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Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card (Best 6 Investments, Value, Checklist)

psa-10-griffey-udI started collecting in the mid-80s, when Fleer, Topps, and Donruss ruled the streets during the junk era. 

As a Red Sox fan, I tended to emulate my hometown idols, guys like Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and Mike Greenwell. 

But, every so often, there were players that you could not ignore. As a kid, one of those guys was Ken Griffey Jr. 

Griffey somehow emerged unscathed from the steroid era, ending his career as one of the best to play the game.

Griffey’s rookie cards came out near the peak of the junk era, so most collectors view his cards as poor investments.

I wanted to look at the best Ken Griffey Jr pre-rookie and rookie cards to see if there might be some good investments for collectors

Ken Griffey Jr. As A Player

Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the most iconic players in baseball history.

He made a name for himself as not only an incredible hitter but a tremendous defensive outfielder.

ken griffey reds

Griffey won an amazing ten straight Gold Gloves from 1990 to 1999.

From the outset, Griffey was destined to play baseball.

As a kid, he grew up hanging around the clubhouse of the Cincinnati Reds, where his father, Ken Griffey Sr played as a part of the "Big Red Machine".

He got his start at Archbishop Moeller High School, (also the launching pad for one Barry Larkin) where he excelled at both baseball and football.   

So, it was no surprise to anyone when the young Griffey, groomed to replace his old man, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the #1 Pick in the 1987 MLB Draft

Griffey's first years in the minor leagues didn't go exactly as planned. While he dominated the Northwest League, he also faced racial issues and a lot of pressure to succeed, nearly taking his own life.

griffey-san-bernardino

But, Griffey turned it around, joining the Mariners in 1989, bringing hope to one of the league's most beleaguered franchises. 

In his twenty-two years with both the Mariners and the Reds, Griffey amassed 630 Homeruns, good for seventh-best all-time. 

But not only was Griffey an amazing player but one that was well respected by his teammates and coaches alike.

His father early on had taught him the importance of humility.

Juan Castro

Former teammate of Griffey Jr.

“Junior was one of those athletes born every 30 or 40 years with that special talent. Playing with and being around him was such a privilege because I got to know not only a great baseball player but a good teammate who was always so secure about what he was doing.”

Ken Griffey Jr was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. Here's a look at his induction speech...warning, a dry eye might not make it through this one alive. 

Here's a look at some of Griffey's standout performances over his career:

All Vintage Cards - Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card Top Picks

fleer-glossy-griff

Best Overall Value 1989 Fleer Glossy Rookie 

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Best Overall Design 1989 Upper Deck Rookie Stars

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Best Investment 1989 Bowman Tiffany

Ken Griffey Jr: Best Rookie Cards

1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr (RC)

One of Griffey's true rookie cards, meaning that it was part of a major release from one of the big card manufacturers. Bowman (owned by Topps) issued a Bowman base set and an identical, yet more limited Bowman Tiffany set. 

bowman-tiff-griff

Whereas the 1989 Bowman set was produced in massive quantities, the Bowman Tiffany cards are much more valuable, given the limited production. 

The Bowman Tiffany cards are identical, with the only major difference being that they have a glossy front and white backs.

Junior's 1989 Bowman Tiffany card is of course, a lot harder to find, with Bowman printing only 6,000 total Tiffany sets.

Ken Griffey Jr's 1989 Bowman Tiffany card has a population of only ~1600  versus a population of 24,000 copies for Junior's base 1989 Bowman rookie.

Compare it to Griffey's other rookie cards that flooded the market, and it's why I chose it as the Best Griffey Rookie Card Investment.

PSA 10 (Gem Mint) copies of Griffey's Tiffany rookie card sell for around $14,000, as there are only 156 graded by PSA. So, likely out of budget for most collectors. 

I like the PSA 9 Griffey Jr Bowman Tiffany card, which has 451 graded copies but sells for a fraction of the PSA 10, at an average price of $1250.

tiffany-griff-pop

1989 Topps Traded Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr #41T (RC)

Topps goofed and didn't get Griffey in the 1989 Topps set so they had to create a card for him in the Topps Traded set of the same year.

