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Before Upper Deck, these cards were the “premium” brand

Donruss was ahead of its time in 1986. Topps was for the traditional collectors. Fleer was a little harder to find than Topps, but at the time seemed a bit bland. Donruss, though…

Runnells 1986 Donruss

Look at those blue and black stripes! And the slanted name! I don’t care that I’ve never heard of Tom Runnells, these cards were fancy and futuristic!

Am I the only one that felt this way?

I remember going to a baseball card and comic book show somewhere in Ohio, maybe Dayton or Columbus, with a friend in 1986. It was a long car ride, and I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend. I spied a 1986 Donruss Dwight Gooden card, and the dealer priced it at $3 if memory serves. $3 for a non-rookie card. Nothing released by Topps approached that! You could get Topps packs at the convenience store or gas station, but Donruss? Not a chance! Packs were more expensive, and singles were more expensive, because they were not as readily available as Topps.

I didn’t buy the Gooden card. I have no clue what I did end up buying on that trip, if anything. It was a long time before I acquired many 1984-1986 Donruss cards. I now own most of them, missing only a handful from 1984 (Dave Concepcion Diamond King and the Johnny Bench/Carl Yastrzemski special) and 1986 (Ted Power and Max Venable). They still look futuristic compared to their contemporaries. Of course, the price has dropped considerably on most of those cards, and with the internet, they are easy to obtain on the cheap. Still there is something about them that is timeless.

Topps and Fleer released update sets at the end of the year to showcase veterans that changed teams and rookies. Donruss didn’t care about traded players, but they certainly cared about rookies. Young up-and-coming players who were sure-fire future Hall of Famers like Jose Canseco and Bo Jackson were a hot commodity and Donruss needed to cash in! There was only one Cincinnati player featured in the green-and-black striped 1986 Donruss Rookies set, and it wasn’t Barry Larkin. Tracy Jones was the can’t-miss rookie in the Queen City. But boy, did he ever miss.

1986 Donruss Rookies Jones

Donruss also released a set called “Highlights” featuring gold and black stripes. Monthly award winners, Hall of Fame selections, MVPs, Rookies of the Year, and Cy Young pitchers were all included, as well as record breakers and other newsworthy events. Bill Gullickson, Ernie Lombardi, and Eric Davis all scored cards in the Highlights set. This set seems to have been produced in greater quantities and can often be found for a buck or two.

1986 Donruss Highlights Gullickson

Finally, we have the Donruss version of O-Pee-Chee. Leaf cards were the Canadian version of Donruss and were produced from 1985 through 1988 with a smaller checklist. Reds catcher Bo Diaz is one of only eight “regular” Reds cards that made it into the Leaf set.

Diaz

Donruss also released a set of supersized All-Star cards in 1986 that were as big as two regular cards placed side-by-side. According to my wantlist, I have the Pete Rose card but I’m missing Dave Parker. I think I do have Parker also, but those cards are still in a shoebox somewhere and I’m not supposed to bend over right now because I’m still recovering from back surgery I had in September.

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Fun Cards: 1986 Donruss “The Rookies” Barry Larkin

Larkin

Donruss created “The Rookies” boxed set in 1986, featuring some of the brightest young stars in baseball, including Bo Jackson, Jose Canseco, and Will Clark. The borders were green rather than the blue of the base set, but the scanned card appears more blue than green and I didn’t take the time to adjust it. Donruss missed a couple youngsters here and there, though, including Reds shortstop and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Lark played in 41 games in 1986, hitting .283 with three homers and 19 RBI. The Reds were still deciding between him and Kurt Stillwell at the shortstop position; Larkin played three games at second base and 36 at short, while Stillwell played 80. For his first two big league seasons, Larkin wore uniform #15; once Stillwell was traded, Barry took #11 for himself.

Too big for a binder: Donruss All-Stars

I love the oddball sets of the 1980s, from the 33-card boxed sets you could find at Kmart, Toys R Us, and just about everywhere else, to the cards you had to cut out from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes. But these cards absolutely drove me insane: the big Donruss All-Star cards from 1983 through 1987. Sure, there were plenty of great players included in these issues, but they were too big for a binder and difficult to store. I still haven’t figured out exactly what to do with them.

The 1983 version was horizontal, such as this Reggie Jackson:

Mr October 1983 Donruss

Donruss flipped the card right-side-up in 1984 and kept them that way the rest of the run, as this 1985 Don Mattingly shows:

Donnie Baseball 1985 Donruss

But they were still too big at 3.5×5. There were also the “pop-up” cards featuring the starters from the game, such as this 1986 Jack Morris:

Morris Donruss All Star

In 1988, Donruss finally wised up and shrunk the cards back down to regular size and they fit nicely into standard baseball card pages.

Happy Birthday Steve Garvey!

Today is Steve Garvey‘s 65th birthday, and in a shameless attempt to see his cards posted on baseball card blogs everywhere, the Garvey Cey Russell Lopes blog is giving away a 1952 Topps card to someone at random. So of course I’m going to post a card, because I don’t have any 1952 Topps cards yet.

1986 Donruss All-Stars

The Garvey card pictured above is from the 1986 Donruss All-Stars set. These big cards (3.5 x 5) first appeared in 1983, and lasted in this oversize variety through 1987. In 1988 the company decided to shrink them to “normal” baseball card size (2.5 x 3.5). 1986 Donruss doesn’t get much love these days, but I loved them as a kid. It was difficult to keep your cards looking mint with those non-white borders. but I loved them anyway. The main difference between the regular set and the All-Stars (other than the ginormosity of them) was the stripes. Instead of horizontal, the blue and black went from top to bottom.

San Diego Padres All-Star First Baseman

Flipping to the back, we see that Garvey had a fairly impressive All-Star career. 1985 was his tenth and final All-Star game and he managed to belt out a .393 average in those contests. His 1974 campaign was especially impressive, being elected as a write-in and winning the MVP. In 1970, Rico Carty became the first player ever elected as a write-in; Garvey followed him in 1974. Has there been another since?

Of his ten All-Star appearances, Garvey started in nine games. In 1981, Pete Rose of the Phillies received more votes. Rose also won the fan vote in 1982, while Al Oliver won in 1983; Garvey was not selected as a reserve either of those years. In 1984, however, the former Dodgers first baseman rose back to the top and was selected to start over Keith Hernandez. In 1985, Rose and Jack Clark sat on the bench while Garvey took the field for the first four and a half innings.

I always thought Steve Garvey would be inducted into the Hall of Fame when his playing days are over, and while I would still like to see him get a plaque in Cooperstown, the truth is the numbers just don’t add up. He wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall, but his selection would probably be seen by rabid baseball fans and historians as a mistake. Regardless, he was a great baseball player.

Happy birthday Steve Garvey.

Now go visit Garvey Cey Russell Lopes.

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