Boxed Set Boom: Donruss Highlights Baseball Card Sets of the 1980s

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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 Highlights series.

While the Topps Traded started all the way back in 1974 and Fleer Update first launched in 1984, the inaugural Donruss Highlights set in 1985 marked the first time that Donruss released an end-of-year set.

Rather than focusing on rookies and players who had changed teams during the season, the Donruss Highlights set focused on the Player of the Month and Pitcher of the Month winners throughout the year, as well as various other milestones and accomplishments.

The sets were around for three years before they were dropped in favor of the Baseball’s Best release in 1988.

1985 Donruss Highlights Baseball

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 18

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The 1985 Donruss Highlights set shared the same basic design as the flagship set, with the only notable difference being yellow stripes on the front rather than red stripes.

Among the notable milestones highlighted in the set were Tom Seaver’s 300th win and Rod Carew’s 3,000th hit as both Hall of Famers were coming down the homestretch of their storied careers.

Did you know: Tom Browning became the first rookie to win 20 games since Bob Grim of the New York Yankees in 1954?

The sets were released before the annual BBWAA awards were announced, so Donruss picked their own AL and NL Rookie of the Year to close out each set. Vince Coleman (STL) and Ozzie Guillen (CWS) were their picks in 1985, and that lined up with what the voters ultimately decided.

1985 Donruss Highlights Baseball Nolan Ryan

1986 Donruss Highlights Baseball

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 15

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The 1986 set again shared the same design as the base set, save for a yellow border replacing the dark blue border.

Notable moments and milestones during the ‘86 season include Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game, Don Sutton’s 300th win, Bert Blyleven’s 3,000th strikeout, Steve Carlton’s 4,000th strikeout and Bo Jackson’s 475-foot home run at Royals Stadium as a rookie.

Clemens had five different cards in the set during a season in which he went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 254 innings to win AL Cy Young and AL MVP honors.

The 1986 set also added cards for that year’s Hall of Fame inductees, with Willie McCovey, Bobby Doerr and Ernie Lombardi earning induction into Cooperstown.

Todd Worrell (STL) and Jose Canseco (OAK) were the Donruss Rookie of the Year picks, and that again synched up with what the BBWAA voters decided. 

1987 Donruss Highlights Baseball

Cards: 56
Hall of Famers: 18

Buy on:

The boxed set boom was in full swing in 1987. The 1987 Donruss Highlights Baseball set was preceded by Donruss Opening Day and Donruss The Rookies. As usual, the Highlights set had the same design as the base set, with a light blue border replacing the black border and a “Highlights” logo positioned where the “Rated Rookie” logo could be found in the flagship product.

Mike Schmidt’s 500th home run, Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record, Paul Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak and Vince Coleman’s third straight 100-steal season were some of the notable milestones.

The Hall of Fame class was included once again, with Ray Dandridge, Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Billy Williams enshrined in 1987.

Donruss selected Mark McGwire (OAK) and Benito Santiago (SD) for Rookie of the Year honors and the BBWAA voters agreed once again, making them a perfect 6-for-6 in picking the winners during the brief three-year run of Highlights sets.

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Joel Reuter

Joel is a National MLB Columnist at Bleacher Report who has spent the last decade as a full-time MLB writer. A lifelong Cubs fan and Chicago resident, nostalgia drives his card-collecting focus. He is currently working on assembling the entire base catalogs of four of his all-time favorites—Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee.

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2 comments

  1. Elizabeth 11 December, 2021 at 17:23

    To assemble a set of cards is there a check list that comes in each or a couple of packs cards to go by to make that set. I have packs of cards from every year so I would like to make those sets up. Can you give me any advice? Thank you inadvance for reading this email.

    • Ryan Cracknell 13 December, 2021 at 09:19

      @Elizabeth – Each set here is linked to the main Beckett database, which has full checklists. You can also use the search bar at the top of Beckett.com to search out sets and checklists for stuff from this era.

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