Friday, May 15, 2015

A Complete Guide to the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey, Jr. Rookie Card

(UPDATE 2.26.20: It's going on five years since I posted this article, and prices have been going nuts since then. Go ahead and double every figure I've given you here. Happy reading!)

(SECOND UPDATE 4.30.21: So the first update is now also wildly inaccurate as prices for this card are now far beyond what they ever were before. There is still plenty of great info in this post, but the numbers listed here are now laughably out of date and no longer realistic. Someday I'll go through it and update everything, but until the market stabilizes it would make no sense for me to do so. DO NOT use any of the values noted here. Instead, here is a guide on how you can see for yourself what your card is currently selling for. Thanks for reading!)

I’m not an expert in a lot of things, but I know my Griffey cards. Since I started this blog I’ve gotten flooded with questions, appraisal inquiries, and offers of items for sale. I don’t tend to buy cards unsolicited, but I like the general questions because they usually involve rare or unique items that I may or may not have seen before. Sometimes I have a very precise answer and sometimes I have to research. These can be a fun challenge or an informative learning experience, so they are welcome.

But the question I get most often is “How much is my 1989 Upper Deck Griffey card actually worth?”

Yeah, that’s the one. There have to be thousands of these sitting in shoeboxes in closets across the nation, and their owners are all holding on to them like a cardboard IRA.

Every copy of this card is a unique snowflake. Some can buy you a pizza, and some can buy you a used Kia. I’m here to help you figure out which are which.

So, to all those that e-mail me regularly looking to cash in on one of these beauties, consider this a catch-all answer to every one of your queries. Here's everything I know about this card. By the end of this post you will have a general idea how much your 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey, Jr. Star Rookie card is worth (or not - SEE UPDATES ABOVE).

In the interest of brevity, I will from here on out refer to the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Griffey rookie as “89UD#1.”

Now, there are a lot of ways to look at value, but only one way really matters: cash value. How much can you reasonably expect to sell it for? We will not be fooling with Hi or Lo Beckett columns, the go-to $40 price point relied upon by dealers, or the frequent attempted gouging by eBay sellers. We will only be dealing with real world, cash-in-hand, no B.S., cold, hard monetary value.

There are also two states of cardhood that can vastly affect the price of your 89UD#1: raw and slabbed. They sound like words a butcher might use, but they have the potential to make all the difference when it comes to that sweet lady green. That’s money. I call it “that sweet lady green” because sometimes I am not into the whole brevity thing.

Let’s look at the valuation of slabbed 89UD#1’s first because, like it or not, the market value of a raw card is affected by its potential slab grade.


Slabbed cards are ones that have been authenticated, graded, and sonically sealed in a fancy plastic case by a professional card grader. While there have been plenty of firms performing this service for collectors over the years, there are two companies we’re going to focus on here because they are the standard-setters in the grading industry. You may have heard of them: PSA and BGS. There are others, but these two are the HGIC’s (Head Graders in Charge).

Non-BGS/PSA Graders

If your card is slabbed by any company other than PSA or BGS, this part is for you.

So much depends on the perceived value added by the grader that extends beyond the high-tech case. The problem is that a slew of companies with names like PRO, GEM, GRA, CSA, AGS, PGS, ASA, GMA ISA, AGS, ASA, BSG, Global, Rare Grading Inc., and Uncle Paulie’s Discount Card Graders and Used Tire Depot have sprung up over the past 20 years to perform the same service but with drastically differing grading (and moral) standards.

The problem stems from the fact that here are no universal standards or regulations in this industry. Some companies give high or perfect grades to cards that have quite obvious flaws visible even to the naked eye. Some companies have been known to trim cards to get perfect centering and clean up corners and edges. Some have slabbed cards with undeserved high grades specifically to sell them on eBay. A few, it seems, have taken advantage of the unregulated nature of the card grading industry by essentially selling grades, a practice that has shaken many collectors’ faith in new grading companies. Only those companies that assure quality through rigid self-regulation and consistency have and will survive.

While for the purposes of this post we will only consider the value of PSA and BGS graded cards, there are others in the grading game that are perfectly legit. SGC, for example, has been in operation since 1996 and uses a unique 100-point grading scale. I don’t have much data on SGC prices because with a population of under 7,000 graded 89UD#1’s they just don’t pop up as often as I’d like. Despite that, they, along with a handful of other lesser-known graders, are a solid and reputable outfit.

