Donruss Diamond Kings breakdown

The quarantine has allowed me to spend more times with my card collection. And that leads to ridiculous ideas such as a deep dive into Donruss Diamond Kings. I took all of the Diamond Kings from sets in 1982 (the first Diamond Kings) through 1991 (the last year they were part of the base set before becoming an insert set in 1992). I considered ignoring the 1991 Diamond Kings since they started doing full-body action shots (hated that) rather than strictly headshots (which I like much more), but in the end I included them. I examined the Diamond King selections using the stats from the prior season, so for example 1984 Diamond Kings will be judged by their 1983 stats, etc.

Of course, this isn’t perfect since Donruss avoided selecting the same players in consecutive years, and they also had a few examples of “lifetime achievement” selections. I only used the Diamond Kings at the beginning of the sets (the cards numbered 1-26 in every Donruss set from 1982-91) and did NOT include examples such as the standalone “King of Kings” cards such as Pete Rose’s #653 in the 1986 set or Nolan Ryan’s  #665 in the 1990 set. So with all of this being said, here’s more than you ever wanted to know about the Donruss Diamond Kings run from 1982-91!

In all, there were 260 Diamond King cards, one per team, 26 teams for 10 years. There were 232 different players, which means there were 28 players who had repeat performances. But none with more than two.

Diamond King highlights & nuggets by year

1982

Pete Rose is card #1 – technically the first Diamond King. He also appeared in 1986 as a “King of Kings” – card 653 –  but I’m not counting it in this project. Pete looks great in the helmet. On average, there were about 2 or 3 helmet cards per 26-card Diamond King set.

Ivan De Jesus was a 1982 Diamond King after hitting .194 the season prior. It’s the worst batting average of any position player DK.

Carlton Fisk looks particularly amazing in the 1976-81 White Sox collared uni.

There were four position players to be a Diamond King after a season where they hit no home runs. Three of them were 1982 Diamond Kings – Pete Rose, Ozzie Smith & Ivan De Jesus. The other one was Ozzie Smith again (1987).

1983

1982 & 1983 Diamond Kings are almost identical on the front. There was some blue printing on the back of the 1982s, only black on the 1983s.

Rollie Fingers has arguably the best mustache of any Diamond King. That’s two great Brewers in a row (Gorman Thomas in 1982 was awesome).

Willie Stargell’s card is maybe the most perfect Diamond King card ever made. Great looking headshot (with the Pirates pillbox cap), but the subtle row of Stargell’s Stars in the background are a nice touch.

The SOX on Britt Burns’ cap looks a little off, but the warmup jacket looks amazing. There weren’t many pitchers pictured in warmup jackets, but this is the best one.

1982 & 1983 both boast 10 Hall of Famers. Most of any 26-card DK set from 1982-91.

11 of the 26 Diamond Kings were pitchers – the most of any DK set from 1982-91. In 1984 & 1988, there were only five pitchers.

1984

This is the only Diamond King set (1982-91) without the traditional “Diamond Kings” gold ribbon across the top. Instead, there’s decorative bunting along the top of the card. Also, the mini action shot is in a rectangular frame, which is also exclusive to 1984.

There are three bespectacled Diamond Kings in 1984. Ron Kittle, Leon Durham & Andre Thornton. In the other 9 DK sets from 1982-91, there are three players with eyewear combined.

Four 1984 Diamond Kings are pictured with batting helmets. Along with 1987, that’s the most of any of the ten DK sets featured here.

Wade Boggs had the highest batting average (.361) leading to his Diamond King selection (among position players).

1985

Don Sutton’s action shot is engulfed by his large poof of gray hair, which is amusing.

Alvin Davis is one of THREE Mariners Diamond Kings following their rookie year. Matt Young (1984) & Ken Griffey Jr. (1990) are the others.

DK DETOUR: Diamond Kings as a rookie

  • Mariners: Matt Young (1984), Alvin Davis (1985) & Ken Griffey Jr. (1990)
  • A’s: Jose Canseco (1987) & Mark McGwire (1988)
  • Angels: Wally Joyner (1987) & Devon White (1988)
  • Others: Benny Santiago (1988), Chris Sabo (1989), Delino DeShields (1991), Mark Grace (1989), Ron Kittle (1984), Kent Hrbek (1983), Juan Samuel (1985) & Sandy Alomar Jr. (1991).

