Top 50 On Cardboard
Ken Griffey Jr.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.
The most iconic rookie card in my collection belongs to future Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. I am sure that there are plenty of other collectors who could probably say the same thing about the best rookie card in their collection too. While I am sure I have a few rookie cards that might bring in more money on the secondary market, no other rookie card has more meaning to me and to the hobby then the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card.
The popularity of the 1989 Upper Deck set was driven by the rookie card of Ken Griffey Jr. Before Upper Deck baseball cards were low gloss cardboard. Imperfect in many ways. Nothing wrong that at all, but Upper Deck introduced the baseball card world to a glossier sharper looking card. Without the Griffey rookie card would collectors have been had the same love for the 1989 Upper Deck set? I am guessing no.
Is there anyone who collected baseball cards in the nineties who does not have at least a little bit of love for Ken Griffey Jr? There have been many good players who have come and gone during my time collecting cards, but Ken Griffey's career interested 22 of those years. No matter the quality of season for Ken Griffey Jr., he was always at the top of hobby. I first ran into Ken Griffey Jr. in middle school. I loved his cards then and tried to pick up as many as I could.
Over the years I picked up whatever Griffey cards came my way. Is there really a bad Ken Griffey card? I would argue no. It really does not matter if the card is low end, high end, or in between. Give me a piece of cardboard with a picture of Ken Griffey Jr. on it and you've made my day. There are so many cool ones. Like this one:
1998 Collectors Choice Ken Griffey Jr.
A low end card, but such a cool picture. It's one of the things that always made Ken Griffey Jr. a cool player to collect. No matter your budget or level of collecting you could always find something that would look great in your collection.
Over time my taste in Griffey cards took a turn upwards. Upper Deck signed Ken Griffey Jr. to an exclusive autograph and relic card contract and put out a ton of his signatures and jersey swatches. The cards were really expensive in the late nineties, but have come down in price over the past decade and a half. Who wouldn't want to own a copy of Griffey autograph?
Besides being an iconic player of the game, Griffey has a great signature. His autograph has changed very little over the years. There are a few "low end" Griffey autographs which can be had for around $50 on Ebay. If you want to own a Griffey autograph for the sake of owning a Griffey autograph, you should look into the 2004 UD Etchings set. I believe the print run on the Griffey autograph in that set is around 1500. It's the largest autograph run I have ever seen on a Griffey autograph and it's often reflected on the price of the card.
If price is not an object, and your looking for quality, I would look at Upper Deck autographs between 2000 and 2005. There are plenty of them, with varying print runs, but many are on-card autographs and look sharp. The newer Topps autographs of Griffey Jr. are also very nice. Later 2000s Upper Decks are hit and miss. There are some nice ones, but there are also autographed cards of Griffey on the White Sox (Why Upper Deck?)
In summary, Griffey is just a great player to collect. He's had the greatest impact on baseball cards over the last thirty years and it's not even close. Collectors have argued with me over the years about whatever flavor of the year had popped up, but year in and year out, Griffey was always amongst the most collected players in the game.
On The Field-
Griffey is one of the best center-fielders of all-time. JAWS ranks him as the fifth best of all-time. The top four center-fielders are Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Mickey Mantle. There is a pretty big gap in WAR between the four center fielders and the rest of the group, but Griffey still ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Duke Snider, Richie Ashburn, and Andre Dawson. Really I think of Griffey's career in two segments.
The first segment of Griffey's career was played at a really high level. The first decade of Junior's career was played in Seattle where he won an American League MVP, four home run titles, ten Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and 10 All-Star appearances. Add in an OPS that was consistently between .900 and 1.000, an OPS+ between 130 and 170, and a WAR that consistently crossed 5. When you compare those numbers to the top 4 players on the JAWS center-fielder list, it's clear that Griffey fits the mold as one of the greats of the all-time.
The second half of Griffey's career was spent mostly in Cincinnati. Griffey forced a trade to the Reds before the 2000 season. While there were signs of Griffey's decline during his last two years in Seattle, injuries sped the process up in Cincinnati. He was a good player, not great, when he was healthy. However, he missed a lot of playing time during his nine years as a Red. He basically played two full season as a Red. You can count a third season if you include 2008 which was split between the Reds and White Sox.
While Griffey continued to increase his counting number stats like home runs, RBIS, and hits his other stats suffered greatly. He posted one season over 40 home runs (2000) and won none of the accolades he received while playing in Seattle. He did make a few All-Star game appearances, but failed to garner any other Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves, or MVPs. In fact, during his time in Cincinnati he only finished in the Top 25 for MVP voting once.
His OPS+ in Cincinnati was consistenly under 130, one season over, and his WAR never crossed 4. Still, despite the decline I still enjoyed watching Ken Griffey as a Red. It was painful to watch the decline, but if you were patient you'd see a flash of what made Ken Griffey Jr. one of the all-time greats.
One of my best memories of Griffey was from a game he played against the Cardinals in 2001. I remember watching the game during my summer break from school. The Cardinals were in the middle of the pennant chase against the Astros and were playing the lowly Reds. The game entered the 11th inning and Tony LaRussa brought in Andy Benes to pitch. Griffey came up and hit a ball to dead center field. Those days patrolled by Jim Edmonds which usually meant a fly ball was either out of the park, or it was going to be caught. Not that night. I actually found a video of the play. Vintage Griffey.
It's got to be one of his best moments as a Red. It would have been cool to see Griffey stay a little bit more upright as a Red and see where his career numbers might have ended. If if Griffey was just an above average player in Cincinnati, he could have easily reached 3000 hits and 700 home runs with more than 2 healthy season over his nine as a Red.
There are so many that I could choose. I will go with the 2000 Pacific Aurora Griffey card. There are two versions of the card: The original Mariners card and a Reds card. It's an inexpensive card, but was a really cool card at the time it was released. You also can't go wrong with a Griffey rookie, the Collector's Choice card above, or any Griffey autograph.