If you’re not sure about a grader, do your research. Few are more vocal with their ire than the card collecting community. I also invite anyone who has input on the different grading companies to provide it in the comments below.

On to the big boys…


PSA or Professional Sports Authenticator is the old dog on the block, having graded over 20 million cards in their 24-year history. PSA uses a 10-point grading scale, and their slabs are instantly recognizable by their red-bordered label. The company added their DNA division in 1998 to authenticate autographs.

The PSA slab

The PSA-graded card population of 1989 Upper Deck #1’s includes 60,362 graded specimens at the time of this post. Of those, 2,391 received a perfect Gem Mint 10 and 19,421 got a Mint/Near Mint 9. The most populous grade is Near Mint 8 with a population of 26,470. The ratio of Gem Mint 10’s to every other grade is just under 4% or 1 in 25. PSA does not have a “Pristine” grade as do SGC and BGS - they label their highest grade as "Gem Mint."


BGS or Beckett Grading Service came along years after PSA and quickly gained a following in the market for being a subsidiary of Beckett Media, publishers of Beckett Monthly Price Guide. As you probably know Beckett is the industry standard when it comes to card values, so BGS had instant pedigree. Where PSA built their business from scratch alongside the early-90’s boom in the sports card market, BGS had the advantage of mass brand recognition and respect right from their 1999 start-up.

The new brand’s competitive advantage (in addition to being an instantly-recognizable authority on sports cards) was two-fold: a more detailed grading scale and more substantial slabs. BGS slabs are thicker, heavier, and every one includes an etched BGS brand insignia beside the slab label. BGS also uses silver and gold foil in their label for every card graded above 8 while PSA labels are the same regardless of grade.

The BGS slab

The biggest difference between the brands’ respective grading styles is the scale used. BGS uses a 10-point scale just as PSA does, but theirs allows for half-point grades, effectively doubling the number of possible grades a card can receive. This scale makes it a lot tougher to land a perfect grade from BGS. There are far, far more BGS 9.5’s out there than BGS 10’s for all cards. Differences between the two grades can be, quite literally, microscopic.

Please note that while I’ve recently begun seeing half-point grades from PSA as well, such a change would not increase the quality of a PSA 10. Also, from the reading I’ve done, many believe a BGS 9.5 is essentially the same as a PSA 10 (you’ll notice later on that these two grades are pretty comparable in market price).

In addition to the half-point scale, BGS also includes four sub-grades for greater detail about each card. The four categories are corners, edges, surface, and centering. Every card receives a score in each category which, through a process of weighted averaging put through an algorithm, produces the card’s overall grade. As the market has proven, collectors are smitten with BGS’ level of detail.

The population of BGS-graded 89UD#1’s includes just over 32,000 graded specimens. Of those, 84 received a grade of BGS 10 Pristine. Let me repeat that: 84 out of 32,000 received a BGS 10. That’s 0.26%. Ahem.

BGS 9.5’s are also tough to come across with a global population of 1,972, only 6% of the total quantity graded. The most common grade is 8.5 with 7,405, edging out 8.0 by fewer than 300 graded specimens. Over 45% of the total population is graded either a BGS 8 or 8.5.

The BGS Algorithm

I’ve been working with a mathematician friend to try and reverse-engineer BGS’ proprietary grading algorithm for 89UD#1’s. We know that the overall grade is comprised of a matrix of weighted averages, but it’s not clear whether different criteria are used for different cards (for example, corners being weighted lower on vintage cards), so we have been using only BGS-graded 89UD#1’s in our data set.

We started with the knowledge that centering and corners are more heavily weighted than surface and edges. In a regular average, each of the four subgrades would be worth 0.25 or 25% of the overall grade. With weighted averaging, that factor jumps to a higher percentage for heavily weighted categories and a lower percentage for the others. Hence, those weighted categories have a greater effect on the overall grade.

Also, a card’s lowest subgrade has a huge impact on the overall grade which, it seems, is never more than a full point higher than the lowest subgrade. For example, a card with a surface subgrade of 5 and a 9.5 in every other category will likely never receive an overall grade above a 6.