1985 (CONT’D)

Rich Dotson (4.3 WAR) had the highest WAR of any White Sox Diamond King season. The collective 28.0 WAR by White Sox Diamond Kings from 1982-91 was lowest of any team. Cubs were second lowest at 28.2.

DK Detour: Lowest WAR by by team (1982-91)

  • White Sox (28.0) – highest contribution was a 4.3 WAR season by Richard Dotson (1985). Three seasons of 1.9 (Ron Kittle 1984, Britt Burns 1983 & Greg Walker 1987)
  • Cubs (28.2) – dragged down by the two worst WAR seasons of all 260 cards
  • Braves (32.5) – a season of 0.2 by Gerald Perry (1989) and a 1.2 by Phil Niekro (1982) don’t help.

1985 (CONT’D)

Of all the Diamond King years from 1982-91, 1985 had the best combined WAR of 116.8. That total (remember, it’s stats from the season before – in this case 1984) was led by Cal Ripken’s 10.0, Ryne Sandberg’s 8.6 & Bert Blyleven’s 7.2.

DK DETOUR: Combined WAR by year (26 Diamond Kings totaled)

  • 1982        63.1 (1981 was strike year)
  • 1983      106.7
  • 1984        81.3
  • 1985      116.8
  • 1986        95.0
  • 1987      110.0
  • 1988      111.6
  • 1989      96.8
  • 1990     101.1
  • 1991      114.6

Diamond Kings with the highest & lowest WAR by year (remember, the stats are from the year prior). Everything here is using baseball-reference WAR, by the way.

1986

Jerry Koosman is one of two players (along with Willie Stargell in 1983) to be a Diamond King following his last career MLB season. Koosman’s 4.62 ERA is the highest of any Diamond King pitcher, though it’s more of a lifetime achievement selection.

Dwight Gooden’s 13.3 WAR is the highest of any Diamond King during the 1982-91 run.

1987

The first year of repeat Diamond Kings. From 1982-86 there were 130 Diamond Kings (just counting cards 1-26), all different players. Dale Murphy, Dave Winfield, Fred Lynn, George Brett, Jack Morris & Ozzie Smith are the first two-time Diamond Kings. By the way, in all, from 1982-91 there are 28 two-time Diamond Kings; 17 of them with the same team, 11 with two different teams.

Same team (17)

  • Dave Winfield, Yankees, 1982 & 1987
  • George Brett, Royals, 1982 & 1987
  • Dwight Evans, Red Sox, 1982 & 1988
  • Alan Trammell, Tigers, 1982 & 1988
  • Carlton Fisk, White Sox, 1982 & 1989
  • Jack Morris, Tigers, 1983 & 1987
  • Dale Murphy, Braves, 1983 & 1987
  • Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, 1983 & 1991
  • Robin Yount, Brewers, 1984 & 1989
  • Dave Righetti, Yankees, 1984 & 1991
  • Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles, 1985 & 1988
  • Don Mattingly, Yankees, 1985 & 1989
  • Frank Viola, Twins, 1985 & 1989
  • Tony Gwynn, Padres, 1985 & 1989
  • Lou Whitaker, Tigers, 1985 & 1990
  • Ryne Sandberg, Cubs, 1985 & 1991
  • Roger Clemens, Red Sox, 1987 & 1991

Two different teams (11)

  • Dave Parker, Pirates 1982, Brewers 1991
  • Ozzie Smith, Padres 1982, Cardinals 1987
  • Fred Lynn, Angels 1984, Orioles 1987
  • Jack Clark, Giants 1984, Cardinals 1988
  • Pedro Guerrero, Dodgers 1984, Cardinals 1991
  • Andre Dawson, Expos 1986, Cubs 1988
  • Kirk Gibson, Tigers 1986, Dodgers 1989
  • Johnny Ray, Pirates 1986, Angels 1989
  • Willie Randolph, Yankees 1986, Dodgers 1990
  • Steve Sax, Dodgers 1987, Yankees 1990
  • Bob Welch, Dodgers 1988, A’s 1991

1987 (CONT’D)

Keith Moreland (-1.7) is the lowest WAR of any Diamond King. The second lowest season WAR by a Diamond King from 1982-91 is also a Cub (Ivan De Jesus, 1982, -1.3).

