If you want to see a brutally honest set of baseball cards, look no further than 1986 Donruss The Rookies.

Issued in November of ‘ 86 during the very heart of rookie card mania, The Rookies was a 56-card set that served as Donruss’s answer to Topps Traded and Fleer Update … but with no pretense of trying to get swapped guys into their correct uniforms.


The Rookies was all about — you guessed it! — the players who had lit up the summer and the hobby with their debut seasons. Didn’t matter that some of the dudes, like Jose Canseco and Andres Galarraga, already had 1986 Donruss card, courtesy of the base set.

All that mattered was that Donruss could shower the hobby with more rookie cards by firing up the printing presses one more time late in the year. And, by peppering in some big-hype rookies we had scarcely seen on cardboard before (looking at you, Wally Joyner), Donruss ensured we’d flock to this set that was available only through hobby dealers.

And so we did.

And we’ve been coming back to The Rookies for decades, as the checklist has yielded breakout stars and busts and rebounding stars in an almost endless cycle. Plenty of these babies still bring decent prices today when you can find them in top graded condition, too.

What follows, then, is a rundown of the most valuable 1986 Donruss The Rookies basbeall cards, by measure of recent selling prices for copies in PSA 9 condition. We’ll start at the bottom of the top 10 and work our way up from there.

(Note: The following sections contain affiliate links to eBay and Amazon listings for the cards being discussed.)

Baseball Cards

1986 Donruss Rookies Bobby Bonilla (#30)

1986 Donruss Rookies Bobby Bonilla

Bonilla started his professional career by signing as an amateur free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates all the way back in 1981. Four years later, after he worked his way up to Double-A and then sliding back to Single-A, the Bucs left Bonilla unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft.

The White Sox bit and kept Bonilla on the MLB roster, where he made his way into 75 games, hitting .269 with a couple of home runs.

And that’s where we find him on his The Rookies card, hitting for the White Sox.

But in between the moment this shot was snapped and the release of the actual card, Bobby Bo caught another team’s eye, and the ChiSox traded him … to the Pittsburgh Pirates, in exchange for Jose DeLeon.

This time, Bonilla stuck with the Pirates and went about building his star next to Barry Bonds over the next half decade or so.

Today, Bonilla is more “celebrated” for his Everlasting Gobstopper of a contract with the New York Mets, but enough old-time collectors remember the days when he outpaced even Bonds on some “best young stars” lists to keep his baseball cards visible all these years later.

Value: $5-10

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1986 Donruss Rookies Kelly Gruber (#16)

1986 Donruss Rookies Kelly Gruber

The first-round draft pick (10th overall) of the moribund Cleveland Indians in 1980, Gruber spent four long seasons climbing the Tribe’s minor league ladder, flashing improving power along the way but blocked at third base by Toby Harrah and then Brook Jacoby.

Gruber’s release from purgatory was granted in December of 1983 when the Blue Jays selected him in the Rule 5 draft.

The hot corner man debuted for Toronto in April of 1984 but spent most of that summer and the next with Triple-A Syracuse before landing in the bigs for good to open 1986.

His .196 batting average and five home runs didn’t register a blip with Rookie-of-the-Year voters or collectors, but Donruss nabbed him for The Rookies debut.

Somewhat amazingly, though, this card was bested by well over a year since Fleer had included Gruber on a Major League Prospects card, alongside Detroit’s Randy O’Neal, in their 1985 base set.

Still, Gruber’s first Donruss card and all his other early issues took on some hobby weight when he started flashing some decent power as Toronto started winning in the latter half of the ‘80s.

Value: $5-10

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1986 Donruss Rookies Andres Galarraga (#7)

1986 Donruss Rookies Andres Galarraga

As with the Jose Canseco card in this set, this Big Cat issue was an exercise in dollar-grabbing and checklist-padding.

After all, Galarraga had already made the cut, big time, in the 1986 Donruss base set, nabbing one of the coveted Rated Rookie slots. The young first baseman helped justify the early cardboard that summer, hitting .271 with ten home runs and 42 RBI in just 105 games for the Expos.

Of course, Galarraga would go on to superstar status over the next decade, first with Montreal and then with the expansion Colorado Rockies.

Though Big Cat’s overall numbers fall way short of Cooperstown levels, he made a big enough splash in the game for nearly 20 years to keep his cards bouncing along on lists like this one.

Value: $5-10

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1986 Donruss Rookies Kevin Mitchell (#17)

1986 Donruss Rookies Kevin Mitchell

After a cold cup of coffee with the Mets in September of 1984 (.214, 0 home runs in seven games) following a so-so first summer at Triple-A, Mitchell spent all of 1985 back with the Tidewater Tides.

