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.