1987 is the least mustachioed group of Diamond Kings (7 of 26 players; 8 if you count Hubie Brooks, who’s questionable).

1988

The “Bash Brothers” are Diamond Kings following their rookie years in both 1987 (Jose Canseco) & 1988 (Mark McGwire).

Danny Tartabull has the odd distinction of being a two-time Rated Rookie (1985 and 1986) and a Diamond King (1988). Same with Sandy Alomar Jr. (1989 and 1990 Rated Rookie, 1991 Diamond King). The pattern in the background of Tartabull’s card reminds me of a Mondrean-esque grid. I like it.

Here are all the players to be Rated Rookies and Diamond Kings within the span of 1982-91:

DK DETOUR: Rated Rookies who were also Diamond Kings (DK year in parentheses)

  • 1984: Tony Fernandez (1988), Ron Darling (1988), Kevin McReynolds (1987)
  • 1985: Danny Tartabull (1988), Mike Bielecki (1990), Billy Hatcher (1988)
  • 1986: Kal Daniels (1988), Fred McGriff (1989), Cory Snyder (1989), Andres Galarraga (1989), Danny Tartabull (1988), Jose Canseco (1987)
  • 1987: Benito Santiago (1988), Bo Jackson (1990), Rafael Palmeiro (1991), Devon White (1988), Mark McGwire (1988)
  • 1988: Roberto Alomar (1991), Mark Grace (1989)
  • 1989: Sandy Alomar Jr. (1991), Ken Griffey Jr. (1990), Gregg Olson (1991)
  • 1990: Sandy Alomar Jr. (1991), Delino DeShields (1991)

1988 (CONT’D)

If you glance at Paul Molitor’s card, the pattern in the background makes it look like he’s wearing a cowboy hat.

Ivan Calderon’s card is missing his signature gold chains.

Tommy John is the oldest Diamond King – following his age 44 season.

1989

The most mustachioed set of Diamond Kings (18 of 26 players).

With the skyline and baseball laces, the background design of David Cone’s card looks like the Mets logo.

Chris Sabo is the only Diamond King to wear goggles.

Dave Henderson is the second A’s Henderson to be a Diamond King (Rickey Henderson 1983).

Speaking of Daves, 11 different Daves were Diamond Kings from 1982-91. Concepcion, Dravecky, Henderson, Kingman, Magadan, Parker, Righetti, Schmidt, Stewart, Stieb &Winfield. And that’s NOT counting David Cone or Davey Lopes!

1990

This DK set had Bo & Junior but is the most underwhelming lineup of the bunch. Only two Hall of Famers. Ken Griffey Jr. is the youngest Diamond King (following his age 19 season).

Steve Sax has a card that looks like somebody dropped pick-up sticks in the background.

Dave Stewart rocking a sweet jacket.

Ellis Burks has a sweet background. Multi colored splashes of color. Looks great.

Pete O’Brien looks like he exploded onto the scene.

Mike Bielecki is the only Cubs pitcher to be a Diamond King (1982-91). The Angels (Chuck Finley in 1991) are the only other team with just a lone pitcher over the ten-year run. The Astros, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Orioles, Phillies & Yankees had pitchers four out of ten years.

1991

1991 changed format; no more small action shots along with large headshots. Some were full body action shots. Gone were the patterns in the background. I’m not a fan of the break from tradition. At least they were in the base set.

The first (and only through 1991) Diamond King appearance by Barry Bonds.

Cecil Fielder is the only player to be a Diamond King following a 50+ HR season.

Craig Biggio was the first full-size headshot in a catcher’s mask (some of the smaller action shots had featured catchers in gear). Sandy Alomar Jr. & Brian Harper were in catcher’s gear as well.