On top of all that there also seems to be some rounding involved in the final overall grade. Obviously this complicates things a bit as well.

We are still working on this, but I will link to the solution here when and if we have one.

The Coveted BGS 10 Pristine

Imagine if there was a Griffey rookie that was serial numbered to 84. What would the market for that card be like? That is essentially the BGS 10.

It exists...

The nature of the 89UD#1 makes it incredibly difficult to find a BGS 10 candidate. It is card #1 in the set which places it in the upper left corner of each set’s first uncut sheet. This means nearly every specimen pulled from packs, perfect as it otherwise may be, is more than likely off-center. The ones that weren’t mis-cut, it seems, are anomalies.

In 1989 Upper Deck had a policy that factory-damaged cards would be replaced at the customer’s request, so in addition to the massively overproduced thousands of Griffeys that made it into the world via packs, there were untold thousands more printed in entire sheets of only Griffeys made just to replace damaged specimens. The result of this was that a large quantity of 89UD#1’s entered the market with a higher probability of being properly cut than their pack-sealed brethren.

The exact quantity of 89UD#1’s in circulation remains unknown. Suffice it to say the number is large enough that scarcity doesn’t really enter into value. From there it becomes all about condition.

Back in the mid-90’s when the grading craze began, the ’89 Upper Deck #1 lived on the top of Beckett’s monthly Hot List. At this time a loose specimen could fetch a very pretty penny, usually between $75 and $150 a pop raw. Those prices multiplied, sometimes exponentially, for slabbed cards; and the first grading company on the scene was PSA. This means that by the time BGS arrived with their legendary 10 grade, many 89UD#1’s were already sealed under a red-bordered PSA label. It also means that there may be hundreds of sealed PSA 10’s out there that are also potential BGS 10’s.

Now, decades later, it’s still pretty tough to get your hands on a BGS 10, but it’s not impossible. The way I see it there are three ways: buy one of the 84 BGS 10’s in existence (difficult and expensive), submit a flawless raw specimen for grading (unlikely and really unlikely), or crack a PSA 10 slab and submit that (not quite as expensive, but tricky). It’s not impossible to pull one from a pack, but it’s neither likely nor practical, especially considering how much sellers are asking for sealed packs. While it is a gamble, cracking a really clean copy from a PSA 10 slab for submission to BGS is how I would go about it.

I should mention here that while a BGS 10 grade is incredibly difficult to get, an SGC 100 is almost impossible. If you imagine the BGS 10 being a Griffey rookie numbered to only 84, the SGC 100 is the equivalent of a 1/1. The one and only SGC 100 Pristine in existence would almost certainly command more than a BGS 10 Pristine at auction.

Pricing the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey, Jr. Star Rookie

Before the baseball card market ran headlong into the Internet and people started realizing just how many of these things were around, the high Beckett value of the 89UD#1 was $150. Today it’s $40 (and frankly that still seems high to me). The initial massive drop in card values in the late 90’s was felt market-wide, forcing many brands to shutter their doors. Only a few made it through the crash and far fewer exist today.

One fun side effect is that a lot of folks got out of the market, causing demand to fall even for rare, desirable cards. Those who remained or got back into collecting later in life ended up landing dream cards for a fraction of their former price. That’s where this Griffey enters the equation for a lot of new/old/returning collectors.

I am one of those who re-entered the market after a long hiatus for the college/girls/marriage/career noise. When I came back to the hobby I was shocked to find I could pick up 89UD#1’s for less than 20 bucks on the ‘bay. I bought more than my fair share of those and thousands of other cards, the vast majority of which have been Griffeys.

As for BGS-graded 89UD#1’s, I have nine of them, all graded differently:

I bought all of these over the course of a few months because I like to stay up-to-date on what they are doing in the market, and I’ve become pretty good at spotting deals. I also think they look kind of awesome together. I call them my BGS rainbow. It stands incomplete until I get a 10 and a few of the lower grades.

As if that wasn’t enough I also have a bunch of PSA slabs:

I am missing grades 1-4, 7, 10, and all the half-grades. As a bargain hunter I’m in no rush to complete the PSA rainbow until I get the prices I want.

