Do you remember that time the Barry Bonds rookie card was little more than filler? Created mainly to help fill out cardboard roster space? To provide background for other RCs?

Sounds pretty ridiculous here in the 2020s, more than a decade after Bonds wrapped up one of the most storied runs in baseball history, and after all of the notoriety that swirled around his amazing late-career surge.

And especially considering that he came into the game with a certain amount of fame already baked in, courtesy of being Bobby Bonds’ son and Willie Mays’ godson.

But the truth is, Bonds was a nice-to-have in the various sets released after the 1986 season. That went for the 132-card Topps Traded and Fleer Update issues, and it went double for the 1986 Donruss The Rookies box set.

After stepping into the postseason-set fray with their 1985 Highlights set, Donruss dropped all pretenses in 1986 and fully embraced the burgeoning rookie card mania. It was hard to blame them, what with all the collector frothing that a summer barrage of home runs and diamond dreams from first-year players fomented.

That was the summer Wally Joyner came out of nowhere to threaten home run records — in the first half, at least — and when Jose Canseco lived up to his hype to chase down Wally World in the second half and win the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

It was the summer when Bo Jackson became a two-sport star at the highest levels, when Kevin Mitchell helped the New York Mets streak to a division title on their way to a World Series trophy, when Will Clark unleashed his Thrilling lefthanded swing on the majors.

And it was also the summer when Barry Bonds debuted for the Pittsburgh Pirates — when he hit .223 with 16 home runs and 102 strikeouts. The 36 stolen bases were nice, but not Vince Coleman nice.

The 65 walks were boring.

The solid leftfield play was — well, it was leftfield play.

Bonds didn’t do a lot to excite collectors that first season, in other words. Not when we were all waiting for our first pasteboard glimpses of Wally and Bo and even Todd Worrell.

We got them all in that 1986 Donruss The Rookie set, and the Joyner rookie card in particular became an instant hit, one that filled the pages of hobby periodicals and prompted dealers to bust up their sets to sell for singles right out of the gate.

That (sorta) smiling, bat-on-shoulder shot of Joyner is a hobby classic even today, and even though he turned out to be a mere star and not a Hall of Famer.

Canseco — well, he had a Rated Rookie card in the 1986 base set, which sat near the top of the hobby for years.

And the Bo card has become an icon in its own right.

As for Bonds, he showed the world within a few years that he was among the greatest players in the game, winning the 1990 and 1992 National League MVP awards. It wasn’t until he moved on to the San Franciso Giants that his cards really started to light up the hobby, though.

These days, after all the lights and homers and records, and after the PED scandal and the (so-far) failed Cooperstown election, Bonds cards are still heavyweights, though maybe not quite as heavy as his otherworldly stats would suggest.

The Topps Traded and Fleer Update Bonds RCs probably get more play, and sell for more, but his The Rookies card is historic in its own right — the first Donruss card ever of one of the greatest hitter’s to ever take the field.

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And, while Bonds has had his detractors, this card still sells for big money in big conditions — expect to pay $400 or more for a PSA 10 copy, and $50 or so if you slide down to PSA 9.

No matter what condition, though, the Bonds cardboard story can’t be told without the page that is his 1986 The Rookies card.

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End Date: Saturday 03/09/2024 15:26:13 EST
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