At the time of production and in the years that followed, the 1986 Donruss baseball set appeared to have long-term viability in the trading card market. Headlined by slugger Jose Canseco and the set’s popular ‘Rated Rookies,’ it became a popular set among collectors within its first few years. In addition to the standard 1986 Donruss set, the company released its popular ‘The Rookies’ and ‘Highlights’ add-ons.
Now, 30 years later, the cards have mostly fallen off the map. Once viewed as a potential investment piece, the standard and ‘The Rookies’ sets now often sell in the $15-$20 range each with the Highlights sets going for only a few bucks. Still, all three issues offer a nice complement of affordable star and rookie cards that are attractive despite the low price tags. Here’s a look at five great cards from the three sets collectively.
Certainly not considered to be a high-dollar pursuit, this oft-forgotten card in the 1986 Donruss Highlights set features two of the greatest sluggers in the game’s history.
The card was created in honor of Jackson’s 537th home run to pass the legendary Mickey Mantle on the all-time career list. Adding to the prestige is the description on the back, which reminds collectors that the home run came at the expense of a young pitching prodigy – some guy named Roger Clemens. The write-up also includes a quote from Jackson stating that it was perhaps his greatest honor to be compared to Mantle, who was his childhood idol. This card featuring two Hall of Famers can be found for $1 or less.
Across all three sets (standard, ‘The Rookies’, and ‘Highlights’), the Bonds rookie card is considered the most valuable, usually selling in the $5-$10 range. One of the great things about Bonds’ early issues is that some featured him in the Pirates’ unique pillbox hats, which were popular in the 1970s but eventually phased out by the team in the late 1980s. This one does just that with a closeup of Bonds wearing the hat in a batting pose in his first Donruss issue.
The card eventually took a massive hit in terms of value, as did the Jose Canseco rookie. However, it’s still one of the more popular cards from the Donruss releases that season.
Technically not considered true rookie cards by some collectors since the Highlights set was a separate production from the regular Donruss issue, here is a pair that shouldn’t be overlooked. Sure, Jackson’s and Clark’s ‘The Rookies’ cards are considered to be more desirable and worth more. Still, these are two (excuse the pun) highlights of the Highlights set.
A distinctive feature about these cards is they tout two of the duo’s great rookie achievements on the front. Bo Jackson’s includes the inscription ‘Longest HR in Royals Stadium’ and his 475-ft. bomb that season was also the first of his career. Clark’s signifies his first-career home run as well, which actually came in his first ever at bat. Talk about ways to make an entrance.
The cards aren’t worth more than a dollar or two, but an ultra rare ‘white’ version (the Highlights logo is white instead of yellow) of the set has surfaced and is causing quite the stir. A PSA Gem Mint 10 of the Jackson card recently sold at auction for just over $1,000.
Between these three sets, many first-year cards are available of key players from the 1980s and 1990s. One that is often underlooked is that of the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff. McGriff quietly went on to become one of the biggest producers of his era in a career spanning three different decades while amassing 493 home runs, 2,490 hits, and 1,550 runs batted in.
He didn’t have nearly the popularity of Bonds but part of the reason this card ranks so high on my list is because, in a somewhat rare occurrence, it is seen as McGriff’s only true rookie card since the 1986 Topps and Fleer sets didn’t think to squeeze him into even their traded/update sets – likely since he received only five at bats that season. Donruss was on the ball, though, including him as a Rated Rookie in their standard set and beating their competitors to the punch to give us McGriff’s first major release.
His card (now in the $1-$3 range) is one of the bigger bargains in the set.
For some reason, this card will always hold a special place in the minds of collectors of a certain generation. Perhaps the fact that its once lofty price tag of $100 stirs up old memories from kids that previously saw it as the centerpiece of a collection. It goes deeper than that, though. Simply put, Canseco was a mega star. One of the best examples of raw power and speed, he became the first ever player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season.
Canseco was a Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and World Champion all within his first five seasons. He was one half of the iconic ‘Bash Brothers’ teaming up with Mark McGwire. Canseco was legendary and even after the admission of steroid use, still remains an idol for many thirty-somethings who grew up with him dominating the sport. Checking the Beckett Monthly Price Guide for updates on the value of this card became a popular pastime in the mid-to-late 1980s.
The card’s value is ridiculously low these days (less than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, in fact), but it remains one of the hobby centerpieces from the 1980s in terms of popularity.