1989 Donruss – My Hobby Foundation

This is a post I have been waiting a while to work on. I wanted to be able to give this one my very best because this is where collecting cards all began for me. The recent ’89 Fleer post had me in my feelings a little bit because it was the same year that I started my almost 30 year obsession with cardboard. But ’89 Fleer is not the set that I first collected. There was another set that was widely available in my town and was colorful, had an awesome rookie class and was very cheap. I specifically remember seeing these packs in Stop N Shop, Suwannee Swifty, Big B Drugs, Piggly Wiggly and Wal-Mart. The wax pack is burned into my brain and when I see it, I immediately feel a peace come over me like I’m back home and have no worries or responsibilities.Before we get to the set though, let’s talk about just how great 1989 really was. I will carry the flag for 1989 until my dying day. Whenever I have been asked about what age was my favorite or if I could go back to a certain point in time, when would it be, the answer is always the same; 1989 – Age 12. Part of that is because of my introduction to the hobby. But part of that is also because of just how great life was during that time. We had iconic sports stars, iconic musicians, iconic television and iconic video games that were originals then and are now being remade or mimicked today.There’s no better place to start than video games for a 12 year old. There was a strong list of games that were introduced in 1989 that I owned and played until they messed up. I played these NES games so much; I had to start using rubbing alcohol on q-tips to clean the cartridges! I know now that it was probably not the best way to handle them but that’s what all of my friends were doing. Arch Rivals was a basketball game that featured players who could punch, kick and pull each others pants down to stop them from scoring. It was awesome! “Hoops” was a 2 on 2 playground game that my cousin and I played until the early morning hours on weekends. There were others too like Tecmo Baseball, RC Pro Am, TMNT, Bad News Baseball and Baseball Stars. Those were when video games were true enjoyment!The best video game to come out in 1989 though was one that would probably be debated as the worst as well. I have always been a scary movie guy and when Friday the 13th launched, I was all over it. I’m sure you remember it but for those youngsters reading along, you played as camp counselors who had to go from cabin to cabin (side scrolling) to save kids from Jason. It was always a tangled maze and it took certain patterns to make it through the woods and caves to get to new locations. It was very drawn out and could get boring if you didn’t know what you were doing. But every time you went into a cabin, you ran the risk of meeting Jason, which made me jump almost every time. He was pretty much unbeatable but you could generally take him down for the moment and he would leave you alone. Sounds a lot like the movie! I played this game for HOURS AND HOURS and can still hear the soundtrack in my head when I think about it.When video games weren’t playing, the television was running some of the greatest shows ever to grace the living room. 1989 saw some classic shows come to an end like; Alf, Webster, Family Ties, Miami Vice, the Smurfs and Super Mario Bros. But that was just to make way for some absolute gems. Some of the shows that debuted in 1989 are just unbelievable; Cops, Coach, Rescue 911, Hey Dude, American Gladiators, Doogie Howser M.D., Baywatch, America’s Funniest Home Videos and The Simpsons! I remember every one of these shows being a huge part of my TV routine. There were shows still running as well like; Wonder Years, Roseanne, Cheers, Just The 10 Of Us and Married With Children. You will never convince me that there was a better time for television than when I was 12. I’ll put up any one of those shows against some Real Housewives crap.There were two other shows that debuted in 1989 that deserve their own special recognition. Saved By The Bell came along right when I was gearing up to go to High School and me and my friends lived and died with the kids at Bayside High School. All the prep’s wanted to be Zack, the jocks wanted to be Slater and most of us were actually Screech and didn’t want to admit it. And who wasn’t in love with Kelly Kapowski? She was the dreamiest of the dreamiest for my generation and she only cemented her legacy when she became Ms. Hot Stuff on Beverly Hills, 90210. Not to be outdone, another iconic show debuted in 1989; Seinfeld. I can generally quote every episode at this point in my life and am damn proud of that. These remain two of my favorite shows to this day!In music, it’s hard to believe the number of legendary artists we were dealing with all at the same time. The easy ones are Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paula Abdul, Guns N Roses and Bon Jovi (before he got lame). Other big hitters were Neneh Cherry with “Buffalo Stance”, Tone Loc, Skid Row, Warrant, New Kids, Young MC, Def Leppard and Poison. I actually created my fake band (idea from Saved By The Bell) and performed Every Rose Has Its Thorn as our opening song! Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were the hot chicks during that time and I had a hard time deciding if I was going to marry one of them or Tiffani- Amber Thiessen. I still think Kelly wins though and it’s probably not very close.Speaking of music, one of the most news worthy groups of my generation was very popular in 1989. They are now the punchline to a million jokes but at the time, everybody loved Milli Vanilli. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were two R&B singers who took the charts by storm (no pun intended) with hits like Blame It On The Rain, Girl You Know It’s True and Girl I’m Gonna Miss You. They won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist and had a Platinum Record. Then one fateful night while performing live on MTV, it happened. They were caught lip synching when the track that played messed up and they ran off stage. In 1990, they publicly admitted that they did not perform on the records. They tried to resurrect their careers as Rob & Fav but the damage had been done. As a last effort to restore their name, they were set to release the Milli Vanilli songs again with them actually singing but Rob died of a suspected drug overdose the night before they were set to tour. A sad end to a wild story but 1989 is where the beginning of that saga can be found.There were some pretty big sports moments in 1989 as well. The Ryan Express picked up his 5,000th K that year and became a living legend! On the opposite end of the legend spectrum was Pete Rose, who in 1989 accepted his lifetime ban from baseball. I remember the ordeal like it was yesterday. Bart Giamatti was selected as the 7th MLB Commissioner on April 1, 1989 and he immediately took on the task of dealing with Rose. Major League Baseball fought with Pete Rose for almost the entire summer and on August 24, Rose agreed to the lifetime ban. Mr. Giamatti passed away a mere 8 days after Rose’s ban. Giamatti’s entire time in office as MLB Commissioner was largely dedicated to the Rose case.It was also a big year for the Bay Area as both the San Francisco 49er’s and the Oakland A’s won their respective Championship games. Those teams were loaded with superstars from that era! In football, the 49’er squad included Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, John Taylor and Steve Young. They would go on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, and Boomer Esiason, 20-16. The Bengals had the game in their grasps until Montana hit Taylor with 34 seconds remaining to spoil Cincy’s best shot at the Lombardi Trophy. That 49’er team was legendary!In baseball, the A’s beat their cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants in “The Battle of the Bay” World Series of 1989. Another star studded affair, this series featured Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, Will Clark, Matt Williams and Kevin Mitchell. With all of the power contained in one state, ironically, the show stopper was not the Bash Brothers but was an earthquake before Game 3 that registered a 7.1 on the Richter Scale. The A’s eventually proved too much for the Giants though and swept them in 4 games. As it relates to baseball, you could not have been a bigger star than Jose Canseco was in 1989 as far as I’m concerned!Jose Canseco was really the driving force that got me into card collecting. RBI Baseball was a big factor too but the Oakland A’s were such a fun team to watch and I wanted everything I could find with Jose Canseco on it. The first chance for that presented itself with a trip to Wal-Mart and my discovery of 1989 Donruss. I had a couple of baseball cards already that had just landed in my possession for different reasons but I had never actually cracked open a full wax pack until then. The bright yellow box with the rainbow writing just caught my eye immediately. And there on the cover of the box was Jose Canseco in his batting stance getting ready to launch a home run into the seats!That was the moment that grabbed me and pushed me to urge my parents to buy a couple of those packs. They obliged and my lifelong addiction began right then and there. I remember the four sided kiosk like it was yesterday. It was a small square metal stand that had cards all the way around with baseball, basketball and football in their own separate areas. The final side of the kiosk was reserved for binders, pages and Beckett Magazine. I wasn’t quite at the storage and pricing stage yet but I remember them being there. I also remember pulling a Jose Canseco but not the card on the box. I pulled the 40/40 insert and that was my first real treasure for my collection. For several years, Jose Canseco filled the first couple of pages of the binder I eventually bought. I was crushed when he took his fall from grace but still look fondly at his 80’s cards because they are a huge part of the collector I am today.

