Donruss Leaf Baseball Cards: A Brief History and Guide

Donruss Leaf baseball cards were produced by Donruss from 1981 to 1992 and again from 1995 to 2000. While not as popular or valuable as some other brands like Topps or Fleer, Donruss Leaf cards introduced some innovative designs and featured many star players throughout their run. This guide will provide a brief history of Donruss Leaf cards and some tips for collectors.

Donruss began producing baseball cards in 1981 after acquiring the rights from Topps. Their inaugural set that year featured 552 cards with players from the 1980 season. The designs were fairly basic but introduced some new elements like team logos on the fronts of cards. Rated rookies in that set included Rickey Henderson, Fernando Valenzuela, and Steve Sax. The brand struggled initially to gain traction against the more established Topps but began innovating new card styles.

In 1982, Donruss introduced their “Leaf” brand, known for glossier photo stock and embossed logos/lettering on many cards. The ’82 Leaf set had 660 cards and featured rookie cards for Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, and Tim Raines. This was the first year Donruss outsold Topps in terms of units sold. The Leaf brand became their flagship product through the 1980s. Subsequent Leaf sets introduced foil signatures, die-cuts, and other premium card styles that helped differentiate them from competitors.


Some notable Leaf sets and player highlights from the 1980s include:

1983 (660 cards) – Rookies of Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Cory Snyder

1984 (700 cards) – First Donruss set with team logo on the front of every card

1985 (660 cards) – Mark McGwire’s rookie card and Don Mattingly’s All-Star card

1986 (700 cards) – Rookies of Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine

1987 (700 cards) – First Donruss Traded set with players’ new teams

1988 (700 cards) – Ken Griffey Jr.’s highly coveted rookie card

1989 (700 cards) – Rookies of Gregg Jefferies, Kevin Maas, and Ben McDonald

Through the late 80s, Donruss Leaf sets were among the most creative on the market. The brand began to lose steam in the early 90s as collectors gravitated towards the flashier Upper Deck brand that debuted in 1989.


In the 1990s, Donruss Leaf sets scaled back some of the premium elements but still featured the key rookies and stars each year. Notable sets and players from the 90s include:

1990 (700 cards) – Rookies of Gary Sheffield, Chuck Knoblauch, and Todd Van Poppel

1991 (700 cards) – Rookies of Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou, and David Justice

1992 (700 cards) – Last original Donruss Leaf set before a 3-year hiatus

1995 (800 cards) – Donruss returned with Leaf featuring rookie cards of Hideo Nomo and Derek Jeter

1996 (800 cards) – Rookies of Nomar Garciaparra, Todd Helton, and Kerry Wood

1998 (800 cards) – Mark McGwire’s record-setting 70th home run highlighted

2000 (800 cards) – Final original Donruss Leaf set before brand was discontinued

After 2000, Donruss lost the MLB license and their baseball card production ceased. The brand was revived around 2010 by Panini America but newer Donruss sets lack the same cachet as the original Leaf issues. For collectors, some key Donruss Leaf cards and sets to target from the brand’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s include:


1983 Fleer box bottom rookie cards of Gooden and Strawberry

1984 and 1985 update and traded sets for stars on new teams

1985 and 1986 Donruss Action All-Star and record breaker inserts

1987 Traded set for mid-80s player moves

1988 Griffey rookie card and 1989 Bonds/Maddux/Glavine rookies

1990-1992 rookie class that includes Bagwell, Justice, Sheffield

1995-1996 rookie cards of Jeter, Nomo, Garciaparra

1998 McGwire record chase highlights and 2000 final original set

While never quite reaching the popularity of brands like Topps or Fleer, Donruss Leaf cards from the 1980s and 90s introduced some truly innovative designs. They also captured many of the eras’ biggest young stars in their rookie card years. For collectors of the period, hunting down some of the above noted Leaf sets and key rookie cards can make for an exciting challenge.

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