Monday, August 17, 2020

The Griffeys of 1994 Signature Rookies EXPLAINED


While the topics of my posts are sometimes sets I pick totally at random and other times based on particularly difficult or proud acquisitions, there are also rare instances when my hand is forced. That is the case with 1994 Signature Rookies, a strange set with a lot of conflicting information to be found online.

You see, back when I was building the 1996 Beckett Ken Griffey, Jr. Tribute checklist, two of the last seven cards I needed were from 1994 Signature Rookies. For many months they evaded me, and after hours of research I finally figured out why. Here is the part that caused all the trouble, word-for-word, exactly as it appears in the Beckett Tribute checklist:

1994 Signature Rookies Flip Cards Signatures #AU2 w/ Craig signed 1,000
1994 Signature Rookies Flip Cards Signatures #AU5 w/ Craig; Ken signed 500
1994 Signature Rookies Flip Cards Signatures #AU4 w/ Ken Griffey, Sr. signed 1000
1994 Signature Rookies Flip Cards Signatures #AU6 w/ Ken Sr.; Ken Jr. signed 500

Looks like there could be a few dual autograph cards on this list, right? Turns out that was never the case. Being that I love a good boring mystery and have gotten pretty good at researching Griffey cards, I have compiled what I hope is every bit of information needed to confidently put this set to rest. Some questions still remains unanswered, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker for your run-of-the-mill Griffey completionist. Here is everything I know about the Griffeys of 1994 Signature Rookies.

1994 Signature Rookies was an unlicensed minor league product that had a big ol’ boner for Cliff Floyd despite also having a young Derek Jeter in the base set. It included an autograph in every pack which was pretty significant at the time. Several thousand Derek Jeter autographs were introduced into the market through this set, and to this day the Jeter autos regularly sell in the $200-$300 range. Of course there were no Griffeys in 1994 Signature Rookies.

Heh. "Booty"

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks, on the other hand, is a completely different set and the one with the Griffeys. It included an insert called “Flip Cards” made up of two-sided cards featuring pairings like Nolan and Reid Ryan, Phil Nevin and Paul Wilson, and the three Griffey men, Senior, Junior, and Craig. Each Griffey has two Flip Cards, one with each other Griffey. These were limited to 15,000 unnumbered copies each. In addition to being unnumbered, the cards don’t have numbers – to anyone but a card collector that sentence probably sounds pretty stupid.

That makes the complete Flip Cards insert checklist look like this (I put the Junior cards in bold for our purposes):

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Craig Griffey / Ken Griffey, Jr. /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Craig Griffey / Ken Griffey, Sr. /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Ken Griffey, Jr. / Ken Griffey, Sr. /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards R. Ryan / Nolan Ryan /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Paul Wilson / Phil Nevin /15000

And here they are:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks
Flip Cards (w/ Craig) /15000


This is the regular base card featuring Junior and his brother Craig.

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks
Flip Cards (w/ Ken, Sr.) /15000


And this is the regular base card he shares with Ken, Sr.

So far things are pretty straight-forward, right? Enjoy this moment, for it is fleeting.

There are also autographed versions of the Flip Cards, none of which were signed by both Griffeys – they were strictly one autograph each. I know this doesn’t sound like that big a deal, but it took me a minute to figure that out. This means that if you were lucky enough to pull an autographed Griffey flip card, odds were it was either Craig or Ken, Sr. The two signed Junior cards were the rarest of all the autographs.

And here they are:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures
Autograph (w/ Craig) #/1000 (factory-sealed w/ COA)


And the one with Ken, Sr.:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards
Signatures Autograph (w/ Ken, Sr.) #/1000


Right away this tells us that the Beckett Tribute checklist, while the wording appears to list four dual auto cards (that’s how I saw it, anyway), actually lists four cards with two players each only signed by one of the players. Here is how the Beckett Tribute checklist would have listed them if they had wanted to save me numerous fruitless searches for dual autos that don’t exist:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures /500 (Craig and Ken, Jr., signed by Jr. only)
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures /500 (Ken, Sr and Jr., signed by Jr. only)
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures /1000 (Craig and Ken, Jr., signed by Craig only)
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures /1000 (Ken, Sr and Jr., signed by Sr. only)

I can’t always brain stuff good, but this…THIS I can brain.

So there are at least two other cards we need if we're going to have all the Juniors, those being the autographed versions of these same cards for the other two Griffey guys. 

And here they are:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards
Signatures (w/ Craig Autograph only) #/1050


There's Craigles...

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards
Signatures (w/ Ken, Sr. Autograph only) #/1050


...and of course big man.

