If you weren’t around to witness the first few years of their existence, you may never realize the full impact that 1984 Donruss baseball cards had on the hobby.

Sitting here three-plus decades later, they may seem like just another issue fading from view under the dust of time, but this set is so much more.

It’s the set that announced Donruss would be a major player in the card market and not just a cheap curiosity.

It’s the set that made us believe improvements in card quality were possible, that we deserved better cards.

It’s the set that showed us supply and demand works, even for brand new cards.

And it’s the set that kickstarted the rookie card craze for real after a few years of heavy flirtation.

(Check out our full series of posts on the history of Donruss baseball cards.)

1984 Donruss Unopened Wax Box

Now, after all these years, much of the sheen has faded from 1984 Donruss as thousands of newer issues continue to crowd our collecting memories, and as the set’s marquee players slip further from the limelight.

But enough of us old-timers know the hobby wouldn’t exist as it does today without the influence of this set to keep it from collapsing into oblivion, at least for another generation or so.

Hopefully, our hobby children can carry on that message when the moment comes.

For the time being, there are still plenty of desirable pasteboards in this milestone issue, with the ten here being the most valuable 1984 Donruss baseball cards.

Card rankings and values are based on prices for PSA 9 copies as listed in the PSA Sports Market Report Price Guide, but you probably don’t need any help at all to know who sits at the top of this particular mountain …

1984 Donruss Don Mattingly (#248)

1984 Donruss Don Mattingly

I’ve written about this card before, but for this list, suffice it to say that the 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly did for modern cards what the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle did for older cards, and for the hobby at large.

It all started with the frantic batting title race with Yankees teammate Dave Winfield in 1984 and exploded to new proportions in 1985 when Mattingly became maybe the best hitter in the game (at least by the standards of the day).

Add in the relative scarcity of the 1984 Donruss set, and it was the precise confluence we needed for the rookie card craze take hold and set us up for the hobby boom proper.

It’s no hyperbole to say that, without the Donnie Baseball rookie card, there would have been no 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., maybe no Upper Deck at all, no Brien Taylor phenomenon in the early 1990s, no rookie card speculation, no boom and bust.

So, OK, maybe all or most of that would have happened in one way or another, but the hobby would be drastically different today had the perfect storm of the 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly rookie card never come to pass.

Today, this hobby staple is a $120 item in PSA 9 condition.

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1984 Donruss Joe Carter Rated Rookie (#41)

1984 Donruss Joe Carter

Joe Carter, then with the Chicago Cubs, was part of the initial class of Donruss Rated Rookies to be so noted on card fronts. (Donruss had designated some guys as “1983 Donruss Rated Rookie”s on card backs the year before — see Keith Creel for an example.)

Over the next couple of decades, Carter would become an RBI machine for the Indians and Blue Jays, and he’d smack one of the most famous home runs in baseball history.

No one who saw his bottom-of-the-ninth blast off Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series will ever forget it!

Though Carter has thus far fallen short of the Hall of Fame, his Donruss Rookie Card remains a $20 buy in PSA 9.

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1984 Donruss Daryl Strawberry Rookie Card (#68)

1984 Donruss Darryl Strawberry

Not surprisingly, this Strawberry rookie card came out of the gates in 1984 as the most popular card in the whole set.

Rolling to the 1983 National League Rookie of the Year Award and piling up big home run numbers along the way tend to help a guy’s card values, after all.

Once it became clear that Donruss was different that year (read, “limited”), this Straw was at the top of the entire new-card food chain.

Although Strawberry stumbled personally and professionally over the years, he still put up a solid career that taunts us to this day with thoughts about what might have been.

The combination of all those factors is enough to keep this card in the $15 range today.

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1984 Donruss Cal Ripken (#106)

1984 Donruss Cal Ripken

Ripken was already an established superstar as 1984 dawned, having won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1982 and the AL MVP in 1983.

He was also the starting shortstop for the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles, and he was in the beginning stages of a little something that would become The Streak.

The future looked bright, in other words.

And bright it was, with more than 3000 hits, a date with Lou Gehrig, and easy Cooperstown election all ahead of young Cal at this point.

This HOF cardboard generally sells for $10 or so in PSA 9 condition.