Things were more rosy for the slugging prospect in 1986, as he stuck in New York all season, filling a utility role with enough aplomb to make 106 appearances across six defensive positions, plus a healthy helping of pinch-hitting.

Mitchell cobbled all that together into a .277 average with 12 home runs and 43 RBI, enough to land him third in National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Todd Worrell and Robby Thompson.

The youngster was mostly a non-factor in October but did pick up two hits and scored a run in each of the National League Championship Series and World Series as the Mets won their second title (the first coming in 1969).

All of that made Mitchell an appealing draw in the season-ending sets, including this shot of him at work in the box.

A December trade sent Mitchell, Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, and a couple minor leaguers to the Padres in exchange for Kevin McReynolds and Gene Walter (and minor leaguer Adam Ging).

The next July, the Pads flipped Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts to the Giants in exchange for Chris Brown, Keith Comstock, Mark Davis, Mark Grant.

Those deals set the stage for Mitchell’s greatest act, an MVP performance in 1989 that included 47 home runs and helped the Giants to a National League pennant. His cards were firecracker-hot that summer, and the earliest ones still retain some of that decades-old sheen.

Value: $10-13

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1986 Donruss Rookies Wally Joyner (#1)

1986 Donruss Rookies Wally Joyner

Without Wally Joyner and his first-half exploits in 1986, it’s possible this set would have never existed.

Seriously, Joyner’s out-of-nowhere splashdown in Anaheim had the entire sport and hobby scrambling.

See …

Joyner grabbed the Angels starting first base job out of Spring Training and started hitting right away. By the end of April, he was sitting at .305 with six home runs.

By the end of June, he was sitting on 19 dingers, and it looked like he might break the rookie home run record held jointly at that time by Wally Berger and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.

And … well, collectors were losing our collective minds.

We *needed* a Wally Joyner rookie card! We’d give the right leg off one of our Ray Knight cards to get one, in fact (a low bar, admittedly).

But … such a beast didn’t exist.

Topps and Fleer were licking their chops at the prospect of including Wally World in their year-end Traded and Update sets, respectively, while Donruss was left to wring their hands.

Big D didn’t have a ready year-end rookie vehicle, outside of maybe including the rooks in their Highlights set.

And, so, The Rookies was born.

Joyner cooled off in the second half, finishing with “just” 22 home runs, but collectors still loved him and flocked to all his cards that fall.

In the meantime, Fleer short-circuited the process, by creating Baseball’s Best box set to capture the phenom while the season was still raging. That’s Joyner’s first MLB card, and we poured our dollars into it with great fervor.

But it was his The Rookies card we loved the most, and it was the most monumental – card #1 in the first rendition of what would become a hobby staple.

If that reminds you of Ken Griffey, Jr., and Upper Deck, well, UD was never one to let a great copycat moment pass them by.

As for Joyner, he never again generated the sort of excitement that set baseball ablaze in the first half of 1986, even though he turned in better overall seasons in a 16-year career that produced more than 2000 hits and more than 200 home runs.

Most of Joyner’s cards have long since slid toward the bottom of the star pile, but his rookie cards – and maybe most especially his The Rookies rookie card – still hold a mystique the hobby can’t shake.

Value: $10-15

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1986 Donruss Rookies Jose Canseco (#22)

1986 Donruss Rookies Jose Canseco

Canseco was the rookie darling of the sport entering the 1986 season, thanks to a .333/36 HR/127 RBI combined line at the Double- and Triple-A level in 1985.

Didn’t hurt that he capped that off with a September cup of coffee that included five more dingers just a couple months past his 21st birthday.

The hobby was ready to devour some Jose Canseco baseball cards, and Donruss and Fleer decided to oblige us right away by including him in their 1986 base sets – a Rated Rookie and Major League Prospects card, respectively.

Canseco had to share the spotlight with Wally Joyner early in the campaign as the Angels’ wunderkind surprised everyone with a season-opening power barrage, but by the end of the summer, Jose was top dog among rookies.

And rookie cards.

Just as we had expected him to be.

Donruss wasn’t going to miss out on that momentum, and so there Jose was amid all the other The Rookies that fall.

Like most other Canseco cards, this one ebbed and flowed with his on-field performance and chicanery levels over the years. And, since the Hall of Fame won’t be measuring Jose for his plaque any time soon, it’s no surprise this RC lands a middle-of-the-pack slot here.