As for Donruss, it was the most prevalent card product in my area when I started collecting and I remember that being my first choice from 89-94. I’ve mentioned here before that my first real card chase was the Donruss Elite. That’s because Donruss was my card of choice during those days. I liked Upper Deck, Topps and even Fleer for most of those years but they just weren’t stocked like Donruss was in my area. I loved Diamond Kings, loved the MVP cards and loved Rated Rookies. And while Topps had gum, Fleer had stickers and Upper Deck had hologram stickers, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the puzzle pieces offered in the Donruss product. I was thrilled when Panini released a Donruss product in 2014, even though it was unlicensed. I know that there is a large group of collectors today that won’t go near Panini baseball products because of that licensing issue. I’m not one of them. I just have a real love for the Donruss brand and it’s because it was my first purchase.The box came with 36 packs as was pretty standard for the era and the packs had 15 cards and a 3 piece puzzle card. The wrappers are the most beautiful wrappers I’ve ever seen and they make me get a little misty when I see them sitting on a shelf at an LCS. The red fades to blue midway down the pack and the bold yellow BASEBALL PUZZLE & CARDS just grabs my attention like a siren would a nearby sailor in Greek mythology. I’m telling you, there really is nothing I don’t like about 1989 Donruss. It is truly the perfect set in my eyes. Like I said before, I have been waiting to write this one because it is such a special set for me and I wanted to be able to properly convey that in my writing.This set is even where I developed and perfected “my way” of opening packs and looking in the Beckett Magazine for the price. I always wanted a surprise when I ripped packs at that age. I would open the pack and the puzzle would be covering the front card. I could usually see the back card through the pack so it was never a big mystery. I would turn the stack over where I was looking at the back of the last card. I would have the Beckett turned to 1989 Donruss and would slowly slide the back card down to where I could only see the number of the card in front of it. I would got directly to the Beckett and look up that number. I would find out from Beckett if I had a Ken Griffey Jr. or not! I did every card in the pack like that for years and believed that it was the way to keep the suspense alive for 2-3 packs.

Now that I can buy a full box of ’89 Donruss for about $10, I just rip through the packs and spend most of my time sorting. That’s the fun part now, right Cliff (@OriolesRise)? So let’s take a look at what I’m sorting this time around. I’m really hoping for a Canseco from the box top just so I can say it happened this time!The first group of cards in the checklist is the Diamond Kings. I pulled in 15 (plus some dupes) with Gwynn being my favorite.After the Diamond Kings, we find the Rated Rookies. I pulled a solid stack that included Alomar, Sheffield, Jefferies and The Big Unit. I am pleased but unfortunately, no Griffey.There is also a great group of rookies in the set that aren’t “Rated Rookies” but I’m happy with them nonetheless. Smoltz and Biggio especially!The MVP set has always been a sharp set to me. It’s a pretty star studded group too!There were two “sort of inserts” in the high numbers of the checklist. They were the Orel Hershiser “59 And Counting” and the Canseco “40/40 Club” that I pulled in that first pack back in 1989,The stars in the set are the classic guys from the late 80’s and I pulled a nice stack of them!Finally, even though there was no Jr. in the box, this gem meant a lot considering the driving force behind my initial interest in collecting. Even though I have this card already, it meant a lot to pull it tonight as I was immersed in nostalgia. This was the pull of the box without a doubt!

