Topps made a pretty surprising announcement yesterday that it has signed Ken Griffey Jr. and will include his cards in its 2012 products. This is a pretty big deal – right up there with adding the notoriously difficult signer Koufax last year – for a few of reasons. One is that it’s kind of hard to get Griffey signatures through means not facilitated by Upper Deck - the best way in the past has been by purchasing something from Upper Deck Authenticated or on an Upper Deck insert card – I don’t know of him ever signing at a show or anything. So his autograph is pretty valuable, period. Also, this is the first time you could get a Griffey card in a Topps product. The biggest reason is just what Griffey represents – to baseball card collectors, Ken Griffey Jr. IS Upper Deck.
I think I’ve got a bit of a unique perspective on this – I’m a huge Ken Griffey Jr. fan. Griffey wasn’t the first athlete I idolized, but he’s my favorite. When I was 12, I remember staying up late to watch his at bats every chance he was on TV. When I went to college, I hoped against hope that it would be him and not Mark McGwire in 1997 and 1998 that would break Roger Maris’s record. I have a 3-year old Dachshund named Griffey, most because I don’t think my wife would be OK with me picking that name for our first-born son.
I can remember the excitement when he was traded “home” to Cincinnati. To have your favorite player traded to your favorite team is pretty awesome. I still have the article in the Cincinnati Enquirer that describes the trade and compares it to the Babe Ruth Sox-Yankees deal. Obviously nothing on that level materialized, but I appreciated being able to watch him play for nearly a decade and seeing about 10 of his 630 home runs live. Even when he was older and produced less, I didn’t want the Reds to trade him. There’s something about having your childhood hero on your hometown team (even after you’re not a kid any more) that even trumps giving that team the best chance to win.
So, on that level, I’m really excited that I can find Griffey Jr. in next year’s products. Plus, the card above looks amazing! I hope they do some cards with him in a Reds uniform, but I also hope Topps doesn’t go completely overboard – having too many Griffey cards could make me go a bit overboard.
In another way, though, this is a little sad. Griffey’s rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in all of sports history. If you asked me, it’s behind only the ’52 Mantle and the T-206 Wagner as the most influential baseball card of all-time. A surprise pick as the #1 card in a fledgling set that changed the game (kind of like Topps said it’s going to do in 2012 :}), and a photo that captures the essence of “the Kid”. This kind of signifies the nail in the coffin to Upper Deck’s run in baseball – and I’m sure that fact isn’t lost on Topps. From everything I’ve read, Upper Deck kind of deserves it, but as someone who collected their products in the mid-90′s, I can’t help but be a little sad.