Ken Griffey Jr. Most Valuable Rookie Cards & Buying Guide
Ken Griffey Jr., also known as “Junior” or “The Kid” or “The Natural,” was a game-changer on the diamond and the card collecting hobby. The legend of Junior can be traced all the way back to when he started roaming the field in the 1970s before Cincinnati Reds games, getting tips from his father Ken Griffey Sr. and other stars.
A No. 1 draft pick, it’s rare that a player’s on-field accomplishments live up to the hype. In addition to his silky smooth and powerful swing, Griffey Jr. played a transcendent CF making dives and climbing the wall look routine. His legacy in the game is still evident, as he makes his presence felt annually at the All-Star game and Homerun Derby and is a leader in MLB’s youth development efforts.
Although his rise in baseball and hobby accompanied the era of mass production, Griffey Jr. is still an important piece in the mind of so many collectors. His 1989 Upper Deck rookie is the crown jewel of Upper Deck’s groundbreaking inaugural baseball set. Even Griffey Jr. himself reportedly owns more than 100 of this iconic card, which helps define the modern era of collecting. Surprisingly, this masterpiece isn’t even his most valuable rookie card.
Ken Griffey Jr career stats
- Avg. 284
- Hits 2,781
- 2B 524
- HR 630
- RBI 1,836
- SB 184
- 1987 No. 1 Draft Pick
- Ranks 7th on career HR list
- 7 seasons of 40+ HR
- 13-time All-Star (1992 MVP)
- 10 straight Gold Glove awards
- MLB’s All-Century Team
- First-ballot Hall of Famer
- Highest vote rate for HOF induction (437/440 voters)
Most Valuable Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card
- 1989 Bowman (Tiffany) #220
- 1989 Topps Traded (Tiffany) #41T
- 1989 Fleer Glossy #548
- 1989 Upper Deck Star Rookie #1
- 1989 Donruss Rated Rookie #33
Note: All listed money values from PSA Gem Mint 10 Average Auction Price
1989 Bowman (Tiffany) #220
- Value: $13,756
By far, the most valuable of Griffey Jr. rookies, this card comes from a premium set dubbed “Tiffany” by collectors in homage to the luxury jewelry store. Although the cards feature the same picture as the standard set, the front and back are both glossy, giving the card an ultra-smooth polish and feel.
Nonetheless, the reason for its value comes down to supply and demand. There were reportedly only 6,000 sets printed. This was Bowman’s first year of production since 1955, the year Topps bought it to eliminate competition. Like Bowman’s cards from the 1950s, these are taller than standard cards – 2 ½ x 3 ¾ inches (standard 2 ½ x 3 ½ ). Each card features a facsimile of the player’s autograph. There have only been 156 cards that have earned the top mint PSA 10 grade. Only three have earned a top grade from Beckett.
1989 Topps Traded (Tiffany) #41T
- Value: $3,668
The next most expensive rookie is another Tiffany, this time part of the 132-card Topps Traded set issued after each base set released during the 1980s and early 1990s. In addition to the glossy front, this card distinguishes itself from the standard set because of its white card stock instead of the traditional gray stock, which one can easily see on the card’s back.
Before the advent of Photoshop, the set captures any player traded to a new team or called up from the minors after the initial Topps press run.
Cardboard Connection calls this on-deck pose one of the best pictures of his rookie cards. The Tiffany version of the 1989 Topps Traded is believed to have a print run of 15,000.
There are 331 Topps Tiffany Griffey rookies that have received PSA 10 grades so far. Beckett hasn’t given any grades of 10 for this card, but there are 86 cards that have received a 9.5.
1989 Fleer Glossy #548
- Value: $3,606
To answer the Tiffany edition that Topps started issuing in 1984, Fleer began offering the Glossy version of its sets in 1987. Like the Tiffany editions, this premium version of its standard card has a glossy finish and higher quality card stock. In addition, the back of the card is blue instead of white and says “Collectors Edition” inside a baseball graphic. Check out this collector’s show and tell of pulling a Griffey Jr. Glossy from the collector’s tin the set comes in.
Along with the fancy style, the limited press run of 30,000, the scarcest of all Fleer Glossy editions (according to Beckett), makes it far more valuable than the base set card. To top it off, finding one that is centered is a big challenge. Only 118 have been graded a PSA 10. Again, Beckett has awarded no 10s.
1989 Upper Deck #1
- Value: $1,763
This is the iconic hobby game-changer. Part of the set’s Star Rookie subset, Griffey Jr. flashing that signature smile as a teenager is a jewel in anyone’s collection. And if you have a couple grand laying around, a top-graded version of this one is a little easier to come by.
Upper Deck’s first set was a hobby changer in its own right, with player photos on both sides, high quality white card stock, and the iconic foul line design. The company began as a Southern California baseball card shop. The shop transformed into a company that produced its first set in 1989 with backers that included the California Angels Wally Joyner.
Making Griffey Jr. the first card in the set took foresight (and a little luck). Junior wasn’t expected to start the 1989 season in the majors. He was injured the year before and hadn’t played above Double-A yet. Still, Upper Deck wisely made Griffey Jr. its #1 over Gary Sheffield, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Gregg Jefferies.
With an initial print run was more than one million and subsequent print runs followed, the mass production is what prevents this card from being the most valuable rookie.
Beckett has graded this card a 10 more than 100 times and PSA has awarded more than 4,000 top grades.
1989 Donruss Rated Rookie
- Value: $320
If you’re looking for a card that costs less than a used car, this is your ride. The eye-catching “Rated Rookie” logo that Donruss introduced in 1984 still graces its card sets from baseball to basketball to soccer.
The Griffey Jr. rookie is among 20 other rookies in this subset. Some complain the photo and color on this are dull, but you can find worse designs among 80s and 90s cards than this with the purple and black frame. Once again, the mass production of this base set keeps the value down.
Like the Fleer rookie (and so many cards from the 80s) the trick is finding one that is centered. Only 1,898 have been graded a PSA 10 while 16 have received a 10 from Beckett.
Other valuable Ken Griffey Jr. cards
- 1989 Bowman Tiffany #259 – Griffey Jr. and Dad on TV
- 1987 Bellingham Mariners
- 1994 Upper Deck Mickey Mantle/Ken Griffey Jr. autograph
1989 Bowman Tiffany #259
Back in 1955, Bowman designed a set of cards with players filling a TV screen. It would be its last set before the Topps buyout. This throwback design came in Bowman’s first season back in the hobby. It was part of a 4-card subset featuring father and son duos. Along with the Griffeys, the Ripkens, Alomars, and Stottlemyres were featured. While not considered a “rookie” card, it was Griffey Jr.’s rookie year, adding a little to its value. Like the base set rookie, it can be found in both the standard set and the more valuable Tiffany version (running in the low-$200 range lately.)
1987 Bellingham Mariners #15
Players’ minor league cards aren’t considered “rookies” but are often the first card ever issued, which gives them unique collector appeal. Griffey makes up a 34-card set for Seattle’s Single-A team. A total of 15,000 team sets were made. This card is going for a little less than $600 at PSA 10.