89-topps-traded-tiffany

Topps once again issued a limited print Tiffany run that replicated their base Topps Traded set.

The 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany set was limited to a release of 15,000 sets, so more than double that of the 1989 Bowman Tiffany set.

If you're buying to invest, it helps to know the print run of the issue. A huge difference versus the unknown production runs of the junk base card sets.

Notably, Griffey's base 89 Topps Traded card was printed in massive quantities - there are over 76K copies graded by PSA!

PSA has graded nearly 2100 copies of Griffey's 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany card, with only 330 earning a Perfect Gem Mint 10 grade.

A PSA 10 has been selling for over $3K, but a PSA 9 copy is much more affordable, selling for $600.

Sure, it's got a higher POP (over 1300), but given the relative scarcity, it's one of the better values among Griffey's Rookie cards

griff-traded-tiff

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Stars #1 (RC)

When Upper Deck came to town in 1989 with its snappy, foil packs and premium designed cards, it changed the collecting game for good.

Collectors only knew the bare bones junk level cards from Topps, Donruss, Score, and Fleer.  

psa-10-griffey-ud

These new, higher-priced premium cards set the table for what would be a long line of incremental pushes towards higher-end cards in the hobby. And, of course, it worked. Upper Deck's 1989 issue was a smashing success. 

As a collector at the time, I can still remember breaking the foil packs apart and praying for a Ken Griffey Junior Upper Deck rookie card. It was THE hobby's hottest card and the one rookie card that everyone needed to own. 

1989 Upper Deck KEN GRIFFEY JR. #1 Seattle Mariners RAW

$49.99  
End Date: Sunday May-22-2022 18:56:49 EDT
Buy It Now for only: $49.99
Buy It Now

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Mariners RC

$3.25  (2 bids)
End Date: Sunday May-22-2022 18:51:30 EDT

Bid

Everyone figured that since Upper Deck looked expensive and cost more, it had a lower print run than the Topps junk...right?

Well, sad to say, but Upper Deck's perception as an issue with a limited print run was more folklore than anything else. I can't say they exactly pulled the wool over our eyes. From an excellent Slate piece in 2008:

More than 1 million Griffey cards were printed. In Upper Deck’s original mailing to dealers, the company said it would sell 65,000 cases of card packs. With 20 boxes in a case, 520 cards in a box, and 700 different cards in the set, there would be about 965,000 of each card produced for the boxes. Combine that number with the amount of Griffey's in the untold number of “factory sets,” and you’d have your production run.

In examining the PSA Population reports for the 89 Upper Deck Griffey, there is no doubt that the card was printed in fairly massive quantities.

PSA has graded over 85,000 copies of Griffey's UD rookie card, making it the most graded of all his rookie cards, even his Donruss and Fleer rookies. 

A PSA 10 Griffey Upper Deck rookie is very hard to come by, only 3990 (4.7% of the population). Graders are very strict, especially on the back hologram on the card. If it isn't centered and unscratched, there is zero likelihood of a 10. 

So, at $2400, the PSA 10 Griffey, in my mind, isn't a bad long term investment. The PSA 9 with nearly 27,000 copies graded is a lot less attractive, although much more affordable, selling for around $200.

griffey-psa

1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr #548 (RC)

Like his Bowman Tiffany card, the 1989 Fleer Glossy rookie card offers collectors a rarer version of a base, junk set.

An estimated 30,000 1989 Fleer Glossy sets exist, so well above the estimated 6,000 set print run for the 1989 Bowman Tiffany set.

fleer-glossy-griff

However, based on pop reports, the Fleer Glossy Griffey card has a low supply: only ~1800 graded copies. And a PSA 10 (with an existing population of 118 cards) is selling for $3600.

Note the limited quantity of the Glossy version versus the 1989 Fleer base Griffey which has 55K PSA graded copies!

A PSA 9 which has over 600 copies graded sells for $375 and might be a more attractive option for collectors looking to budget

griffey-glossypsa

1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr #33 (RC)

Investing in a card with such massive quantities (in the 1 Million + range) is hard, but I must list it here. It remains one of the most recognized Griffey Jr. rookie cards. 

It's got a great matching color scheme and the legendary 'Rated Rookie' icon. 