For the first time, players without hats/helmets!  Dave Parker & Pedro Guerrero both show off their heads of hair.

Roger Clemens led the way with 10.4 WAR. Red Sox Diamond Kings (1982-91) had the highest collective WAR of any team.

DK DETOUR: HIGHEST WAR BY BY TEAM (1982-91)

  • Red Sox (54.4) – including seasons by Roger Clemens of 10.4 (1991) and 8.8 (1987), 7.8 by Wade Boggs (1984) & 7.5 by Mike Greenwell (1989).
  • Tigers (48.4) – led by a season of 8.2 by Alan Trammell (1988) and 6.5 by Cecil Fielder (1991).
  • Dodgers (47.1) – led by Bob Welch’s 7.4 (1988), Kirk Gibson’s 6.5 (1989) and Orel Hershiser’s 6.3 (1986).

A few more observations

In 1992, Diamond Kings were taken from the base set and turned into an insert set. Whereas the previous Diamond King sets (well, not exactly 1982-84) had the card design border, these new inserts were borderless. It just wasn’t the same anymore. And in my opinion, the heyday of the Diamond King was over. But I hope you enjoyed going back in time with me and giving a fresh look at some really great cards.

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10 thoughts on “Donruss Diamond Kings breakdown”

  1. Thanks for this – I too have been delving into my accumulation over the national staycation and finding many DK’s from about ’87 to ’92. Did not know much about them. Thank you so much.

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  2. Gooden didn’t just have the best WAR (baseball-reference version) for the DK era. He’s the only player since Ruth to crack the top 25 single-season WAR totals. The top 25 is basically 19th century pitchers, Walter Johnson, Ruth, … and Dwight Gooden.

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_season.shtml

    No wonder his cards were so hot back then and out of my price range. Ultimately, a few years later, I was finally able to acquire a 1985 Topps Gooden, along with some other cards, for a 1987 Donruss McGwire. That was one of the few times as a kid that I traded a card that I didn’t have doubles of.

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  3. What a tour de force to analyze all 260 Donruss Diamond Kings. You may have inspired me to do a piece on all 2 King of Kings (1982-1991) cards.

    For instance, the Kings of Kings combined for a whopping 7228 strikeouts! 5714 were from Ryan as a pitcher, and then Ryan/Rose added 371 and 1143 as hitters!

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    1. They also combined for 8273 base hits: 4256 (Rose base hits) + 3923 (Ryan base hits allowed) + 94 (Ryan base hits) .

      If we toss in the postseason it’s another 128: 86 (Rose base hits) + 39 (Ryan base hits allowed) + 3 (Ryan base hits).

      If we toss in All-Star games it’s another 17: 7 (Rose base hits) + 10 (Ryan base hits allowed).

      So 8418 base hits in major league contests. Or 8424 if we count the six hits Ryan got against Robin Ventura.

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  4. You really covered a lot of ground with this post.. For me, DKs were one of the features that kept Donruss competitive with Topps. (Although thru’‘89, I often preferred Fleer). And given the parameter of representation of every team every year, with few repeats, I think the selections were pretty good. I wonder how much time Dick Perez had to produce these, from learning the selections for the coming year to card-ready? He was a busy guy in those years; around 1980 he started the famous Perez-Steele HOF postcards (and others)and he also did work for the Phillies in that period. I really enjoyed the series of programs he produced in ‘83 to celebrate the Phillies Centennial.

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  5. Wow, I wish I had the time and patience to delve into cards like that, very impressive. And I appreciate the different ways people look at their card collection. I, myself, started collecting again in 1991 and fell in love with the Diamond Kings, to the point that it is/was the focal point of my collecting. I have every set from 1982, and had the most difficult time to continue with this collection after Dick Perez stopped creating them after the 1996 set, sadly it just wasn’t the same after that. But, because I had invested so much time and effort into the collection at that point, I have continues on. I one day hope to start my own Diamond King blog and tell my whole story. I hope that if/when I do that I spark interest in, or find someone with the same passion and will buy my collection and continue on with my Diamond King passion. Thanks again for bringing the Diamond King sets back to life.

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