When he made his Major League Baseball debut at the age of 19, he was known as "The Kid," and one of his rookie cards helped revolutionize the industry. Even now, in the later stages of his career, the mention of Ken Griffey, Jr.'s name still carries plenty of weight with collectors and non-collecting baseball fans alike.
Raised around baseball thanks to his father, it seemed only natural that Griffey would play the game at its highest level himself. In 1987, the Seattle Mariners made him the number one overall pick, and it took only two years for Griffey to begin showing the sports world his tremendous talent.
Scouts often speak of the five tools that make a great baseball player, and the young Griffey clearly had them all. He could hit for average and power, ran the bases well, covered lots of ground in the outfield and had a powerful throwing arm. Griffey made baseball look easy and fun with his effortless swing and laid-back personality.
Upstart baseball card manufacturer Upper Deck made Junior the subject of the very first card of its debut release in 1989, and it quickly became one of the most iconic cards of the modern era. Prices for the card soared in the late 90's when Griffey was at the height of his powers, like when he smacked 56 home runs en route to the 1997 American League MVP award.
Unfortunately, Griffey's name became as synonymous with injuries as it has with skill as he entered his 30's. Since joining the Cincinnati Reds in 2000, Junior has played more than 120 games just twice, putting the brakes on his once-historic production and leaving legions of fans wondering if he could have made his own run at Hank Aaron's career home run mark.
Despite his health troubles, Griffey remains one of the most popular figures in the game, and since he passed 600 career homers, a bust in Cooperstown is inevitable. The only thing still missing from his impressive list of achievements is a World Series ring, and though he may never get it, he thrilled Seattle collectors by returning to the Mariners as a free agent before the 2009 season, giving him a chance to end his career in the same place it began.
As for that 1989 Upper Deck # 1, it's settled in price over the years, but it still sells for more than his other five rookie cards put together. If there was such a thing as a baseball card hall of fame, that famous card of "The Kid" would undoubtedly earn consideration as a charter member.
Ken Griffey, Jr. 1989 Rookie Cards
- Bowman # 220
- Donruss # 33
- Fleer # 548
- Score Rookie/Traded # 100T
- Topps Traded # 41T
- Upper Deck # 1