The card has 37,000 PSA-graded copies and that does not count the endless supply of junk wax rotting in warehouses out there.

But with iconic cards like this, you can look towards the Gem Mint PSA 10 cards as a potential investment. 

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There are nearly 2000 PSA 10 graded Donruss Griffey's and each one is gonna set you back $400 at the moment. Step down to a PSA 9 and it's a big difference, only $30, more than it costs to grade a card with PSA nowadays. 

SIDE NOTE that's an interesting factoid--is there some sort of graded card arbitrage when the price of the graded card is well below the costs to grade?

donruss-griff

1987 Bellingham Mariners Ken Griffey Jr #15 (XRC)

For the last card on this list, I went with Griffey's earliest released pre-rookie minor league card.

I think if you want to invest in any Griffey Minor League rookie card this one is a good choice.

1987 #15 Bellingham Mariners Ken Griffey Jr Minor League Rookie Card RC MLB HoF

$4.25  (7 bids)
End Date: Tuesday May-17-2022 19:03:10 EDT

Bid

1987 Bellingham Mariners Ken Griffey Jr Minor League Card #15 PSA 8

$12.38  (5 bids)
End Date: Wednesday May-18-2022 21:13:15 EDT

Bid

 

The sets were issued by the Bellingham Mariners and according to PSA, there are 3000+ graded copies. 

A PSA 10 copy of the card can typically be found for around $500, and less than 800 have been awarded the prestigious Gem Mint grade

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Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card Values

See below for Griffey's Most Popular Rookie cards and the corresponding values and cards graded in PSA 10 (Gem Mint) grade. The most valuable card is the 1989 Bowman Tiffany.  

YearSetPSA 10 ValuePSA 10 Population
1989Bowman$3002168
1989Bowman Tiffany$13,800156
1989Donruss$4001869
1989Donruss Rookies$1601707
1989Fleer$1604888
1989Fleer Glossy$3,600118
1989Score Traded$1004616
1989Topps Traded$13012750
1989Topps Traded Tiffany$3,200330
1989Upper Deck$2,4003990

What's The Most Valuable Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card

Ken Griffey Jr's most valuable rookie card is his 1989 Bowman Tiffany card in a PSA 10 grade. The card now sells for near $14,000. Budget minded collectors can opt for the card in a PSA 9 grade, which sells for roughly 1/10th the price. 

1989 BOWMAN TIFFANY #220 KEN GRIFFEY JR. RC HOF PSA 8 A3341769-949

$203.50  (11 bids)
End Date: Sunday May-22-2022 20:05:28 EDT

Bid

1989 Bowman Tiffany #220 Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners RC Rookie HOF PSA 8

$280.00  (27 bids)
End Date: Tuesday May-17-2022 20:48:23 EDT

Bid

What's The Rarest Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card?

Some might not consider it a baseball 'card', but Griffey's rarest rookie issue is the 1989 Topps Test Heads Up card.

The odd cards featured cutouts of a player's head with a suction cup on the back meant to stick on surfaces.

Now, there was a widely available issue of the Heads Up cards in 1990, but in 1989 Topps tested the product. And folklore has it that few were distributed. Here's a great writeup from the Collectors Universe forum:

Legend goes that the release was test marketed to a couple of stores in the Pennsylvania area and that an estimated 24 total boxes were produced that contained 24 single item packs inside, thus making it one of the most elusive and rare items ever produced by Topps

Shown: 1990 Topps Heads Up Cards, the much harder to find 1989 Test Heads Up Cards have a 1989 copyright on the back of the card.

PSA has graded only 17 of the 1989 Topps Test Heads Up Griffey Jr cards, and the last sale was back in 2000, for under $1000. Given the legend and rarity of these cards, I'd guess that a sale today would net in the many thousands of dollars, dependent on condition. 

Outside of Griffey's oddball Heads Up issue, his rarest regular rookie card issue is his is 1989 Bowman Tiffany #220 Rookie Card.

There are only 1600 PSA graded copies; a pittance compared to the massive graded populations of some of his other mainstream rookie cards (Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck).

In terms of PSA 10 graded cards, the 1989 Fleer Glossy Griffey Junior rookie card has the lowest count. Only 118 copies, versus the 1989 Bowman Tiffany Griffey PSA 10 which has over 150 copies.

