Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Rookie

In my collection: 7

Griffey looks: awesome

Is this a good Griffey card?: Yes.  This is arguably the greatest Griffey card.  1st set in Upper Deck history, 1st card from that set, and a collector favorite.  The cornerstone of any serious Griffey collection, or any modern baseball card collection.

The set: Everybody fawns over this set like it's the second coming, and that sentiment is not undeserved.  Ahead of it's time and a game-changer in the sports card world as a whole, this is the first set offered by the new Upper Deck Company, LLC.  They did to baseball cards what Apple did to the Walkman.  The cards are printed on high-quality paper stock with excellent full-color photography on the front and back.  Take a look:

The pitching photography was a big standout in this set for me.  Here are some examples of that:

Here are a few big names you can find in this set:

They also threw in these cards featuring cool paintings of big stars for the team checklists.  Not like Donruss Diamond Kings, I mean reasonably good paintings of guys that were really stars.  Here's a few:

What kind of baseball card blog would this be if I didn't poke a little fun?  Here's some mildly amusing pictures you can giggle at if you're so inclined:

Valenzuela, you are a character....

The packs were foil.  Like real foil - not shiny mylar.  They could draw blood fairly easily (I have spilled some in my hunt for the Griffey - worth it).  No wax packs which meant no soft glue on the back of the bottom card (looking at you, '89 Donruss).  The foil made the packs tamper-evident, and the hologram stamped on every card prevented counterfeiting.  Some serious security for a pre-9/11 world. 

Upper Deck declared themselves "The Collector's Choice," and all the other companies followed suit by beefing up their products, thereby bringing the industry into a new golden age.  Just look through the commons in this set - this is a set with personality.  These cards have moxy.  Maybe not the Jack Clark pictured above, but the Valenzuela?!  Come on......

On to the Griffey:

Man, the Kid looks awesome.  Check out those pearly whites, the understated jewelry, the bat on the shoulder like it's little league picture day, the flawless lighting, the blue sky in background, our first peek at the famous Junior-stache.  The guy is bright-eyed and conscientious, optimistic about the future, and dammit, he loves America.  This is a baseball card photo.  Take that, Saddam!

That is not a Seattle Mariners uniform.  That is his San Bernardino Spirit uniform, adding to the rookie-ness of this photograph.  Also, Griffey was coming off a back injury.  It wasn't even clear whether he would actually get to play in '89, but Upper Deck threw the dice and the guy ended up being Ken Griffey freakin' Jr.  Upper Deck appreciates the importance of this card.  At least, they did in 1993:

So, there's a lot of lore regarding how to get your hands on a 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr, rookie card.  Let's talk about it.

I am proud to say that I pulled mine from a pack at a card shop back when I was too young to know that $10 per pack was ridiculous.  The card was only averaging around $75, but it might as well have been a thousand.  I bought a pack and got nothing.  I was about to leave, but stopped, and Willy Wonka-style, I asked the man for one more.  I proceeded to spaz out when I pulled it, and the card shop guy had obviously been watching my haul because he nearly had a seizure.  He was nice enough, though, and put it in a top-loader for me.  I shelled out 9 bucks for one of those inch-and-a-half thick, complete overkill, 4-screw plastic cases, and there it has been ever since.  This was an immensely proud day for me.

Now about that lore - there was a time when people were accepting money for information the nature of which guaranteed you the Griffey pull from any newly-opened box of 1989 Upper Deck.  I imagine it was something along the lines of "top-right quarter, 4th pack down always has it."  That's probably not it, but that's how I always imagined it.  If you know anything about that system, I'd love to hear about it.  With this in mind, I always thought back to the guy at the card shop.  Did he know the system, and had he already used it on that particular box?  Is that why he was so surprised I landed one?  Is there a system for pulling, say, the Ron Kittle?  I'll probably never know for sure....

If the system is real, people are buying unopened boxes, fishing out the Griffeys, then selling the loose packs on ebay to recoup the cost of the box.  Result: free Griffey, possible BGS 10.  If so, market value: about $1250.00.  If a 9.5, you can get around $130.00.  Lower than that, expect anywhere between 20 and 30 bucks.  I got a BGS 7.5 for $16 once just because I could.

Now, less than 800 have been graded a 10 by Beckett Grading Services.  And a 10 is very hard to come by from a pack.  Why?  To Wikipedia!

"The card was situated in the top left hand corner of the uncut sheets and was more liable to be cut poorly or have its corners dinged."

It is easier to find this card graded a 10 by PSA.  Why?  Again, Wikipedia:

"Company policy was that if a customer found a damaged card in its package, the company would replace it.  Many Griffey cards were returned and the result was that Upper Deck printed many uncut sheets (sheets consisting of 100 cards) of just the Griffey card.  According to Professional Sports Authenticator, the Ken Griffey, Jr. would become the most graded card of all time with the company."

Uncut sheets of just Griffeys.  Can you imagine?

This Griffey in a PSA 10 will run you between $250 and $300.  Since BGS hasn't been doing this as long as PSA and the card replacement option is no longer available, the only newly-found '89 UD #1's BGS is grading are those pulled from packs.  Since a 10 is so rare from a pack, a BGS 10 is pricy.  You may be better off finding a very nice PSA 10-graded specimen, cracking open the case and sending it to Beckett.

None of this grading stuff used to matter to me.  But you know what?

I fell for it.  Why?  Check out the blog title.

All hail the card of cards.....!

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