I’m bringing all this up because every time I buy a slabbed Griffey, I record the price (shipping included). Here is exactly what I paid in USD for every grade of 89UD#1 I own:

PSA Slab Acquisitions: Grade & My True Cost

9 - 47.98
8 - 23.06
6 - 22.90
5 - 17.09

BGS Slab Acquisitions: Grade & My True Cost

9.5 - 139.99
9 - 45.50
8.5 - 35.15
8 - 24.99
7.5 - 25.00
7 - 23.69
6.5 - 18.15
6 - 20.44
5.5 - 20.44

I feel like I beat the house in places here, most noticeably in the BGS 9.5 category where prices have been going up, but the rest of these costs are pretty spot-on from what I’ve seen in the market. You may be seeing BGS 8’s with a $50 Buy It Now on eBay, but that doesn’t mean they’ll sell for that, or even half that. Wait them out and keep looking.

One funny (to me, anyway) aspect of slabbed Griffey valuation is that a PSA 5 is far rarer than a PSA 9 with 1,752 specimens of the former versus 19,421 of the latter, and yet the prices are vastly different. In the baseball card market where rarity is key, a collector like me may find himself paying premiums on low grades simply for the fact that they are so ridiculously low and rare. It’s a silly pursuit, though, as eventually it becomes more cost-effective to intentionally damage a card and submit it for grading. In the meantime I continue to monitor eBay for low grades like an idiot.

You’re not necessarily going to land these grades for the same prices I paid (you may even pay less than I did, ya jerk). Here is a guide I put together of what you reasonably should expect to pay for top-tier graded 89UD#1’s. Note the “less than” signs:


10 <$300
9 <$45
8 <$25
<8 <$20

The highest-grade PSA averages just over $300, so try and beat that. PSA 9‘s have been going for close to $50, so a specimen below $45 is a good deal (I paid $45.50 as a result of alcohol-induced impatience). PSA 8’s average just above raw prices – you can justify the extra cost with the fact that it comes in a really nice sealed case. Any card graded below PSA 8 is comparable in price to a raw 89UD#1 in reasonable condition.


10  <$2000*
9.5 <$200
9    <$45
8.5 <$30
8    <$25
<8  <$20

*That BGS 10 estimation is a tough one to land for the simple fact that they don’t come up for sale often. With BGS 10’s, it becomes all about things like market timing and auction promotion to really put them over the top. While one recently sold for $2,900, I still fully expect an opportunity to land one within the limits quoted here, especially after the market calms down following Griffey’s HOF induction.

Below 10 the grades are pretty simple. 9.5’s have been going well into the mid to high 200’s, but if you can land one below 200 (and you can), you did alright. The same is true for 9’s. Buy It Now’s run in the 70’s down to the low 60’s, and you can expect to pay closer to $50 if you put a little effort into your search; but if you can get one for below $45, you did well. 8.5’s and 8’s fetch just a little more than the lower grades and raw cards, but nothing like grades above 9. That is where the sweet lady green really changes hands.

eBay gouging at its most obnoxious

Below grade 8 the incremental difference shrinks to the point that cards regardless of grade should sell for within a few dollars of each other. Raw cards tend to float between $10 in acceptable condition and $20 in good condition.

For unslabbed cards that appear to be in “better-than-good” condition it gets complicated. To understand that, we first have to look at:

The Cost of Grading

Before you pull the grading trigger it’s important to know how it’s going to affect the value of your card. Grading isn’t cheap, and in some cases it’s not necessarily worth doing if a higher selling price is your goal. Here are some nuts and bolts about grading.

The lowest price you can pay to have BGS grade one card is $11 plus $18 ground shipping (this is the 45-day shipping option) for a total of $29. If you are grading 100 cards or more, that price drops to $8 per card. BGS also offers packages (ranked in the way most familiar to American consumers: with the names of precious metals in order of rarity) that include discounted pricing on a pre-set quantity of cards and that come with things like t-shirts and duffel bags and such.

Let’s say a seller has an 89UD#1 that gets a grade of 7.5. The market price on such a graded card is roughly the same give or take a few bucks as a raw card in the same condition. Worst-case scenario, this seller spent $29 and waited 45 days to get this card slabbed. If he sent 100 cards to be graded with the same 45-day option, he spent $8.38 (shipping cost divided up by 100 cards) - this is the best-case scenario. Every penny made over $20 is a premium for grades under 8 - the real boosts in value come at grade 9 and over. Our seller is well below that, so how is he supposed to recoup the cost of grading?

