The 1990s had a lot of stars, but when it came to baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. cards were king. To a lot of people, they still are.
As one of the game’s true superstars, Griffey has appeared on a ton of cards since his first official appearance in a 1987 minor league issue. As a spokesman for Upper Deck, he was in the forefront of collecting even more than he likely would have.
And while there are a lot of valuable Ken Griffey Jr. cards out there, many are great for other reasons. Cards are a document of what makes players special and their accomplishments — especially for those who played before the Internet put stats and highlight reels at our fingertips 24/7. Sports cards can give the numbers. They can also get to the heart of the player and elevate their popularity.
That’s exactly what the following Ken Griffey Jr. cards do. They aren’t a greatest hits list of his top cards but rather a showcase of what made him the most beloved player of his generation. The list is by no means exhaustive, either.
24 Ken Griffey Jr. Cards That Show Why He Was so Great and Easy to Love
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. RC #1
Even people who don’t collect cards recognize the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. It’s transcendent and a symbol of its time. It’s also a badge of Griffey’s career. And just how many cards are recreated more than 25 years later for a music video?
1990 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #156
The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. might get all the love, but don’t overlook his second-year card. Whereas the rookie has a school picture day kind of vibe, Griffey’s smile here feels all natural. He’s loving the baseball life and we’re left loving him.
1991 Jimmy Dean Signature Series Ken Griffey Jr. #2
The Kid had a soft side. It’s kind of like when he appeared on a magazine cover back in 1990.
1991 Score The Griffeys #841
Baseball is a game for families. So when Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr. suited up together for the Mariners in August, 1990, it was a big deal. It was the thing that a lot of parents dream of (and maybe some teenagers, even if they’re reluctant to admit it). 1991 Score Baseball has a lot of subset cards. Most of them are loud. But this black-and-white portrait captures, simply, one of the best familial moments the game has ever had.
1991 Stadium Club Ken Griffey Jr. #270
You don’t always need action to capture baseball. Although this card simply shows Griffey alone in the dugout, it still screams the game. You’ve got the bats hanging on the wall, perfectly lined up. I don’t know where or when it was taken, but the lighting suggests an afternoon tilt. And then there’s the look in his eyes like he’s studying what’s happening on the field. It’s a casual intensity few matched.
1992 Topps Ken Griffey Jr. #50
Baseball pants should never be clean by the end of the game. Judging by the position and plume of dust coming off the base, Griffey’s left leg was doing its best to live up to one of baseball’s most important unwritten rules. And the framing of the card makes it even better.
1994 Collector’s Choice Ken Griffey Jr. #117
It’s doubtful that there are many more imposing Ken Griffey Jr. cards than this one. The sky, the looking-up perspective — he’s like a statue standing amid a masterpiece.
1994 Super Nintendo Ken Griffey Jr.
Ken Griffey Jr. starred in a couple of video games. This card came packaged with “Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.” It’s no “RBI Baseball,” but there’s something very 1990s when you combine Griffey, Super Nintendo and just a hint of teal.
1994 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #224
In the words of the immortal R. Kelly, “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.” It’s not just his bat and infectious enthusiasm that made Griffey such an icon. He carried a hot glove as well.
1995 Collector’s Choice Ken Griffey Jr. #70
The story behind this card goes back to 1994 Collector’s Choice Baseball. The set had an interactive insert called “You Crash the Game” where one person not only got to meet Ken Griffey Jr. but shared his 1995 Collector’s Choice card.
The winner? This lady.
1995 Pinnacle Ken Griffey Jr. #128
Is that bubble real or Photoshopped? Does it matter? A lot of Ken Griffey Jr. cards bring a fun feel to them. However, not many go to this extreme. Big bubble, backwards cap, bulging eyes, Alvin Davis photobomb — it’s all here and it’s perfect.
1996 Select Ken Griffey Jr. #6
When was the last time you found yourself at the bottom of a dogpile and found yourself smiling? Probably never. While this shot would have worked much better on a full-bleed design or even one where a third of the card isn’t obscured, it still captures one of the most iconic moments in Seattle Mariners history when the knocked off the New York Yankees to win the AL Division Series.
1996 SP Ken Griffey Jr. #170
Lots of Ken Griffey Jr. cards have him in his trademark backwards cap. But not many have it twice on the front. Building off the celebratory theme of the 1996 Select card is the 1996 SP Griffey. Unless a post-shower Randy Johnson was shaking his monster mullet in front of everyone, there’s some champagne flowing as the locker room festivities get underway. Note how much simpler and less planned out celebrations were back then.
1997 Collector’s Choice Ken Griffey Jr. #230
Upper Deck has done a lot of cool multiple-exposure cards over the years. If you’re wanting a perfect baseball swing, study this one closely.
1997 Collector’s Choice Ken Griffey Jr. #334
When Griffey is enjoying himself, it’s hard not to notice. Likewise, when he’s not having fun, you get a little uncomfortable too. This is one of the enjoyable moments. What’s bringing out that smile? Who knows and who cares? It makes for a great card that’s a little bit out of the ordinary.
1997 Score Pitcher Perfect Ken Griffey Jr. #14
The 1997 Score Baseball Pitcher Perfect inserts use photos taken by Randy Johnson. He’s not only a Hall-of-Fame pitcher, but also a darn good photographer. Although a little bit goofy, it captures the spirit of Griffey in the outfield and the Superman he could be when he took flight.
1998 Fleer Sports Illustrated Ken Griffey Jr. #51
Speaking of taking flight. Usually it’s annoying to realize a card of a current player has a photo from a couple of years earlier. But not this one. The 1998 Fleer Sports Illustrated Ken Griffey Jr. looks as though it showcases one of his most famous plays — and one that cost him half of the 1995 regular season.
1998 Score Rookie/Traded Ken Griffey Jr. #253
You probably have a couple of Ken Griffey Jr. cards where he’s with his dad. With the 1998 Score Rookie/Traded card from the Spring Training subset, the cycle moves up a generation.
1998 Topps Gold Label Class 1 Ken Griffey Jr. #100
Power and defense, it’s the Ken Griffey Jr. way. And even if 1998 Topps Gold Label is a lot like the Flair Showcase sets from the day, there are a lot worse places to get inspiration from.
1999 Ultra Ken Griffey Jr. #215
The hand is saying, don’t take my picture. The face is saying something totally different. Like some of the best Ken Griffey Jr. cards, it just takes a little bit of amusement.
1999 Upper Deck MVP Ken Griffey Jr. #190
Forgoing the traditional Mariners uniform like virtually all of the other Ken Griffey Jr. cards up to that point, 1999 Upper Deck MVP opts for a moment — the 1998 All-Star Game festivities. Griffey would start in the game itself, but he made a bigger mark at the Home Run Derby where he beat Jim Thome in the finals.
2001 EX Ken Griffey Jr. #23
That sweet, sweet swing. Too bad we didn’t get to see it nearly as much once Griffey went to Cincinnati. With that stare and that bat drop, it’s likely that ball took its time coming back to Earth.
2006 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. #130
Sure, it’s one of the more random Ken Griffey Jr. cards and doesn’t have much context. But does that matter when you’ve got a pair of baseball icons together on the same card? In case you were wondering, that’s Willie McCovey rocking the tracksuit.
2015 Stadium Club Ken Griffey Jr. #260
Why did it take more than 25 years for this image to make its way to a baseball card? Seriously. There are thousands of different Ken Griffey Jr. cards out there. For his post-retirement cards, it seemed like the most memorable shots were ones we’ve seen before. Clearly that wasn’t the case. It’s also proof that baseball isn’t the only thing that runs through the Griffey bloodline, but fun as well.