It is just a formality but I have to officially score 1989 Donruss as a 5 on the Dub-O-Meter. There is no product that is more nostalgic. There is no toy or image that takes me back to my childhood like this wax pack. It is the home to my favorite Ken Griffey Jr. rookie. I have grown to love many sets over the years and have even gone back to some I didn’t like and found a way to appreciate them later in life. But none of those sets will ever top 1989 Donruss in my book. We all have those certain sets in our hearts and minds. It is typically the first set you collected or the first pack you bought. It’s hard to ever shake that set if you are still collecting 30 years later. We are still collecting because something clicked that day we opened that first pack. It could be a player or the design of the card or even a color on the card that just makes us want to keep collecting. The hobby changes and innovation is king but there is no feeling like going back and ripping some of the very first product you ever bought. Everyone has memories they will never forget. One of mine is the day I picked up that first wax pack and felt that excitement in my soul.


Scoring Scale

1. Let me be the sacrificial lamb so you don’t have to buy these cards.  Just read the post and thank me later.

2. There is worse but there is much better – not worth the effort though.

3. Middle of the road – I wouldn’t talk you into buying these but I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of them.

4. You should probably go out and buy a box and enjoy the rip – I did!  It has some downside but worth the ride.

5. Stop reading and find a box to buy and get to Breaking!  What are you waiting on?

18 thoughts on “1989 Donruss – My Hobby Foundation”

  1. It is where my Son & I got into it.
    I was a collector way before that!.
    I just got back into it.
    My Son is gone but NEVER Forgotten.
    I also thank thee & your’s for all~jimm

    1. Thanks Wes! I really appreciate the support and kind words. I love writing about my youth and the cards!

  2. WOW! Thanks for this awesome piece! I had a few laughs when you brought up the video games and tv shows – we played and watched the same stuff, as I guess most kids did.
    I absolutely love this set! All the big time players from back then, not just the HOFers, but the lesser players that most young collectors have never heard of! The Mike Scotts, the Ruben Sierras, the Benito Santiagos of the world.
    Back then, I didn’t have ESPN or Fantasy Sports to learn about players from other teams, just newspaper box scores and my baseball cards.
    Awesome write-up yet again! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Kris! Same for me. I learned about players and stats from cards and RBI Baseball! I always forget about some of the players until I go back to sets like this. I remember Pete Harnisch and Jerald Clark being hot at one time. Now, no one even remembers them.

  3. Great post. The time period you’re describing was my first year out of college. I remember all the pop culture and sports moments, but my preferred card brand then was Topps. I went to single drug store all year in an attempt to complete the set just from that one store. I came up four cards short!

    Can’t say I remember seeing much Donruss then. 89 Donruss stands out to me because most of the Donruss sets from around this time are brutal (90, 91 in particular).

    1. Thanks! We had Topps and Donruss but I never found Fleer and Upper Deck. I hadn’t started to build sets yet but I bet I would’ve come pretty close if I had sorted back then. 90 was definitely atrocious. As much as I love Donruss, I’ve never been able to appreciate that one.

  4. Awesome Article!!! Took me back to my childhood. I was always an ’89 Topps guy but I always wanted that Griffey! And the TV shows you mentioned made me hit up YouTube to look for old episodes or at least the intros! Keep up the great work.

    1. Haha – loved the old TV shows back then! I liked Topps too but my market seemed to be flooded with Donruss. Thanks for the continued support of the blog my friend!

  5. I’m pretty sure ’89 Donruss was the first product I bought on my own with my own money. At the mini-mart down the block from my house. I remember pulling a Juan Castillo. That stripe on the top causes a visceral reaction inside me that I cannot quite explain.

    1. That’s the emotion I was talking about. There’s just something about the design, certain photos that move me.

  6. Another great post, my friend! I was dabbling in baseball card collecting at the time and it was mostly through my older brother and his friend but, I remember this set so vividly and recall all these stars and rookies. Amazing!

  7. Oh man… I remember getting ready to go to work while the pregame stuff was on… when the 89 quake hit. Phone lines were down, so I couldn’t contact my work or my parents. I just had to wait until they came home from work.

    1. Bet that was pretty rough stuff! I remember seeing it on TV but I’m across the country so it was just news to me at the time.

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