies — a Mike Harkey and a 19-year-old smiling “Kid” with a famous dad.

Junior came home once again. This time, to my collection.

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.


1 Comment so far
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The problem with the card is the printing presses are still probably rolling at UD and printing this card. The amount of copies of this card out there is so high, it is mind-blowing.

Comment by Johny

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