Three baseball cards stand apart as the unquestioned most iconic pieces of cardboard ever printed: the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, the first card whose print run was cut short and whose value soared into the millions; the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie, the true beginning of baseball cards as a piece of Americana; and the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie, the No. 1 card in the first card set that signaled the beginning of baseball cards as an investment.
Given the place that these three cards hold in baseball history, it is baffling that the Baseball Hall of Fame’s 12-card display on Ken Griffey Jr.’s wall, unveiled over the weekend, didn’t include the 1989 Upper Deck card.
Among the cards included were two unrecognizable cards in the top row, followed by his 1992 Studio card (which collectors never really cared for) and his Topps rookie debut card — which didn’t draw much interest because after Upper Deck, his Donruss and Fleer rookie cards commanded the most attention.
The second row features an Upper Deck card from 1990 and another Upper Deck card at the end that is — wait for it — a checklist. Huh?
The last row is a caricature card from a Score set, and then three more random cards.
Thinking that there had to be some strange reason why Griffey’s 1989 Upper Deck card wasn’t included, I contacted the Hall of Fame to see if they could assist.
“The design of this exhibit, as with all our exhibits, comes from our curatorial and exhibitions teams,” wrote Hall of Fame spokesman Jon Shestakofsky in an e-mail. “In this case, the determination of which cards to display was based purely on the visual aesthetic of the wall display as a whole, with cards chosen solely on the basis of the imagery. There was no singular reason not to include the 1989 Upper Deck card, or any other particular card.”
Translation: The cards were chosen based on how they looked, not based on how important they were in history.
That’s fine for other players. It’s not fine for Ken Griffey Jr., who — as any baseball fan between the ages of 35 and 45 knows — was the object of affection for the golden age of the baseball card.
And Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Upper Deck card was the real-life version of a golden ticket. We didn’t leap for joy in card shops or in our homes when we pulled a 1992 Ken Griffey Jr. Studio card. And I certainly couldn’t tell you before I saw this display what Griffey’s 1990 Upper Deck card looked like — unlike its predecessor, whose image is seared into my head for all time.
In every museum, I understand there are certain pieces that make it because of how they look. But it’s time to take Griffey’s1989 Upper Deck card and go to a copy shop and blow it up and place it on that wall as soon as possible. Because any fan who has a clue knows that the omission of this card compromises the whole display.
To take it a step further, to keep the display as is would be an embarrassment.