Remember the first pack of Upper Deck cards you opened? Those distinctive tamper-proof foil wrappers in 1989 were something else — a tangible step up in terms of packaging.
The wrappers served notice that the cards themselves would be a step up — and they were. With its 1989 baseball set, Upper Deck raised the stakes of trading card quality, giving us sturdy stock, high gloss, a classy design, excellent photography, and holograms. The retail price may have felt jarring at a hefty 99 cents per pack, but you couldn’t argue with the product.
The star of that iconic set was and is Ken Griffey Jr. He hadn’t yet played a game in the bigs, but Upper Deck celebrated his potential by making his card No. 1 in the set. It turned out to be a prescient move: Griffey played 22 seasons and slammed 660 homers while batting .284 and stealing 184 bases. He was a joy to watch in center field, too, as his 10 Gold Gloves attest. (He won those 10 awards, by the way, in consecutive seasons — every year from 1990 through 1999.)
Griffey’s rookie has been a steady climber over the decades. Today, top-grade examples command well into five figures. In one recent sale on eBay, a BGS 10 specimen sold for $18,087 on 54 bids. A signed example (also graded BGS 10) reeled in an even higher price: $30,100 on 69 bids. Still another autographed example — this one graded PSA 10 with PSA/DNA authentication of the sig — brought $19,400 on 77 bids.
What else in the 1989 Upper Deck set attracts attention? Nothing else has the magnetism of Griffey’s rookie, but other stars can sell for hundreds (or close). Examples of recent prices:
• $761 on 24 bids for an autographed Randy Johnson rookie graded PSA 10. An unsigned Johnson rookie graded BGS 10 brought $331 on 38 bids.
• $678 on 23 bids for a Gary Sheffield error rookie graded PSA 10. The error? On a limited run of Sheffield’s first card, UD printed the “SS” designation upside-down. (Remember that Sheffield started as a shortstop, later moving to the outfield).
• Around $100 (if in 10 condition) for rookie cards of John Smoltz, Omar Vizquel and Bo Jackson.
• Around $100 (again, in 10 condition) for either of the dual Nolan Ryan cards. The more striking of the two features a triple-exposure shot of Ryan pitching in game action for Houston. The other card, this one depicting him with Texas, is interesting because he’s throwing a football.
On the “steal” side of things, Gem Mint rookie cards of Craig Biggio and Edgar Martinez — both Hall of Famers — have been selling for $50 or less.
Finally, we saw a seller get $510 (on 25 bids) for an unopened box of 36 1989 UD baseball packs. The box came with BBCE authentication. Two other boxes sold for $395 (four bids) and $375 (one bid).