There are a lot of quality baseball card databases on the web, but when it comes to this particular set, most of them are rife with inaccuracies. The only site I’ve found that gets it close is Beckett. Here is what they have to say about 1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards. You Junior collectors may want to mind the bold parts:

“Randomly inserted in Signature Rookie Draft Picks baseball packs, this nine-card standard-size autograph set features full-bleed color action shots on both sides. Marbleized green stripes accent the pictures on the left and bottom. Individual autographs appear across the photo. Instead of inserting an autographed card, an individually numbered certificate was inserted to be redeemed for those cards featuring the autographs of Nolan Ryan and Ken Griffey Jr. Ryan signed 1,000 of the Nolan/Reid cards and Ken Jr. signed 500 picturing him with Ken Sr. and 500 with brother Craig. Phil Nevin signed 1,050 cards, Reid Ryan 2,100, Craig Griffey signed 2,000 (1000 with Ken Jr. and 1000 with Ken Sr.) and Ken Sr. signed 2000 (1000 with Craig and 1000 with Ken Jr.). The cards are unnumbered and checklisted below alphabetically according to the first player listed.

#AU1A JR AU/Craig #/1000 (500?)
#AU1B JR/Craig AU #/1050
#AU2A SR AU/Craig #/1050
#AU2B SR/Craig AU#/1050
#AU3A JR AU/SR #/1000 (500?)
#AU3B JR/SR AU #/1050
#AU4A Nolan Ryan AU/Reid Ryan #/1000
#AU4B Nolan Ryan/Reid Ryan AU #/2100
#AU5A Phil Nevin AU/Paul Wilson #/1050
#AU5B Phil Nevin/Paul Wilson AU #/1050”


It appears that Beckett added those card numbers for their own purposes as, again, there are no official numbers on the cards themselves. Also, I added the “(500?)” to the Junior autos because multiple sources including the Beckett Tribute checklist, Baseballcardpedia, and the paragraph preceding the above checklist all say he signed 500. I’m not 100% sold on how many there actually are, but I have an educated guess. 

In the meantime, we now have enough information to put together a fairly accurate 1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Griffey checklist:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards (w/ Craig) /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards (w/ Ken, Sr.) /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures Autograph (w/ Craig) #/1000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures Autograph (w/ Ken, Sr.) #/1000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures (w/ Craig Autograph) #/1050
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures (w/ Ken, Sr. Autograph) #/1050

I put this into BEAST format as that is how Daddy likes it. As you can see there are six different Junior cards: the two regular flip cards, the two Junior autographs, and the two other Griffey autographs with Junior on the flip side of each. It could be argued that you don’t necessarily need the two other Griffey autographs, but in the strictest sense they are legit variations of Junior cards. They’re pretty inexpensive, too. I say count ‘em, and so does the Beckett Tribute checklist.

Another issue with many online sources is that Craig and Ken, Sr. each signed 1050 of each of their respective two cards. This number is listed as 1000 in a lot of places - again, the above paragraph from Beckett included. 1050 is the correct number.

Let’s take a closer look at the autographed Junior cards:
Here are both Junior autos, the left one has Craig on the flip side and the right one has Senior. The one on the left has a small hole punched over the nameplate of the Craig side, so we know this COA is a false back that they simply slapped over poor Craig. Now let’s look at the Craig and Senior autos with Senior and Craig respectively on the flip sides:


So Craig and Senior signed 1050 copies of each of their flip cards (for a total of 2100), and they are each numbered to that – 1050. Makes sense, right? Junior, however, is said - in multiple independent sources, mind you - to have signed 500 of each card for a total of 1000. So why are the cards numbered to 1000 and not 500? Wouldn’t it make the cards more desirable if the numeration was the correct, lower number? And if they were using the same numbering format across the board, shouldn’t the Craig and Senior auto cards be numbered to 525 each?

On top of everything, if both versions of the Junior autograph cards were considered part of the same run of 1000, it would follow that the first 500 would be one card and the last 500 would be the other. I mean, they wouldn’t mix the cards into a giant pile Go-Fish-style before he started signing. I ask because I have one of each as you can see, and they are really close in serial number. How would that even happen?

You might think some of this was caused by a third-party aftermarket seller (not unlike The Score Board) who got a hold of a large quantity of these Flip Cards, had them signed, and sold them privately, possibly through a home shopping outlet. That big slab does look like the kind of thing they would sell autographed cards in. Well here is what I consider the biggest piece of this puzzle: that slabbed one I have has about as air-tight a pedigree as I've ever seen in my life. Take a look:

Sealed on both sides with unbroken Signature Rookies branded seals


COA is sealed inside, hand-numbered, and signed IN TRIPLICATE
by everyone involved in the card's signing including the president of
the damn company.

I quite literally do not own a baseball card with better pedigree than that. I'm not certain one exists.

