1986 Donruss Rated Rookie Jose Canseco
I am not going to rehash the whole Jose Canseco saga, but he was incredible at the height of his career and fell really hard. At the time of this set's release, the Donruss Jose Canseco rookie card was one of the most sought after cards. Often a rookie card makes or breaks a set and in this case the fate of this set followed the Canseco card. In the late 80's when the Canseco rookie was at it's height, the card also brought up the values of several other rookie cards in the set including Fred McGriff, Paul O'Neill, and Andres Galarraga.
1986 Donruss Rated Rookie Paul O'Neill
1986 Donruss Rated Rookie Andres Galarraga
1986 Donruss Rate Rookie Fred McGriff
In the end, the "other rookies" in the Donruss set ended up being almost as important as the Jose Canseco. All three players had careers that were probably better than Canseco's, especially Paul O'Neill who was a key player on four World Championship teams. None of the four players are Hall of Famers and that has brought down the value of this set to around $20. It's not the 1988 Donruss set, but it's also not nearly as good as the 1987 set.
My reason for including this set in my countdown is the simple fact that for a few years in the late 80s this was a great set. In 1989, Jose Canseco hit 42 home runs to lead the American League while stealing 40 bases and driving in more than 100 runs. That same season, Fred McGriff enjoyed his second thirty plus home run season, when 30 home runs was a big deal, and draws comparisons on that season with Mark McGwire on Baseball Reference. O'Neill and Galarraga enjoyed solid seasons, but would have more impact later in their careers.
Despite it's loss in value the 1986 Donruss set can teach us two important lessons. First, the 1980s cards all generally lack the kind of cardboard value that vintage cards enjoy. No fault of the collector's, but its hard to value a card when there are thousands upon thousands of copies of a card. For me, these sets are still great to take out and look at. I love the polyester uniforms and seeing cards of players I loved watching as a kid. Cardinals cards of Danny Cox and Mike Laga. Yellow Pirates jerseys.
Second, there are many in the card industry that try to say that the on field product has little effect on the price of a player's cardboard. If that statement were true, than the Jose Canseco card would still retain some shred of value instead being able to find raw copies of the card for under $5.
I had such as conversation with the Editor of Beckett Baseball Card Magazine Chris Olds on Twitter during the Cardinals and Nationals game last week. Basically, I took the view point that Bryce Harper's regular season and postseason performance would have to greatly improve for him to maintain his current level of card values.
For example, in the mid 90s collectors went crazy for Andruw Jones cards when he played well, as a teenager, in the 1996 playoffs. Sixteen years later, Andruw Jones is a role player with a low batting average and no defensive skill. Not to say that is what Harper is to become, but collector's eyeing a high end rookie should look at the cards of Canseco and Jones to better understand the high risk that comes with adding high end rookie cards to their collections.
Like the 1986 Donruss set? Not in my Top 50 is the 1984 Donruss set. This set is very similar to the 1986 Donruss release. For years, this set was a highly valuable and high sought after piece of cardboard. There were three important rookie cards in the set, which like the 1986 Donruss, lost value and popularity with the demise of the players. Most importantly was the Don Mattingly rookie card.
1984 Donruss Don Mattingly
Mattingly had a great start to his career, but it was derailed by injuries. His cards had trouble maintaining their values over time. Mattingly has moved on to become a successful manager with the Dodgers and still is popular with Yankees collectors. The other two key rookie cards were the Joe Carter Rated Rookie card and the Darryl Strawberry rookie.
1984 Donruss Darryl Strawberry
1984 Donruss Joe Carter
Strawberry's career followed a similar path as Jose Canseco. Again, not going to rehash the entire saga, but he was a really good player who turned out to be very average. His cards are still sought after, but do not maintain much in terms of value. Joe Carter was a highly thought of prospect who turned into a nice everyday player. Above average, but not a Hall of Famer. More importantly he hit a game winning, series ending home run in the 1993 World Series.