Second Year Standouts: 1990 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.

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This may be sacrilegious to say, but I believe Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1990 Upper Deck card (pictured above) is superior to his 1989 Upper Deck rookie.  Now, before going into more detail, I want to first point out that I’m not arguing the 1990 card is (or should be) more important to the hobby.  Junior’s 1989 Upper Deck rookie is one of the most important and impactful baseball cards ever produced.  But if we take a step back and just examine the cards themselves (not hobby impact), the 1990 card comes out as the winner in my book.  As a point of reference, I’ve included the front and back of Griffey’s 1989 Upper Deck card below.  Now, let’s start the comparison.


Card Design – There really isn’t much to distinguish the two cards when it comes to design.  Upper Deck used a similar white border in both 1989 and 1990.  I do like how the 1990 design clearly states the year of the release over the Upper Deck logo in the top right corner of the card.  So that’s a plus for the 1990 card.  That said, the brown/green base path and foul territory that runs up the right side of the 1989 card is more vibrant than the green/yellow horizontal bar that is featured at the top of the 1990 card.  That’s a plus for the 1989 Griffey.  Both cards list player name and position on the front.  When it’s all said and done, the two cards end up in a tie when it comes to design.

Photography – For me, the two awesome Griffey photos included in the 1990 card are really what separates the second year card from its 1989 counterpart.  As iconic and wonderful as the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey photo is, its the laughing Griffey depicted on the 1990 card (front and back!) that I think of when recalling The Kid patrolling centerfield for the Mariners.  This is a big win for the 1990 card.  Also, I like how the 1990 card shows Griffey with only one batting glove.  Using only one batting glove used to be much more common throughout baseball; seeing this in a photo gives the 1990 card further context that the 1989 card can’t compete with.

Player Information – Upper Deck did a great job both years.  Collectors can use the 1989 card to learn about Griffey’s exploits in the minors.  Complete biographical data and a 1988 stat line are also provided.   The 1990 card again includes Griffey’s biographical data and the previous season’s stat line.  A small write-up is included as well as the aforementioned photo.   Both card backs are informative and have eye appeal.  In short, for this category, I’d say the cards are of equal quality.  The 1989 card informs us about the awesome player Griffey could be during his rookie year in the majors.  The 1990 card describes the awesome player that he actually was during his rookie year.

Scarcity/Value – According to PSA’s population report, there are currently 2,979 PSA 10 versions of the 1989 card, and only 682 PSA 10 versions of the 1990 card.  Of course, it is unwise to confuse card quality (our goal here) with card scarcity.   Due to the 1989 card’s status in the hobby, it makes sense that more versions of this card have been submitted to PSA.  But what I am really getting at here is value.  There are over four times as many 1989 PSA 10 Griffey’s compared to 1990 PSA 10 Griffey’s, yet the 1990 card can be found for around $20-$25, just pennies on the dollar compared to the 1989 card.  I think that is a win for the 1990 card – its not so much that I think the 1989 Upper Deck card is overvalued (I don’t), but I do believe the 1990 card is undervalued.

Conclusion – Both of these cards are great, and add color and intrigue to any card collection.  But all things considered, Griffey’s 1990 card is slightly better (albeit much less influential in the hobby).  While it will never have the impact that the 1989 Upper Deck card has, the 1990 version nonetheless is a great card featuring a young Griffey and is currently undervalued (or perhaps I should say underappreciated) in the hobby marketplace.

Generally speaking, the sports card community places a high premium on prospect and rookie cards.  Such cards are usually among the most valuable cards of a given player.  In light of this, it has always surprised me how relatively little weight second-year player cards carry.  Such cards still feature players in their youth with their entire career in front of them.  In many cases in baseball in particular, a player is still lounging away in the minors when a second year card in created (not the case with Griffey).  I like how second year cards often give us insight into how a player performed during his rookie season.  Did he struggle?  Did he see much playing time?  What was the scouting report on a player once others had finally gotten a look at him at the major league level?  I see it time and time again across the hobby where I feel second year cards make for better collectibles than rookie cards – today’s discussion of Griffey is just one example.  As such, I’m going to start a new series here on Lingua Sports Cards where I discuss some underappreciated and/or undervalued second year cards.  Many bloggers do a wonderful job at listing and examining prospect/rookie cards.  But I think there is a need to bring some of the better second-year player cards to light, for all the major sports.  I’m going to try to fill that void.

Word of the Day

ostensible – being such in appearance; plausible rather than demonstrably true or real; the ostensible purpose for the trip; the ostensible reason for the meeting turned out to be a trick to get him to the surprise party; the war’s ostensible casus belli

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