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1984 Donruss Baseball

By Patrick Mondout

Donruss was at a crossroads in 1984. The initial interest in their cards - largely a result of them existing at all - was waning and the lack of innovation in '83 coupled with chronic overproduction left many collectors with a sour taste in their mouths (even if it had been two years since Donruss gum was included). For Donruss to regain the initiative, they would have to prove themselves all over again. Fortunately for both the company and collectors, they did.

The Donruss division of General Mills was sold in mid-1983 to a Finnish company named Huhtamaki, which was on a confectionary-company buying spree. Huhtamaki also bought Beatrice Foods and Leaf and merged the three confectionary companies to form Donruss-Leaf. Someone at the new company understood clearly the challenge Donruss faced in the baseball card market because they effectively addressed nearly every collector's complaint about the 1983 set.

The 1984 set was attractive, innovative, and, perhaps most important to the growing number of speculators and even us kids who saw a chance to make money on our extra cards, production was limited. This wasn't widely known at first, but as rumors of a short print run spread, this set gained in price quickly. In the time it took Don Mattingly to go from winning the first basemen's job in spring training to winning the batting title, Donruss had almost completely transformed themselves from an also-ran with overproduced cards into the hottest card producer whose next move would be the most anticipated.

This strategy of limiting production meant that they wouldn't lead in sales (they wouldn't have anyway), but it was likely to mean that the exploding number of card dealers would be pounding down their doors come January 1985 for their next truckloads of cases. And indeed that is practically what happened.

The fronts of the cards were simply beautiful (for their time). The quality of the selection of photographs used was as good as had ever been seen in a large set and the uncluttered fronts with large photos made some veteran collector's take Donruss seriously for the first time.

Anyone in the hobby paying attention at all in 1983 realized that rookie cards were driving the market. The anticipation of the 1983 Topps Traded set with Darryl Strawberry was an event unprecedented in hobby history. One cool new feature of the Donruss set was the inclusion of "Rated Rookies." While Topps had produced two, three, and four player prospects cards for many years (ending in 1982), this was the first attempt at producing individual cards of prospects and giving them your stamp of approval as prospect a cut above the rest of the rookies.

The Rated Rookies were very well received by collectors, though there - as always - would be debates about who Donruss scout Bill Madden should or should not have been selected (such controversies generally only increase awareness and sales). The set would probably eBay for double its lofty price if, for example, Rated Rookie cards of Dwight Gooden, Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens had been produced.

Rated Rocket?

This set had everything... but a Roger Clemens rookie. We fixed that by showing what it could have looked like using one of our Lou Sauritch images.

If you are looking for negatives about this set, there are two. First, the card backs are virtually unchanged from the previous year and still only list as many as five years worth of yearly stats, regardless of how long a player had been around. In fairness to Donruss, this left them more space to include biographical information, and they used it accordingly becoming the first card company to actually list the player's contract status.

The other negative is that the set is once again riddled with small errors. All of the Diamond Kings (which now include both an action painting as well as a facial watercolor) can be found with "Perez-Steele" spelled correctly or with the final "e" missing. Andre Nolan Dawson's middle name was incorrectly listed as Fernando for a forth straight season, extending Donruss' embarrassing record streak (which would end with the '85 set).

Set collectors were miffed to find out that their factory sets only contained 658 cards. Cards numbered "A" (Gaylord Perry & Rollie Fingers) and "B" (Johnny Bench & Carl Yastrzemski), called "Donruss Living Legends," were the other two cards and were only available in wax packs. This ensured collectors would have to make an additional purchase to truly have a complete set. Hand collated sets from dealers generally had these cards.

In addition to factory sets, the cards were distributed in 30 wax packs of 15 cards with 3 Duke Snider puzzle pieces.

Looking back on the sets of baseball cards produced in the Awesome80s, the 1984 Donruss set heads to the top of the list. If any set from the decade deserves the label "classic" it is this. As early as 1985, the most desirable (and valuable) set from the decade was not the '80 Topps set, but '84 Donruss. Of course a major reason for this was also the presence of the rarest of the Big Three (Topps, Donruss and Fleer) Don Mattingly rookie cards.

With the inclusion of the Rated Rookies, there were nearly 100 "rookie" cards in this set. In addition to Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Joe Carter, Ron Darling, Tony Fernandez, Kevin McReynolds and Andy Van Slyke were featured on Donruss cards for the first time.

A checklist for all 660 cards is available here.

1984 Donruss at a Glance
Back Checklist Wax Pack
Diamond Kings Rated Rookie Living Legends
Brett Running Red(bird)s Puzzle Card


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Year: 1984

Manufacturer: Donruss

# of Cards: 660 (Checklist)

Value/Price: Check eBay (see links below)

Size: 2 x 3

Image courtesy of Donruss

'84 Donruss Sets!
'84 Donruss Singles!
'84 Donruss Unopened Packs!
'84 Donruss Lots!
'84 Donruss Cases!

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