If we start with an assumption that a seller can reasonably expect to get $20 on eBay for a raw 89UD#1 (had he not paid for grading) and that the USPS charges $2.32 to mail a small package suitable to hold a slabbed card, we can figure out the seller’s break even sale prices after grading. Note: I am not including eBay nor Paypal fees here because they tend to vary.

Seller had 100+ cards graded at once: $20 + $2.32 + $8.38 = $30.70
Seller had only the one card graded: $20 + $2.32 + $29 = $51.32

These prices are still too low because I am not taking into account eBay and Paypal fees. Actual break-even points are even higher than this.

Knowing the break-even prices are conservatively between $30.70 and $51.32, we can see why there appears to be so much gouging of graded Griffeys on the ‘Bay. Our poor seller with the 7.5 grade is kind of screwed. Then again, he can always try gouging. Which brings us to Frank.

Frank exists

Frank is selling his BGS 5 on eBay for $34.99 plus $2.32 shipping for a total of $37.31. Assuming he graded it with the cheapest grading option (100 cards at a time) this would give Frank a premium of $6.61 over the $20 value of the card (which is still a high estimation for a card graded a 5). At the single-card grading option, he is already losing money, so let’s roll with the cheap option.

Frank also included a Best Offer option. Since he is charging for shipping, an offer of 28.38 would get him even before seller fees. That would put the buyer’s real cost at $30.70, noticeably more than the card is really worth at this grade.

From experience I can tell you that Frank really wants to get even on his card. I want a BGS 5 for my BGS grade spectrum (sounds manlier than “rainbow”), and I hit my limit on offers (three) trying to get it. All of my offers were perfectly reasonable - even a little generous - for the grade but below Franks break-even point. He rejected them all.

In this case I think Frank would get more for his card were it not a confirmed 5. He seems to be sticking to the presumption that every 89UD#1 is worth $40 and he is discounting the card for its low grade. On the contrary, the card is worth half that at best, and he is charging a premium.

On the flip side, I bought a BGS 6.5 a few weeks ago for $18.15. If the seller was the one who got the card graded and used the cheapest possible option, it cost him $12.55 to sell me that Griffey. This is not something Frank would ever do, and I can’t really blame him.

The moral here is that BGS grading does not necessarily increase value at all unless your card is a solid BGS 9 or above. So, how can you tell?


So your Griffey is unslabbed. It’s nothing to be ashamed about – it happens to a lot of collectors. The question is: should you submit it for grading? I certainly want you to. You submitting your flawless raw 89UD#1 to BGS for a 10 grade is very much in my best interest because the more 10’s there are, the more likely it will be that I can eventually land one.

But do you have a good candidate for a 10 grade? Let’s find out:

You’re going to want to take a good look at your Griffey, my friend. Like, jeweler good. Grab you loupe and get in there. Explore the space. Hold it up to the light. Check the glare for imperfections. Magnify every millimeter of the edges and corners. Take notes. Make a chart. Take a high-quality scan of it and measure the centering. Do all of this without damaging or even touching the card itself (I recommend at least a penny sleeve – any less and even ginger handling can bring a 10 candidate down to a solid 9.5).

If you’ve done all that and you still can’t find anything that could be considered an imperfection, go ahead and send it to BGS. The potential for a big-money card (or an amazingly generous gift for yours truly) is better with them than PSA. If you’re looking to sell, you want a BGS 9.5 or higher. A BGS 9 may only break even with the cost of grading.

Maybe the card is centered perfectly but there are other imperfections not readily evident upon inspection. You could always dump it on eBay with those scans you took and advertise it as flawless. I mean, people can’t really see the detail in the edges from a scan or the condition of the card surface. You’re certain to squeeze a few more bucks out of some unwitting bidder. After all, it’s not like you know the poor sucker.*

*In case you didn’t catch my real meaning, the paragraph above is not meant to motivate you into misrepresenting the condition of your card to get the highest price at auction. It is a warning to those that would bid up a raw 89UD#1 based solely on scans. A perfectly-centered card does not a BGS 10 make. Ask for extremely detailed photos and scans before paying a premium on a raw card; and even then, be wary.

