Have you ever wanted something so bad you could taste it; but you just feel like it will never happen? I’m not talking about things that are unattainable or just pipe dreams. I’m talking about things that have been within reach but no matter what you do or how much you wish, you keep coming up empty. Sometimes it never happens but you never stop trying to make the dream a reality. But sometimes it does happen and the chase became just as big as the ultimate result, kind of like a Super Bowl Trophy for John Elway. I’ve had a few of those (let’s call them Elway’s) in my life and while some came to fruition, others have ended up on my bucket list with their unattainable brethren.My first memorable Elway was around 1987 when I was 10 years old. Everybody I knew (or so it felt) had a Nintendo except me. My cousin, Coop, had one and I tried to spend every moment I could over at his house. We would stay up late playing Super Mario, Bayou Billy, Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man and I just couldn’t get enough. Corey and Jared had one and we would play RBI Baseball with my Uncle Speedy every time I went to their house. In early 1987, I was rocking Downland and Bedlam on a Tandy TRS-80. I wanted a Nintendo badly but it was elusive. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was almost out of hope. It felt like it was “now or never” for that NES quest.I remember celebrating with my Papa on Christmas Eve, which has always been a tradition. We would rotate the location from year to year but this year was held at our house. I remember Coop getting a Nintendo game from my Papa that year and it spurred a little conversation about the NES. That conversation turned to whether or not I thought Santa Claus was going to bring me one. In my mind, I felt like this was it and I proclaimed that tonight was the night! I remember my dad saying in a very serious tone, “I would not get too excited about getting a Nintendo this year.” I then remember tearing up as I took the box of used wrapping paper out to the roadside trash can. I stood at the trash can for an extra minute trying to wrap my head around what I had just been told. I was devastated, to put it mildly.
It turned out that my dad was just being coy with his ominous statement and I did get that sweet piece of technology the next morning. Somewhere, there is a VHS tape of me walking into the living room that early morning and screaming, “NIN”; unable to even get the full word out. My parents would always set up the camera to catch mine and my brother’s reaction when we walked into the living room. First off, we were half asleep and only awake because we knew there were presents. Second, the wardrobe choices weren’t always the best. We had tightie whities and a t-shirt sometimes; pajama pants and no t-shirt sometimes; and bed hair all of the time. But I could’ve been wearing a woman’s dress that morning and I would not have cared less. My life’s mission had become overtaken by dreams of being a Nintendo owner and my moment had arrived.
I remember that sense of relief when I saw the Nintendo that morning. It was almost like I was tired from running a marathon and I just crumpled by the box and let the emotion wash over me. I have had other moments since then that fit into the Elway category. I felt that way when I got my diploma on the night of my graduation from high school. I felt that way when I got a coveted promotion. I actually felt that way recently when my first interview was published on the Beckett website. There are few things that match the feeling of finally reaching a goal or obtaining something that you’ve wanted badly for a considerable amount of time.
I have an Elway that has eluded me in card collection for almost 30 years. I spoke about it a little in my “Bucket List” article from a few weeks ago. There are several items on my sports card bucket list but the quest for one of those actually began way back when my collecting began. There was one card that I coveted more than any other card when I started collecting in 1989. It wasn’t the ’86 Donruss Canseco or the ’82 Topps Ripken or even a ’68 Topps Ryan. No, the card I wanted in my collection was a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. That card kept me awake at night sometimes and my desire to have it in my binder burned much like my desire to hold that Nintendo controller in my hand a few years earlier.
Upper Deck was brand new to collectors and was unlike any other card that had ever been produced. It had the fancy foil packaging, futuristic hologram, crystal clear photography and even holographic stickers that came in the packs. It also had Ken Griffey Jr. as Card #1 in the checklist. The other characteristic that Upper Deck had that was a backbreaker was the $1 price tag. In 1989, $.50 was the standard with jumbo cello pack’s ringing up at about $.69. So when this $1 per pack set hit the shelves, it was out of my price range. I know how strange it sounds for $.50 to throw something out of a price range right now but believe me, when I went to Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly, the odds that I was walking out with whatever the cheapest pack was at the time, were high. Let me tell you, I collected a TON of 1989 Donruss and Topps.
To be totally honest with you, I only remember opening 3 packs of 1989 Upper Deck in 1989. Those 3 packs were in North Georgia, on a choir trip with my youth group. We went into a town that had a small card shop and I bought 3 packs of Upper Deck and several packs of Donruss. I remember Ken Forrester picking up a few packs of Upper Deck too. I got a John Smoltz Rookie in my 3 packs and thought I did o.k. Then Ken pulled the Griffey and my cards were absolutely worthless. It’s strange how much I remember about that first Jr. I saw pulled from UD but how little I remember from the actual trip. I remember I had a girlfriend on the trip, I remember going on a white water adventure and I remember Ken Griffey Jr. I would’ve traded that girlfriend on the spot for that Griffey.
In 2017, some 28 years later, I have yet to pull a Ken Griffey Jr. from a pack of Upper Deck Baseball. It hasn’t been for a lack of trying either. I buy packs whenever I find them in a thrift store or a card shop. I’ve bought multiple boxes off of eBay. I’ve even had a case sitting in my cart on DA Cardworld but wasn’t able to click “buy”. To be clear, I actually own a few Griffey’s but they are in sets that I’ve bought. My wife got me one for Christmas about 6-7 years ago and it was actually the first one I ever owned. I could never force myself to buy a $100 card before autographs came along and I have a pretty hard time even doing it now. So without buying a single or buying the set, the only other way to get one was by pulling it in a pack.
