Hobby Outposts from the North: The Anomaly – 1985 Donruss Leaf Baseball – With this week seeing the latest Donruss Baseball set hitting stores, there’s no better time to relive one of the most unique Canadian longball products – 1985 Donruss Leaf Baseball.
To understand the nature of Donruss Leaf, first we have to remember that Canadian audiences in the 80s and prior largely had their own products. In the case of Topps, it was exceedingly uncommon to get that brand north of the border and instead O-Pee-Chee was on store shelves. The two products looked the same (aside from logos) and largely had the same checklist, but the OPCs were manufactured on this side of the border and also contained French text on the card backs.
While I can vividly recall opening packs of 1984 O-Pee-Chee, I don’t believe that Donruss had market share here that season. If it was here at all (and if anyone can correct me please do so), it was very hard to find at corner stores, while dedicated hobby shops, at least in Winnipeg, weren’t yet in existence.
In 1985, this changed with the release of Donruss Leaf Baseball. The product, at least for one ardent collector was huge. The black borders with Atari-style striping were a very stark contrast to the Topps/OPC sets of the day which were white bordered through the first half of the decade. The cards also had some incredible action photography which popped in said black-bordered environment.
The set largely mirrored what you would find in the 1985 Donruss version Stateside, including Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies subsets, a special card featuring Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly (albeit with different numbering on the reverse) and the always popular puzzle pieces featuring Lou Gehrig. That Winfield/Mattingly card, incidentally, is the only card in the Donruss Leaf set that does not have French on the back accompanying English text.
Where Donruss Leaf did differ from its American counterpart, however, was in Canadian Greats, a two-card subset featuring one icon from the Montreal Expos and another from the Toronto Blue Jays. In ’85, these were Tim Raines and Dave Stieb, and in later years other superstars were featured (more on this in a moment). The artwork was created by Dick Perez, the same artist who did the Diamond Kings cards. These, by the way, were in addition to the Diamond Kings cards which already featured an Expo and a Jay (Charlie Lea and Willie Upshaw respectively). These cards were neat little bonuses and had an even greater cool factor when you learned that they were exclusive to the Canada set.
So now the question comes about the title of this column – the anomaly.
Here’s where things get a little weird. For whatever reason, there was a rebrand for the 1986 season, with Leaf being the sole name on the cards. This carried forward for both 1987 and 1988. The Leaf brand was shelved for 1989 before returning in 1990 for a premium, unique set that appeared on both sides of the border. So as it stands, the Donruss Leaf set of 1985 is the only one of its kind.
Of course, being 1985, you’ve got one hell of a checklist. Depending on where you sit with Update sets being RCs or XRCs, you’ve got a slew of hot rookie cards in the set. As a youngster, this was my first exposure to Roger Clemens because Fleer’s 1984 Update set wasn’t readily available. The Kirby Puckett Donruss Leaf RC that I have still stands as one of the favorites in my collection. Add to this that there are some legends in their last years in baseball like Tom Seaver, and you’ve got a product that checks all the boxes for collectability, with a uniquely Canadian flavor.
With Donruss now being a Panini brand and Leaf being the name of a company on its own, you won’t see the two names appear together again any time soon and perhaps forever in the hobby, which makes 1985 Donruss Leaf Baseball stand out even more in the rich history of sports cards.
Hobby Outposts from the North: The Anomaly – 1985 Donruss Leaf Baseball – Image Gallery
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