If your card is anything but flawless, congratulations! You have one of the greatest baseball cards ever produced. Enjoy it. Put it in a case and keep it with your best cards. Give it to a young kid just getting into collecting, or baseball, or both. Slip a copy into your wallet and take pictures of it in front of things.

If you insist on selling it, expect to get around $15. That number can swing up to $5 in either direction depending on condition, but not much further than that. I see some go for $13 on eBay pretty regularly. There are several on COMC right now in the 16-17 dollar range, and sometimes they creep down to $15. Simply put, this card isn’t expensive. Keep your head out of the clouds, and you will not be disappointed.

Here are a few more states in which you may find an 89UD#1:

The Sealed Set

Upper Deck released sealed complete sets of their 1989 product in shrink wrap and a big ol’ sticker protecting the sanctity of the box. These tend to sell in the $40-$60 range (shipping is the cost culprit when it comes to buying complete sets on eBay). The set is great and totally worth buying, but don’t expect to pull a BGS or PSA 10 out of one. Despite great corners, edges, and more than likely a perfect surface, the vast majority of these are just a little off-center and will never see a pristine grade.

The Uncut Sheet

I love these things, big and unwieldy as they may be. As card #1, Junior appears on the top left corner of the first sheet alongside the “Star Rookie” cards of Randy Johnson, Sandy Alomar, Dante Bichette, and Gary Sheffield. These are 100-card sheets, so they are not as huge as uncut Topps sheets with their 162 cards; and the whole shebang looks amazing framed on the wall. How can you go wrong?

A $20 poster frame and you're in business

There are always a few on eBay with Buy It Now’s that run upwards of $200.00, but if you’re patient, you can land one in the $50-$75 range or lower. I got mine for $81.99. Personally, I think these are a bargain.

Thinking about buying such a sheet to make a perfect cut-out of the Griffey yourself? Good luck. I won’t say it’s impossible to get right because I don’t know for sure, but it’s going to be some trick. Your first hurdle is that these sheets tend to be shipped rolled in tubes as opposed to flat, so you know the card has been rolled at least a little. Second, the sheet you get has more than likely been on display at some point which means UV surface damage. This is a bigger issue than you might think. Compare a card that’s been on display for a while with a copy of the same one that hasn’t and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The biggest hurdle here would be the cutting itself. Forget the fact that you would have to get the centering and corners dead-solid perfect. Graders can spot fraudulent cuts. I’ve read interviews with people who have done card grading (that’s how big of a nerd I am), and they know exactly what to look for when it comes to edges. Moreover this is a card that these guys see every damn day. How are they not going to notice a difference?

If you still think you have a shot at making this happen successfully, God bless you. Please let me in on your process.

The Mythical Uncut 100-Griffey Sheet

Then there’s the legend of the uncut sheets of just 89UD#1’s. I mentioned these sheets above – they were printed specifically to replace damaged specimens pulled from packs back in 1989. I almost didn’t write this paragraph because I’ve never seen evidence that any of these 100-card sheets still exist. If one does I would imagine it is currently hanging in the Upper Deck corporate offices or in the vault of some Griffey supercollector in Japan.

Sad but true...

There’s no telling whether any of them made it into circulation at all, but if they did they could potentially sell for a small fortune, easily in the multiple thousands. I couldn’t even begin to put a price tag on such a thing.


There are a few error variations of the 89UD#1, not all of which are genuine. Let’s go over these one-by-one.

If your Griffey card is missing the name or some other text, it is more than likely not an error. 1989 Upper Deck is notorious for the fact that anyone with a pencil eraser can make the lettering and even the image go bye-bye in no time at all. If you are the unfortunate owner of one of these altered versions, I weep for you.

That does not necessarily hold true for blank backs. Apparently these are a real thing, and at least one exists that has been authenticated by a reputable grading outfit. Unfortunately value on these is hard to pin down. As I write this the world’s only BGS-slabbed 89UD#1 Blank Back is on eBay with a Buy it Now of $2,000 or best offer. With cards like this the value is essentially what the market will pay, so I’m not going to quote any kind of value range; but if I had one I would undercut that other seller by a couple hundred bucks for those buyers still on the fence and use the money to buy a BGS 10.

