Comedy/Tragedy in 1989

You would never think something as little as a smile could make or break a company but that’s exactly what Ken Griffey Jr. did to Upper Deck and Classic in 1989. Classic was a different kind of baseball card that was somewhat different than other card companies. I never once saw them anywhere but Q.V.C or Home Shopping Network being featured each and every Friday night in the late 80’s and because my mother didn’t have a credit card, it meant that I would never see these cards in person until the late 90’s thanks to the invention of eBay. Classic had a good run which began in 1987 and they had generated a little buzz by 1989 when they released their yearly set, this time featuring baseball’s future savior and superstar, Ken Griffey Jr. Now, everyone knows Ken’s true rookie card is from Upper Deck but that may have something to do with Classic’s mugshot-like portrait of Ken. Come to think of it, looking at Ken’s other ’89 cards you would think he was on his way to his father’s funeral or something. Fleer, Topps, & Donruss featured a sulky teenager for their cards, which if you know anything about Griffey, he is the complete opposite.

On the other hand there is Upper Deck, which was making its debut that very same year with the first premium baseball cards. Somehow, they managed to get Griffey to smile and the rest was history. Upper Deck became the #1 brand, featured the very best in photography, introduced the game-used phenomenon (or at least made it accessible to the masses), and is one of the only two brands that survived the storm of the late 90’s. Classic? They kept making cards up until 1992. Who knows just how long they would have been around if they could have gotten the “kid” to crack a smile for them.



  1. I thought Classic went with some sort of board game. Am I wrong? I traded for a few Classic cards now and then, but never considered them a part of the elite card companies.

  2. Classic was real big in the graduating collegiate athlete business, that now Donruss (Elite) has done. I still have my sealed classic board game from 1987. I have mixed feelings about Upper Deck, I feel like they led to the downfall of the industry by changing the look of the card, and blowing out the inserts. But Mario has a point too, without UD the photos would remain lack luster. Also I miss the profile shot of players, now it’s always the action shot. That’s why I like the ’52 rookie set and Turkey red.

  3. Seeing these cards just reminds me of the Griffey sweetspot signed ball I gave one of my students back in the mid 90s. What was I thinking?

  4. I like hard-ass Griffey better. He seems to see the many broken bones and strained ribs in his future and is sufficiently angry about it. I guess that’s why I’ve spent the last 17 years collecting only Classic brand cards.

  5. The Classic cards were just too plain for my taste. I do still have a couple of board games and a few travel games I haven’t opened.

  6. I have a lot of the classic board games and sets..Any interest just email me
    I’m in Texas

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