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1984 Donruss Nolan Ryan (#60)

1984 Donruss Nolan Ryan

In 1983, Nolan Ryan joined Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry in breaking Walter Johnson‘s all-time strikeout record. And, though Ryan was first to catch the Big Train, it was Carlton who headed into 1984 as the K King.

Many (most?) observers thought the record would stay with Carlton forever, but the Ryan Express had other ideas.

In fact, Ryan would play another ten years, including five with the Texas Rangers to end his career, during which time he would push the record to well over 5000 SO and pick up his sixth and seventh no-hitters.

Today, you can expect Ryan to land near the top of the value tree for any set in which he appears, and this $10 card fills that bill nicely.

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1984 Donruss Pete Rose (#61)

1984 Donruss Pete Rose

The 1984 season was a bit funky for Rose and his fans and collectors.

Even though he had helped the Philadelphia Phillies reach the World Series in 1983, Pete had a bit of trouble in free agency.

Eventually, he ended up with the Montreal Expos for 1984, but that only lasted until August, when the ‘Spos traded him to the Reds in exchange for Tom Lawless.

As a result, we got to see Rose in a Phillies uniform on 1984 base cards, and an Expos uniform in 1984 Traded and Update cards … but we had to wait until 1985 to find Charlie Hustle back in his proper Cincinnati togs.

Anyway, for all his warts, Pete Rose bested Ty Cobb‘s all-time hits record late in the 1985 season, and Charlie Hustle remains a strong hobby figure today.

This, his last Phillies Donruss issue, is about an $8 card in PSA 9 condition.

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1984 Donruss Ryne Sandberg (#311)

1984 Donruss Ryne Sandberg

Sandberg broke out in 1984, just in time to help the Chicago Cubs win their first-ever division crown. He did that on the strength of 19 home runs, 19 triples, 114 runs scored, and a .314 batting average that netted him NL MVP honors.

All while providing Gold Glove defense at second base.

And, if you’re more of a Sabermetrics type, Ryno’s 8.6 WAR (Baseball Reference version) bested second-placer Gary Carter by more than a full win.

Sandberg had some ups and downs during the rest of his career but retired as one of the best keystoners ever, and he made the Hall of Fame cut in 2005.

And, though Sandberg’s rookie cards appeared in the 1983 base set, this 1984 beauty still garners plenty of attention and sells in the neighborhood of $8 in PSA 9.

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1984 Donruss Tony Gwynn (#324)

1984 Donruss Tony Gwynn

While Sandberg was running amok on the north side of Chicago, Tony Gwynn was doing the same in San Diego.

But, whereas Ryno mixed in a bit of power with his speed (32 stolen bases) and on-base abilities, Gwynn was all about getting on base with his hitting.

The man who would become Mr. Padre hit a scorching .351 that summer to win the first of eight batting titles and helped San Diego all the way to the World Series.

To get there, of course, the Pads had to dispatch Sandberg’s Cubs, which they did by taking three in a row after dropping the first two games.

This Gwynn card from that magical summer so long ago sells for around $8 in graded NM condition.

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1984 Donruss Rickey Henderson (#54)

1984 Donruss Rickey Henderson

Henderson was well on his way to becoming the greatest base-stealer of all time when this card was issued, having already broken Lou Brock‘s single-season record.

Within a decade, Rickey would own the career SB record, too, and he’d finish as probably the top leadoff man of all time. He also owns the mark for career runs, with an astounding 2295.

No surprise, then, that this early-career card shows up here with a $7 price tag.

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1984 Donruss Wade Boggs (#151)

1984 Donruss Wade Boggs

Though Boggs appeared in rookie cards alongside Sandberg and Gwynn in the 1983 sets, the Boston Red Sox (and New York Yankees) great had already established himself as one of the top pure hitters in the game by the time 1984 rolled around.

That .361 average in 1983 made jaws drop and sort of obscured the fact that Boggs could take a ball or two, too — his 92 walks attested to that and left him with a .444 OBP.

The on-base numbers slipped a bit in 1984, but then Chicken Man reeled off a streak of four straight American League batting crowns that assured he’d always be in conversations around best “average” hitters ever.

Thanks to Boggs’ exploits in the batter’s box, his second-year Donruss card sells for 5+ in PSA 9 condition these days.

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