There are also a few printing anomalies floating around including overprints and “test prints” which can have any combination of bizarre qualities. I’ve seen multiple layers of printing on one side, two different card fronts printed on opposing sides, and variations of each that include black & white colorways. These tend to be kind of neat in that each one is unique, but they’re also tough to authenticate unslabbed and prices are unpredictable. Do what feels right.

If you have an error version of the 89UD#1, my best advice would be to submit it to PSA or BGS and let them authenticate the error. Whether you are personally sure about the authenticity or not, it will be easier to sell and it will almost certainly fetch enough to justify the expense. As for buying an error, there is currently a raw overprint on eBay for $96 or best offer, pretty low compared with what I’ve seen. If you don’t mind the questionable nature of what you’re getting, I’d lowball until it’s yours. Otherwise, wait for one that’s been authenticated.

So yeah…

That pretty much covers it. I would like to mention here that the numbers quoted above are not from any price guide - they are based on years of real market observation and participation performed by me personally on some of the most popular card buying and selling sites on the Web. I would argue that this gives my estimates a higher degree of accuracy than you may find in some price guides. And in one column.

If you have an 89UD#1 that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, I want to hear about it. Otherwise enjoy your card or the money you get from selling it – whichever you prefer. I prefer the Griffey.

Or tacos.


About the Author

A Griffey collector for 20 years, I am the proprietor of The Junior Junkie: the Baseball Cards of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Beyond. I pulled my first 89UD#1 from a pack at my local card shop in 1995 when it booked for $75. I own numerous iterations of the 1989 Upper Deck #1 Griffey rookie, including raw, slabbed, the uncut sheet, the complete base set, every BGS grade from 5 to 9.5, and dozens of raw originals. I have numerous reprints and homages to the 89UD#1 in every size from the original to a massive 18” x 25” 25th Anniversary promo signed by The Kid himself, an item gifted to me directly by Upper Deck for my rabid Griffey fandom. I carry an original 89UD#1 around with me at all times as my Wallet Card and have been recognized by Upper Deck for doing so. I’ve both bought and sold 89UD#1’s at both their highest and lowest Beckett values, and I’ve even given a few copies away. At the time of this post my collection of Griffeys includes 7,236 total cards, 3,768 of which are all different. This number does not include all the magazines, standees, pack wrappers, videos, games, figurines, ornaments, shirts, hats, posters, magnets, jerseys, coins, pocket schedules, cereal boxes, commemorative baseballs, and other promotional items I’ve amassed through the years. Mighty is my Griffey-smart, and patient is my wife.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Prospecting like it's 1989. Nice lengthly article for people trying make sense of what the Griffey RC fiasco has turned into in the 2010's.

    Although the grading stuff hurt my head more than Fangraphs' formula for WAR.

    1. I like big posts and I cannot lie. You other bloggers can't deny...

    2. i like your how you used the sir mix alot reference in a blog about KGjr

  2. Someday I will own the 89UD#1 and it will be glorious. I'm envious of your Griffey collection. I thought I was a Sandberg super collector and now you have me rethinking my definition of "super collector".

  3. This is awesose. I hope to land a cheap 89UD#1 at some point...the kind that can buy me a pizza, not a Kia.

  4. Great post. A buddy of mine knew a guy who purchased 3,500 1989 UD Griffey rookies at the Frank and Sons card show in LA. Back then, you could order any UD base card in any card lot size you wanted. The great thing about that is that even though there are more than enough Griffey rookie cards for collectors... they still hold their value.

  5. You, my friend, are absolutely crazy. Which is what makes you such an awesome read !
    I'm having an 89 Griffey sent my way almost as we speak (well, as I write), as part as a trade. This will be a very, very exciting day in my life when I receive it

  6. I picked up a 89 UD Griffey #1 with triple-print back last year for under $20, it is insane to think anyone would be willing to drop nearly $100 on a printing error.

  7. Very insightful! Thanks for this.

  8. I got mr griffie rookie cards in 1989. I have 3 of them. Amazed to see how much lower the prices are now.

  9. A few other versions I can think of are buybacks. In 2009, Upper Deck inserted buybacks into their product. Every single 1989 card was purchased back, stamped with a 20th anniversary logo (like Topps does every year for Heritage cards). I've actually never seen a Griffey, though I bought a Sheffield rookie back when they came out.