With this mountain of evidence at hand, my guess is that there was a miscommunication somewhere early on that Junior signed 500 of each card when in reality he signed 1000 of each and the numbering on the cards is correct. The above sealed COA give me confidence that BBCP and Beckett just have it wrong. And it's not like it's in my best interest that there be MORE of these things around. I'd prefer the correct number be 500, but the numbers, COA's, branded seals, and logic don't lie.

The worst part of all this is that there are SO MANY MORE irregularities in this run of autographs. I’ve seen versions of the Junior autos with numbering on the front and in different places, versions with numbering on the back, and versions with no numbering at all. I’ve seen versions with a gold foil “Authentic Signature” sticker, still others with a clear version of the same sticker, and plenty with no sticker at all. I’ve even seen versions with the false back removed, revealing the Craig side of the card, and versions without any false back at all as well as no sticker and no numbering. Every autograph appears to exist in every configuration you can imagine, so how do you know when you’ve completed the set?

Just to be safe (and because they're cheap as dirt), I did go ahead and grab the remaining non-Junior Griffeys. And here they are:

1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards 
Signatures Ken Griffey, Sr. and Craig Griffey (w/ Craig 
Autograph only) #/1050



1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards
Signatures Ken Griffey, Sr. and Craig Griffey (w/
Ken, Sr. Autograph only) #/1050


Both have gold stickers - at least there's some consistency. I don't need these in the strictest sense, and they are not on the 1996 Beckett Tribute Checklist; but I feel like a baddass having all of them.

Despite all the unanswered questions, I consider the matter closed. The way I see it, I have all the 1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Card Griffeys. ALL OF THEM, I SAY. There are simply too many variations of these autos to bother stressing out about finding one of every version. Screw that noise.

So is that enough monkey wrenches for ya? Well here’s another: there are also a few seemingly-unaccounted-for mystery Griffeys from 1994 Signature Rookies (NOT Draft Picks apparently), namely the 24kt Gold Signature cards. And here they are:

1994 Signature Rookies 24 Karat Gold Signature
#S2 /7750 (w/ signature and COA)



Neat, right? Well, here's another:

1994 Signature Rookies 24 Karat Gold Signature
#S2 /7750 (no signature)

Okay, not as fun, this one. But...also 1 of 7,750? You sure?


Despite the fact that they say “Signature” in the set title, these are not signed. Instead, they have a thick, gold facsimile signature that has the slightly-below-room-temperature coolness of metal. I’ll admit it – they are really striking, and I’m a fan.

They say they are limited to 7,750, but I’ve never been able to pin down whether that is a cumulative total and just a few of them have the gold signature or if there are 7,750 of each or what. I assume it’s cumulative and there are somehow fewer with the gold signature than without. I would feel more strongly about this if that COA didn’t also say there are 7,750 of them. What are these, and how did they make it out into the world?

And to be clear, there is no indication that the auto was ever on the non-auto card. No glue residue, no discoloration, no damage of any kind. The surface is perfect. Not to mention the "auto" is three separate pieces which would make the auto simply having fallen off even less likely. And mine is not super rare or anything - I've seen numerous examples of both versions, usually with questions from the owners about what exactly their deal is. I wish I had answers.

With the addition of the 24kt Gold Signature cards, our 1994 Signature Rookies Junior checklist is finally complete, and here it is:

1994 Signature Rookies 24 Karat Gold Signature #S2 /7750 (no signature)
1994 Signature Rookies 24 Karat Gold Signature #S2 /7750 (w/ signature and COA)
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards (w/ Craig) /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards (w/ Ken, Sr.) /15000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures Autograph (w/ Craig) #/1000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures Autograph (w/ Ken, Sr.) #/1000
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures (w/ Craig Autograph only) #/1050
1994 Signature Rookies Draft Picks Flip Cards Signatures (w/ Ken, Sr. Autograph only) #/1050

If I told you the time I put into putting together this final checklist, you would think I’m a big loser (like, more so). And you would be right. Thanks for reading.

5 comments:

  1. GREAT rundown. I really liked signature rookies as a kid. I often had to "settle" on them because they were readily available at Kay Bee Toys. It was exciting to get an autograph, and the numbering made them feel really rare (even though print runs were high). It was a very unique brand and one I came across frequently, and still have a bunch of the cards. Those, and Classic 4 Sport!

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  2. Super interesting - and confusing. Sometimes I think it's best that I "only" try to collect Barry Larkin as he certainly has more straightforward cards than Mr. Griffey.

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  3. There was a company that sold Signature Rookies through mail order back in the 90's and they'd have these blowout sales from time to time. I opened a few boxes of the 1994 SR Draft Picks. I blame this product on my obsession with autographed cards these days.

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  4. I pulled a 94 UD cc #634 KenJr gold out of a set with 10 autos not 5 bout a month ago any advice on value or auctions or authentication

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