Darren Rovell had a great piece on Slate today that looked at the larger issues surrounding the '89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card (far left) and its bigger-than-big role in the evolution of the sports memorabilia industry.
Rovell hits a number of interesting details, including how many cards were produced (over 1 million) and how much they're currently worth (anywhere from $10-1,000, depending on what they're 'graded,' an apparently exacting process which makes me glad I stopped collecting cards when I turned 13).
However, the article failed to raise an interesting point, though I can't blame anybody, because I actually just thought of it now. The question is this: Is it just a coincidence that Griffey is only shown smiling on the Upper Deck rookie card, while he looks like the definition of a sullen high school kid on the other three '89 regular season releases?
I'm not saying that his great smile in the UD issue is the only reason for that card's success and mythic position in the childhoods for those of us in their late 20s/early 30s. But would we like it just as much if the picture had been any of the other three? If he hadn't looked like the face of the next 20 years of our baseball lives?
I'm guessing not, though it's now also more evident to me why Upper Deck was so easily able to crush the competition and become the king of the card industry. All values being equal, which of the above cards would you most want to find in a pack?
- Darren Rovell