In the days leading up to his 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame election, one photo consistently used online by writers was the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. That image is burned into the minds of anyone who was involved in the sports collecting hobby at the time, whether as a kid who wanted one more than life itself, a shop owner in a suddenly booming industry or an adult who wondered if the days of bubble gum and wax wrappers were numbered (they were).
Keeping the Kid Safe
While it might be one of the iconic symbols of a certain generation, it’s not going to be the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. While the Mantle is famous as much for those that were thrown away, the Griffey rookie card is well-known because no one did. It was a treasure from the moment the first one emerged from those newfangled $1 foil packs Upper Deck unleashed on an unsuspecting little hobby nearly 27 years ago.
— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) January 6, 2016
If you stuck yours away hoping it’d be your ticket to a free education, well, so did thousands of other kids and parents. While it didn’t quite work out that way, it’s still worth something and examples that score high ratings from grading and authentication services that boomed after its release are worth more.
Glut of Graded Griffeys
Not all were kept in perfect condition. Like any youthful treasure, some were handled regularly. Those, though, were few.
Upper Deck printed to demand and demand was through the roof in 1989. We don’t know exactly how many were made but we do know that a milestone was reached, probably some time within the last few months, that went unnoticed. The three major grading companies have now examined over 100,000 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards. Over one-fifth of those have been rated mint, gem mint or ‘pristine’ (not every grading company uses the same terminology but you get the drift).
Here’s the breakdown as of this writing:
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards graded by PSA
Gem Mint 10: 2,537
Mint 9 (no qualifier): 19,815
Approximate number of eBay listings (all grades): 169
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards graded by Beckett
Pristine 10: 96
Gem Mint 9.5: 2,102
Mint 9: 4,909
Approximate number of eBay listings: 190
Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards Graded by SGC
Gem Mint 98: 184
Mint 96: 1,327
Approximate number of eBay listings: 7
Hall of Fame election doesn’t mean huge price increases for most players but Junior’s popularity is far above most players. Prices are already ticking upward
“It will impact his rookies marginally in the short term but then the demand should flatten out and there are certainly more than enough 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookies to go around,” said Leighton Sheldon of New Jersey-based Just Collect.
In the three days leading up to the Hall of Fame announcement, seven PSA 10 Griffey rookie cards were sold, with prices generally falling between $315 and $360. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for high-grade copies. The larger question is how much of an impact his actual induction will have on them long-term. While the card is far from scarce, the demand for it is unlike any other modern era card.
“This card used to sell for over $1,000 in a PSA 10 years ago,” Sheldon recalled. “Only time will tell but I see it settling in at $500 over the next few years.”
The mint 9 examples are common enough that many are offered in lots. On average, they’ve been selling individually for $60-80.
One of those 96 Pristine 10s from Beckett sold for $2,550 over the holidays with 9.5 rated examples falling between $200 and $250–a slight increase over recent months. BGS 9s are at $40-50.
An SGC 98 was purchased for $350 on January 3, quite a jump from the two other recent selling prices of $297 and $256.
Beckett’s other grading label, BCCG, has also graded its share of Griffey rookies with a scale that’s more generous, but also less valuable in the market than the main service.
Remember, these figures pale in comparison to the Griffey rookie cards that have never been graded. It’s safe to say their numbers dwarf those that have been encapsulated. There are likely a lot more 9s and 10s sitting in plain toploaders, old screwdown holders or album pages.
There’s no doubt the supply of the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey card is strong as he enters the Hall of Fame.
Fortunately, so is the demand.