In hindsight, I’ve spent more money on packs and boxes than if I had bought the single card; but somewhere along the way it became more about pulling the card from a pack than actually owning it. So that is where I am today. At the age of 40, neck deep in a hobby that owes a great deal of its popularity to the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., I still hold on to the dream that I’ll one day pull one from a sealed pack. That’s why we are here today. I received a message on FaceBook from my LCS owner, Charlie Heinisch, that he had a case and was breaking it to sell by the box. I have grown leery of the boxes on eBay because they aren’t sealed and are usually picked through. But I trust Charlie 100 times more than eBay and this was fresh from a case, so I could not resist the opportunity to check something off of my bucket list.Before we crack this box, let’s do the usual overview of the set so we can set this break up properly. 1989 was the premier edition of this “premium” set and is credited with getting the ball rolling with card companies improving their product. It is also credited sometimes with the beginning of the end as far as 90’s production and oversaturation of products. The cards were produced very well and the photography was a step ahead of the other companies. The card had a normal white border but had the first base line down the right side of the card and the Upper Deck Diamond logo in the bottom left corner. The team logo was inset in the bottom right of the card and the players name was below.The back of the card had a full length photo that took up 2/3rd’s of the card back. The stats and a small amount of biographical info could be found to the right of the photo. The very bottom of the card had the famous UD Hologram Logo that authenticated the card. This was something that UD advertised as a way to know the cards weren’t counterfeit. The foil packaging was very different from the other wax packs that were available in 1989 as well. These packs were completely sealed and it was very easy to see if the packs had been tampered with. The set was truly groundbreaking in 1989 and the $1.00 per pack price tag made that clear.
Overall the cards that I opened in this break held up very well. Some of the issues that have shown up over time have been fading and the hologram logo chipping away. Fortunately, this box was in very good condition. This was clearly taken from a good case and I could tell the minute I saw it. Most of the cards were pretty well centered too, which was another issue in the 80’s. Overall, I don’t think I have opened a 1989 UD box that was in as good of condition as this one. That had me excited to get the rip going! Let’s see how I did!First, the packs didn’t include gum, puzzle pieces or bland stickers like the other sets. 1989 UD included Holographic Team Logo Stickers. Every text book, trapper keeper and card album I had ended up with some of these on them.This first group includes some of the better rookies or first year cards I pulled. I missed out on the Sheffield, which is one I really like but I did pull a sweet Smoltz and Jefferies. Most people who collected in 1989 surely remember the names Jerald Clark, Ricky Jordan and Dante Bichette too. The Jay Buhner was a very nice card back in 1989 and I was happy to pull it in this break.Then we have the sweet “Collector’s Choice” Team Checklist cards that had some artist renderings of the team leader. You should be aware of my thoughts on artist cards by now!The young guns in 1989 included some awesome names that bring back a lot of great memories. These were the guys that we had to have. I spent a lot of time trading for these players back in the day. Mattingly was borderline in the young gun category. He could have easily slid over into the veterans group but I didn’t think of him as an older player at that time. I love Eric Davis cards!The veterans had more great players in some pretty cool photos. The Wade Boggs was always cool to me. Mike Schmidt was in the midst of an interview with an obvious 1980’s microphone. I usually prefer my Rickey Henderson cards in Athletics gear but this one is just fine. Ozzie, Tim Raines and The Hawk were some of my favorites!
As I ripped pack #3 of the box, I had already started to focus on sorting so I didn’t get so worked up about whether I pulled a Jr. or not. And there, right in the middle of the pack, was this beauty! Would it be over dramatic if I told you that I was ALMOST moved to tears at the sight of this card? I have waited for this moment for almost 30 years and here it is. This is the first bucket list item I listed in my previous article and I am now checking it off! I called my daughter into the kitchen and explained to her how important the card was to me because she has heard me talk about Ken Griffey Jr. many times. My wife also knows how big this is because she is the one who bought me the sealed set several years ago at Christmas to help me realize the dream of actually owning one. Believe me when I say, this was a box rip for the ages!There is no way I can give this box less than a perfect score. The packs and cards were in great condition, the rip was super nostalgic and I pulled the card that has eluded me since I was 12 years old. And if you look at the photo, the centering is dang near perfect on this card. The hologram on the back is even completely intact. This is certainly going for grading and will end up in the fireproof. I am also going to earmark this article so I can relive this moment over and over. I saved all of the packs and the box from this rip and it is going into the rubber maid in my closet for safekeeping. This set gets an easy “5” on the Dub-O-Meter and this is truly a night I won’t soon forget when it comes to baseball cards!
1. Let me be the sacrificial lamb so you don’t have to buy these cards. Just read the post and thank me later.
2. There is worse but there is much better – not worth the effort though.
3. Middle of the road – I wouldn’t talk you into buying these but I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of them.
4. You should probably go out and buy a box and enjoy the rip – I did! It has some downside but worth the ride.
5. Stop reading and find a box to buy and get to Breaking! What are you waiting on?