Value: $10-17

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1986 Donruss Rookies Will Clark (#32)

1986 Donruss Rookies Will Clark

Will Clark arrived in the majors in 1986 to a fair bit of hype. Not surprising when you consider he …

was the hitting star for 1984 United States Olympic baseball team.

won the 1985 Golden Spikes Award as the top college player in the nation.

was the second overall pick (Giants) in the 1985 draft.

hit .310 with 10 home runs in 65 games during his only full(ish) minor league season.

Clark also didn’t have any 1986 base cards, so his end-of-year issues took on extra weight.

But while “The Thrill” had a solid rookie season, batting .287 with 11 home runs in 111 games and finishing fifth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, that performance got swallowed up by bigger stories – Wally Joyner, Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, etc.

Still, the future was bright, and this was Clark’s first Donruss card, so collectors loved it, and so did the hobby media – this became one of the enduring images from the set in stories and ads for decades.

Today, this Will Clark rookie card is as popular as ever, thanks to the near-Hall of Fame career The Natural put together, and a general appreciation for his hardnose approach to the game and hardline stance on PEDs in sport.

If Clark ever does get the Cooperstown call, you can expect even heftier prices for this card.

Value: $12-18

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1986 Donruss Rookies Ruben Sierra (#52)

1986 Donruss Rookies Ruben Sierra

Ruben Sierra was one of the most exciting young players in the game in the mid-1980s, part of an emerging core of Texas Rangers prospects who threatened to overrun the game.

And, even among the likes of Oddibe McDowell, Pete Incaviglia, Bobby Witt, Jose Guzman, Ed Correa, and seemingly scores of others, Sierra stood out.

Debuting in the majors at just 20 years of age in 1986, Sierra displayed double-digit power and decent average, along with enough speed to steal double-digit bases (someday) and knock (yes) double-digit triples.

Over the first few years of his big league career, Sierra progressed, bumping up the average, cranking up the home runs, revving up the legs.

It all came to a localized peak in 1989 when El Caballo hit .306 with 29 home runs and 119 RBI, along with a majors-leading 14 triples.

Sierra’s rookie cards, already simmering in the background as guys like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire burned through the hobby, caught their own brand of fire.

This one led the way.

But that summer with the Rangers turned out to be Sierra’s career peak, and he never approached that level of all-around excellence again, though he stayed in the majors through his age-40 season in 2006.

His cards cooled along the way, naturally, but his “The Rookies” entry maintains enough of that early mystique to keep it on lists like this one.

Value: $15-20

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1986 Donruss Rookies Bo Jackson (#38)

1986 Donruss Rookies Bo Jackson

This card wasn’t the main draw when The Rookies debuted (hello, Wally Joyner), but it became an instant classic.

Like the 1986 Topps Traded Bo Jackson card, this one shows the Royals (and Raiders) phenom in a studio shot and …

Hey, wait a minute!

Those two cards show Jackson in the same studio shot!

Maybe that’s why both of these issues look so familiar and iconic whenever you see them, huh? Double the pleasure.

Either way (or both, as the case may be), Jackson lit up our imaginations with what might be possible for him as he went about crafting and All-Star profile on the diamond *and* a Pro-Bowl resume on the gridiron for the Raiders.

And, even though a hip injury suffered in a January 1991 playoff game against the Bengals killed his NFL career and truncated his MLB run, cards of the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner still make smile … and pull out our wallets.

Value: $20-30

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1986 Donruss Rookies Barry Bonds (#11)

1986 Donruss Rookies Barry Bonds

As a college standout, first-round draft pick, and son of an All-Star major leaguer, Barry Bonds generated a decent hunk of hype as he worked toward his 1986 debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hailed as a five-tool player, Bonds flashed all of them in a brief, one-and-a-half year in the minors, showing decent power and speed while hitting around .300

His rookie season in the bigs was more of a mixed bag – .223 batting average, but with 16 home runs and 36 stolen bases (and, of course, 65 walks). It was enough to get fans talking about his 30-30 potential, especially since his dad, Bobby Bonds, held the record with five entries into that club.

It was also enough to make his entry in The Rookies more than an afterthought, if not by a lot. Of course, by the time Bonds had ripped off five 30-30 seasons of his own, piled up a mantel of MVP awards, shattered home run records, and stamped his ticket to the Hall of Fame, this card became the main attraction.

And then …

Well, PEDs, of course.

Still, today, after all the records and controversy, this Barry Bonds rookie card battles the Bo Jackson card for supremacy among The Rookies, and the outcome shifts like a ball in the Candlestick wind.

Value: $20-30

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1986 Donruss The Rookies Factory Sealed 56 Card Set

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1986 Donruss The Rookies Partial Set (55/56)

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1986 Donruss The Rookies Factory Sealed 56 Card Set

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1986 Donruss The Rookies 56 Card Set

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