Why Upper Deck Turned Griffey Minor League Photo into its Signature Card

Upper Deck sent out a picture from the original photo shoot for the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card on Monday, one which gives collectors an idea of the work that was done to the teenager’s minor league uniform and cap to make him look like he was wearing the colors of the Major League club.

In an interview with The Sporting News last week, Griffey talked about Upper Deck using ‘Photoshop’ to turn his San Bernardino Spirits duds into M’s blue and gold.  Of course, the computer graphics program wasn’t actually invented until much later, but Upper Deck designers did have to do some creative detailing to give the hot young prospect his big league look.

It worked.

Upper-Deck-1989-Ken-Griffey-Jr-Rookie-Card-Photo-Shoot-San-Bernardino-SpiritGriffey cracked Seattle’s starting lineup in time for opening day and played well, catapulting Upper Deck’s brand new $1 per pack cards into favored status with kids and adult collectors who had bought into the rookie card craze that had begun several years earlier.  While the card would most likely have been hot even if Upper Deck hadn’t touched the photo, it did make Upper Deck look good for having him as card #1 in their first series and “dressed” in MLB gear.  Using a tight shot inside of a wider image made it less obvious that the photo was taken before his arrival on Seattle’s roster.

“Our designers worked to digitally enhance the photo to make Griffey appear to be a part of the Mariners in order to get the card out in time and because we liked the photos so much,” relayed Upper Deck’s Chris Carlin.

Carlin says production issues made the color on some of the cards a bit different.  “Purple hat” versions of the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey sometimes carry a premium. because of their scarcity in the market.

The first case of Upper Deck’s inaugural product was delivered to a hobby shop was on February 28, 1989 and the company plans to use that moment to kick off a 25th anniversary celebration.

PSA 10 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie cardThe Griffey card is far from rare, but still popular, especially with kids who grew up in the era.  Prices vary greatly on sites like eBay where dozens are usually available at any given time because of professional grading.  A PSA 10 typically brings $275-325; a BGS 9.5 is worth around $150, mint 9’s sell for $40-50 and 8’s can be had for no more than $25.

Factory sets of 1989 Upper Deck, many still sealed, are worth $40-50, largely because of the uncertainty over the quality of the Griffey card that’s inside.

Unopened boxes with 36 packs generally sell for $75-100 each.