Insert Card Craze: Donruss Diamond Kings


In the days before serial numbers, relic cards, certified autographs and countless parallels, simple base insert cards ruled the hobby.

The first modern insert cards arrived on the market in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the insert card craze truly swept the hobby, aided in part by rising young superstars Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

In the coming weeks, we will be taking a look back at some of the more memorable insert sets from that era and their progression over the years.

Up next, we look at the Donruss Diamond Kings inserts. The painting-style cards of some of the game’s biggest stars were first included in 1982 Donruss as a subset on the base checklist, and they remained a staple in the main set until 1992 when they were released as inserts for the first time.

1992 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 27
Hall of Famers: 7

The inaugural Diamond Kings insert checklist was made up of 26 cards, split evenly between Series 1 and Series 2 packs. There was also a checklist card to bring the actual number of cards in the set to 27.

Cal Ripken Jr. ($6),  Frank Thomas ($2), Jeff Bagwell ($2), Will Clark ($1.25) and Wade Boggs ($1.25) were the biggest names in Series 1 packs, while Randy Johnson ($2) and Fred McGriff ($1.25) headlined a less impressive collection of names in Series 2.

George Bell, Scott Erickson, Felix Jose, Brian McRae, Hal Morris, Tony Phillips, Scott Sanderson and Greg Swindell are among the more obscure names in the set.

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1993 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 31
Hall of Famers: 9

The 1993 Diamond Kings inserts were identical in design to the 1992 set, with the checklist expanded to 30 players.

Two of the new cards were added to highlighted the top two picks in the 1992 Expansion Draft, with Nigel Wilson (Marlins) and David Nied (Rockies) laying the groundwork for their respective franchises, while the other two featured the previous year’s Rookie of the Year winners in Pat Listach (Brewers) and Eric Karros (Dodgers).

Ken Griffey Jr. ($10) has the highest book value of the Series 1 card, while Mark McGwire ($8) is top dog on the Series 2 portion of the checklist.

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1994 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 30
Hall of Famers: 9

For the first time since 1984, the Diamond Kings design was completely overhauled in 1994.

One player from each team made up the first 28 cards of the checklist, followed by a “King of Kings” card of Dave Winfield and a self-portrait of Diamond Kings artist Dick Perez that also served as the checklist.

Aside from the base insert set, there was also a 5×7 jumbo version of each card made with a print run of 10,000 that was used as a box-topper for retail boxes. The Ken Griffey Jr. box-topper ($25) and base version ($8) have the highest book value in the respective sets.

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1995 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 29
Hall of Famers: 6

With the seal broken on new designs the previous year, the Diamond Kings design was again updated for the 1995 insert set.

Inserted at a 1:10 pack ratio, they weren’t an overly difficult pull, and the value reflects that as the Ken Griffey Jr. ($10) is the only card in the set with a book value higher than $5. Scott Cooper, Gregg Jefferies, Al Martin and Kevin Seitzer were among the more outside-the-box names in the set.

Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux and prolific slugger Sammy Sosa are among the big names that appeared in the Diamond Kings insert set for the first time in 1995.

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1996 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 31
Hall of Famers: 11

The 1996 Diamond Kings set was the 15th and final year that Dick Perez did the illustrations, as Pinnacle bought Donruss after that and went with one of their own artists. 

It was also the final year that the checklist included a player from every team, and the first time the base inserts were serial numbered. The inserts had a print run of 10,000 and were a tougher pull than in years past.

For the first time since 1992, Ken Griffey Jr. was not included on the checklist, leaving Cal Ripken Jr. ($12), Mark McGwire ($6) and Don Mattingly ($6) as the most valuable cards in the set.

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1997 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 10
Hall of Famers: 7

Released under the Pinnacle umbrella of products for the first time in 1997, the Diamond Kings insert checklist was trimmed to just 10 cards.

The cards were found only in Series 1 packs with a print run of 10,000. The first 500 were printed on canvas, creating a rare parallel version for collectors to chase. For comparison’s sake, the canvas version ($60) is worth five times as much as the base version ($12).

For Series 2, there was a 10-card Rookie Diamond Kings set released, with Nomar Garciaparra, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen and Bartolo Colon included among the rookie Diamond King selections.

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1998 Donruss Diamond Kings

Cards: 20
Hall of Famers: 11

The Diamond Kings inserts followed the same print run of 10,000 with the first 500 printed on canvas approach in 1998, and they were once again found exclusively in Series 1 packs, though the checklist was expanded to 20 cards.

Ken Griffey Jr. ($10) returned as the headliner in the set alongside Cal Ripken Jr. ($10) and for the first time New York Yankees superstar Derek Jeter ($10).

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Just two years after acquiring Donruss, the Pinnacle Brands company declared bankruptcy and with that came the end of the Donruss product line after an 18-year run. The Donruss brand would eventually be revived in 2001, and the Diamond Kings inserts also returned.


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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1 comment

  1. JDonovan 11 June, 2022 at 09:43

    Back when Diamond Kings mattered. The biggest mistake Panini makes with modern Diamond Kings is that they all but ignore the obscure names. Ronald Acuna is ALWAYS the Braves DK. Even this year when he was out for the whole year and wasn’t part of the team that won the World Series. Even when Freddie Freeman won the league MVP, Acuna was still Brave DK. The best part about older DKs is that there was never a repeat DK from year to year. When there was a repeat, it was 2-3 years later and that’s when you KNEW a player was special. Seeing Glenn Hubbard and Bob Horner honored was great even though Dale Murphy was always the best player on the Braves back then.

    Bring back the honor for the Scott Fletchers and the Ed Whitsons of the game and don’t just focus on the most hyped players. Baseball is not basketball. One player is not a team.

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