    Griffey also autographed 89 of them. I've seen those.

    I don't know of any other buybacks of the 89 Griffey card, they did quite a few SP buybacks with autographs in the late 90s.

  10. Interesting article. I bot 2 UD Griffey #1's in 1989. I don't remember if 1 of them is from the box set or if I bot them both separate. I guess these would be "raw" cards? They're both in sleeves and have never been taken out (or touched I don't think). I'm not too interested in selling them but maybe getting them graded to hand down to my kids. any thoughts?

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  12. I bought my first Griffey UD 89 rookie card around 1997-8 for around a buck I guess (don't remember exactly). It was a single pack of cards from a local dealer in Ephrata, WA and I was the only one there (small town USA). As soon as I opened the pack I started flipping through the cards right there in the dealers shop. When I saw the card my heart stopped...and I stopped. Without touching the card anymore the dealer offered me $25 bucks. I refused because I love KGJr! Instead I asked him for a hard cover plastic case. With my left hand I carefully picked up the card on the outside edges very gently and placed it into the plastic (coffin) case and put in the screws. Knowing I just picked the best card out of an 1989 Foil Upper Deck Pack, I was ecstatic (Beautiful)! I have looked at it about 10 times over the years and get a thrill from the experience of picking a great one. I would never sell it. This is America at its best, and Ken is one of the best in my era.


  13. This was a great site to read. I was reflecting on my childhood when I collected sports cards and comic books. I never had a lot of money to spend as a kid, getting a $5/wk. allowance, so one of the greatest memories I have relates to the 89UD#1. I remember walking to the neighborhood 7-11 and purchasing a single foil pack of 89 UD (and probably a $.10 ring pop...). When I got back home I opened up the pack, and was amazed to find 2 Griffey #1's in the pack. I ended up selling both of them along with a number of other cards to a sports card shop, but don't remember what I got for them. Selling those and my entire in-box 62 G1 Transformers collection are probably my biggest life regrets. Still great memories though.

    1. I forgot to add that I was recently helping my Mother downsize when I came across some of my old belongings. Within this stuff was a folder I had forgotten about which contained 5 new and never displayed posters (2 "The Bash Brothers", 1 Nolan Ryan, and 2 Griffey "The Next Generation").

  14. I still have my #1 that I got out of a pack back in 1989..I grew up in a small town in southwest Washington state, so Jr was everything to me as a 9 yr old was the second card in the pack, the first being Greg Jeffries..4 months later my dad took me to a card show and we waited in line for probably 3 hours and I had it signed by him..its been in one of those screw down holders since that day, and I keep it in my sock drawer along with my Barry Sanders score rookie card which is also in a holder..

  15. Is there also a TM and R version of this card. Its the tiny lettering to the right of the Star Rookie label.

  16. What's the value of the 2009 upper deck ken griffey jr buy back numbered autograph rookie card? I pulled this card from a box of 2009 upper deck (series one?) box.

    1. I've seen these go anywhere from $500 to $1000, but it's been a while. I assume they are higher now. However there appear to be a lot of fakes,too, so smart buyers tend to be wary. Get it authenticated and slabbed. That one will definitely be worth the expense.

  17. I know it's 'off topic' because it's an Upper Deck football card, I have a 1991 card, #428 of Luis Sharpe that has no back to it. It's not a blank back where it was never printed, It's very thin paper that you can see through when held up to a light. The front of the card looks normal in print, colors and glossiness. The back though is like someone peeled the card into layers, but there is no damage. The back has a consistent surface to it, and the card is flat, no curls or bends. If you tried peeling one apart, there probably would be areas where the paper did not separate properly. This does not have that. Any idea as to what this might be?

  18. I have a upper decker card in perfect shape of Ken Griffey Jr. 4/10/89 hits his first Major League homer, connecting off the White Sox's Eric King on the first pitch he ever sees in the Kingdome. Thanks for your time. Kathryn Donnelly

  19. It’s 2021 and I’m reading this while researching wether $2200 for a slabbed 9.5 bfs is worth the price. Wish I’d bought when prices were at the level you paid!