December 24, 2021

Boxed Set BOOM: Donruss The Rookies Baseball Sets of the 1980s and ’90s


Remember the boxed set boom of the 1980s and early 1990s?

It was all the fun of baseball card collecting without the hassle of opening packs and wondering who you were going to pull. Alright, so maybe it’s not hard to see why they fell by the wayside…

Still, while most of those sets hold little value these days as a result of mass production, they make the perfect oddball addition for single player or team collectors, not to mention the nostalgia factor.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look back at some of the memorable boxed set series of that era, and up next is the Donruss The Rookies series.

After the success of the 1985 Donruss Highlights set as the first postseason set in the Donruss line, things were expanded the following year with a boxed set that focused on players who were rookies during the 1986 season.

While there are not many true Rookie Cards in the early sets since they were released during the XRC era, there are a few Hall of Fame rookies toward the back end of the set’s six-year run.

In 1992, Donruss pivoted to releasing the set in pack form rather than boxed sets, and it was disbanded the following year. The set was eventually revived in 2001, but never returned to the boxed set model.

1986 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 0

There may not be any Hall of Famers in the inaugural set, but there is no shortage of heavy hitters in the hobby . There are XRCs of Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson and Will Clark, as well as other memorable 1990s standouts like John Kruk, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Mitchell, Wally Joyner and Ruben Sierra.

Sluggers Jose Canseco and Andres Galarraga appeared in the 1986 Donruss flagship set, so they don’t get the XRC distinction, but they have rookie year cards in the set as well.

1987 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 1

1987 Donruss The Rookies is lighter on XRCs, with most of the big names also appearing in the Donruss base set, including Greg Maddux, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, David Cone, Benito Santiago and Bo Jackson for the second year in a row as he maintained his rookie eligibility despite debuting in ‘86.

The XRC list was headlined by five-time All-Star third baseman Matt Williams headlines the XRC list, while Ellis Burks and Kevin Seitzer were also appearing on a Donruss card for the first time.

1988 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 2

The 1988 set is highlighted by an XRC of Edgar Martinez, which is one of just two major release cards of the Hall of Famer from 1988 along with his Fleer Rookie Card. That’s not him pictured on the card, though, as it’s pitcher Edwin Nunez instead.

Roberto Alomar, Mark Grace, David Wells, Jay Buhner, Al Leiter, Ron Gant and Jack McDowell all appeared with Rookie Cards in the 1988 Donruss flagship set, while Brady Anderson, Walt Weiss and 1988 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Sabo are among the XRCs.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 3

A trio of Seattle Mariners Hall of Famers are the big names in the 1989 Donruss The Rookies checklist, with Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez (pictured as himself this time) joining Randy Johnson who appears as a member of the Montreal Expos. It’s one of three 1989 Donruss cards for Griffey and Johnson, as they also appear in the base set and the Baseball’s Best set.

This was the official end of the XRC era, so the set contains true Rookie Cards for Deion Sanders, Jim Abbott, Omar Vizquel, Steve Finley and Kenny Rogers. It also has rookie year cards of Gary Sheffield and Dante Bichette, and an early card of Kevin Brown.

1990 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 0

The biggest dud of the six Donruss The Rookies boxed sets, the 1990 checklist is highlighted by John Olerud, David Justice and Robin Ventura. 

Donruss notably whiffed on Frank Thomas entirely in 1990.

The most notable Rookie Card in the set is former All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga, who has seven different rookies spread across different 1990 products.

1991 Donruss The Rookies

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 2

In what would be the final year Donruss The Rookies was issued as a boxed set, true Rookie Cards of Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodrigues highlight the checklist.

Luis Gonzalez and Mo Vaughn are the only other big names in the set, while minor stars like Darryl Kile, Ray Lankford, Charles Nagy and Chuck Knoblauch are among the other noteworthy inclusions.

In 1992, the set’s checklist was expanded to 132 cards and for the first time it was distributed in pack form rather than in boxed sets.


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