Here's Total PSA Graded Population For Griffey's Most Popular Rookie Cards


Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card Investment Potential


Ken Griffey Jr was one of the best to ever play the game and thus his rookie cards SHOULD be an excellent long-term investment

He's already made the HOF so the clear catalyst for a surge in value isn't there, but there's enough collector demand to keep values stable.

Of course, we must consider the massive quantities of supply for many of his cards and as an investor, there are a few specific key cards that I'd focus on

Those would be the 1989 Bowman Tiffany Griffey Jr, the 1989 Fleer Glossy Griffey Jr and the 1989 Topps Traded Tiffany Griffey in PSA 10 grades, or PSA 9 if the budget doesn't allow.

griffey-jr-auto

Also, consider a Griffey Jr autographed card as a good alternative. There are plenty up for sale on eBay and many fairly affordable if you shop around for a bit. 

Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card Checklist

Below we've provided a checklist for all of Griffey's Pre-Rookie and Rookie Cards.

Pre-Rookie are those cards issued for when Griffey was still playing in the minor leagues.

Many of the rookie cards are not what I would consider 'true' rookie cards, especially those not part of a major issue, like the Star cards or Mother's Cookies, but given the 1999 issue, I list here for reference. Note that if you want a spreadsheet with PSA Population links for each card, please feel free to use this Google Sheet here

Griffey's Pre-Rookie Cards

1987 Bellingham Mariners Ken Griffey Jr #15 (XRC)

1988 Best San Bernardino Spirit Ken Griffey Jr #1 (XRC)

1988 Best San Bernardino Spirit Platinum Ken Griffey Jr #1 (XRC)

1988 Cal Cards San Bernardino Spirit Ken Griffey Jr #34 (XRC)

1988 Cal League All-Stars Ken Griffey Jr #26 (XRC)

1988 ProCards Vermont Mariners Ken Griffey Jr (XRC)


Griffey's Rookie Cards

1989 Bowman Ken Griffey Jr. #220 

1989 Bowman Ken Griffey/Ken Griffey Jr. #259

1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #220 

1989 Bowman Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #259 

1989 Classic Travel Update 1 Ken Griffey Jr. #131

1989 Classic Travel Update 2 (Purple) Ken Griffey Jr. #193

1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. #33

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best Ken Griffey Jr. #192

1989 Donruss Rookies Ken Griffey Jr. #3

1989 Fleer Ken Griffey Jr. #548

1989 Fleer Glossy Ken Griffey Jr. #548

1989 Mother's Cookies Ken Griffey Jr. (#1 to #4)

1989 Pacific Candy Bar Card (3 Colors)

1989 Score Rookies Traded Ken Griffey Jr. #100T

1989 Score Young Superstar Series 2 Ken Griffey Jr. #18

1989 Scoremasters Ken Griffey Jr. #30

1989 Star Griffey Jr. Ken Griffey Jr. (#1-#11)

1989 Topps Heads Up Test Issue Ken Griffey Jr. #5

1989 Topps Traded Ken Griffey Jr. #41T 

1989 Topps Traded Tiffany Ken Griffey Jr. #41T 

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Star Rookie #1 

Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Cards For Sale on eBay

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Drew - January 15, 2022

Great article, thank you! Question. You stated in your article…If you’re buying to invest, it helps to know the print run of the issue. A huge difference versus the unknown production runs of the junk base card sets.

How / where do you locate the print run of the base card set? I am most interested in 1993 Pinnacle, 1987 Leaf, 1985 Leaf, and 1987 & earlier OPC. I feel like the production is less based on PSA submissions, but I have no idea on the actual print run. Thanks again!

Reply
    All Vintage Cards - January 15, 2022

    Hi Drew, this is a good resource that someone put together. https://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=281357. You are definitely right that production runs and PSA populations don’t always correlate with one another. I don’t think that link has all the ones you’re looking for…but Pinnacle was definitely massively produced, albeit probably less than some of the junkier Topps/Fleer etc. Leaf likely produced less than regular Donruss in most cases – Pop Reports on valuable card can help to distinguish differences.

    Reply

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