In 1984, Donruss released what some collectors consider one of the greatest baseball card sets of all time. In addition to 26 Diamond Kings—a subset of cards depicting a star player from every team—the 660-card set included 20 Rated Rookies, a new subset that highlighted a crop of promising young players selected by New York Daily News writer Bill Madden. The Rated Rookie would become a staple of the Donruss brand for years to come.
A few of the original Rated Rookies lived up to the hype, while others look silly in hindsight. Many of the 20 Rated Rookies that constitute cards 27-46 of the 1984 Donruss checklist fell somewhere in between. Here are their stories.
#27 Joel Skinner
Skinner broke into the majors in 1983 with the Chicago White Sox and appeared in 43 games in 1984, batting .213 with 3 RBIs in 80 at-bats. The San Diego native and son of two-time All-Star Bob Skinner hit 17 home runs during his nine-year major league career. Skinner is currently the bench coach for the Oakland A’s.
#28 Tommy Dunbar
The Texas Rangers selected Dunbar out of Middle Georgia College in the first round of the 1980 draft. The Graniteville, South Carolina native made his big league debut on September 7, 1983, but didn’t stick in the majors. Dunbar batted .231 with 3 home runs and 18 RBIs in his brief major league career before bouncing around the minors until 1991. He passed away in March while recovering from prostate cancer.
#29 Mike Stenhouse
The Montreal Expos gave Stenhouse a $32,000 signing bonus after making him the fourth pick of the 1980 amateur draft. The son of former major league pitcher Dave Stenhouse, Mike starred at Harvard, where he was a two-time All-Ivy Leaguer. He never lived up to expectations in Montreal and was dealt to Minnesota after the 1984 season. Stenhouse played one year with the Twins and one more with the Red Sox. Today, he is the executive director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute in his native Rhode Island.
#30 Ron Darling
Who would’ve guessed that two of the first four Rated Rookies were Ivy League-educated? Darling was drafted ninth overall in 1981 out of Yale, where he double majored in French and Southeast Asian history. Darling went 136-116 in his 13-year major league career, was named an All-Star in 1985, and won 15 games for the 1986 World Series champion Mets. Today, Darling is a color commentator for the Mets and on national broadcasts for TBS.
#31 Dion James
The Sacramento native was a solid player during his 11 seasons with the Brewers, Braves, Indians, and Yankees, but his biggest claim to fame might be killing a bird with a batted ball during a 1987 game. The incident provided great fodder for one UPI writer, who reported, “The Atlanta Braves, a team not known for its knowledge of ornithology, say the bird Dion James killed with a fly ball was a dove and not a pigeon.” James was credited with a double on the play. Last month, the Yankees drafted one of James’s three sons.
#32 Tony Fernandez
Here’s one that Madden got right. The slick-fielding shortstop won four consecutive Gold Gloves from 1986-1989 and collected more than 2,000 hits while batting .288 in his 17-year career. Fernandez was named to five All-Star teams, won a World Series with Toronto in 1993, and hit .327 in 150 postseason at-bats.
#33 Angel Salazar
Salazar batted .155 with only 4 walks and 38 strikeouts in 80 games for the Expos in 1984, but his reputation as a strong defensive shortstop convinced the Kansas City Royals to trade for him. In 1986, Salazar set a Royals record for most consecutive errorless games by a shortstop. He was out of the league by 1989.
#34 Kevin McReynolds
McReynolds starred at the University of Arkansas before the San Diego Padres made him the sixth pick of the 1981 draft. McReynolds was traded to the Mets before the 1987 season and had 27 home runs, 99 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases for New York in 1988, finishing third in the NL MVP voting.
#35 Dick Schofield
The third pick of the 1981 draft, Schofield hit three home runs in 54 at-bats after earning a late call-up at the end of the 1983 season. The shortstop would hit only four home runs in 400 at-bats in 1984, the first of four seasons in which he finished with fewer than 100 hits and at least 400 at-bats. Schofield is the son of Ducky Schofield, a 19-year major league veteran, and the uncle of Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth. He is currently the hitting coach for the Rookie League Tempe Angels.
#36 Brad Komminsk
Komminsk was the fourth overall pick in the 1979 draft by the Atlanta Braves and tore through the minor leagues so fast that Hank Aaron called him the best prospect he’d ever seen. That alone made Komminsk worthy of the Rated Rookie label, but his minor league success didn’t translate to the majors. Still, he likely always had a fan in Evelyn Rogala, the woman who won $100,000 as part of a radio promotion sponsored by Goody’s Headache Powder when Komminsk hit a grand slam in a predetermined inning of a 1984 game. “We won at bingo times, but nothing like this,” Rogala’s husband told the AP. In 1987, Komminsk was traded for fellow Rated Rookie, Dion James.
#37 Tim Teufel
Teufel finished fourth in the
National American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1984 after hitting .262 with 14 home runs and 61 RBIs. He won a World Series with the Mets in 1986, but was perhaps best known for his unique batting stance, the “Teufel Shuffle.” You can watch Batting Stance Guy’s Teufel impression at the end of this video. Today, Teufel manages the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
#38 Doug Frobel
Frobel, an Ottawa native, hit 12 home runs for the Pirates in 1984, but batted only .203 and struck out in more than one-fourth of his plate appearances. His 20 career home runs rank him 20th among major league players born in Canada, 363 behind Larry Walker and 7 ahead of Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.
#39 Greg Gagne
Originally drafted by the Yankees in 1979, Gagne was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1982 and developed into one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. Gagne tied a major league record by hitting two inside the park home runs in the same game in 1986 and won two World Series titles in Minnesota before moving on to Kansas City and Los Angeles. He retired in 1997.
#40 Mike Fuentes
Fuentes won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top collegiate player at Florida State and was a second-round draft choice of the Montreal Expos in 1981, but was one of the least accomplished major leaguers among the 1984 class of Rated Rookies. He appeared in nine games, but entered eight of those games as a pinch runner or pinch hitter.
#41 Joe Carter
Carter would justify his place in the Rated Rookie subset long before he hit a walk-off three-run homer off Mitch Williams to win the 1993 World Series. The former Wichita State star blossomed with the Cleveland Indians, leading the league in RBIs in 1986, and was later named to five All-Star Games with the Toronto Blue Jays. Carter finished his 16-year career with 396 home runs.
#42 Mike Brown
Brown was selected in the seventh round of the 1980 draft out of San Jose State and had a five-year career with the Angels and Pirates. He had a career-high 9 home runs and 53 RBIs in 1985.
#43 Mike Jeffcoat
Jeffcoat appeared in 255 games, most of them as a relief pitcher, during his 10-year career, but the former Louisiana Tech standout is in the record books for something he accomplished at the plate. In the ninth inning of a 15-1 win against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1991, Jeffcoat, then a member of the Rangers, became the first American League pitcher to get a hit since Ferguson Jenkins in 1974 and the first to record an RBI since the designated hitter rule was adopted in 1973. Today, Jeffcoat is the head baseball coach at Texas Wesleyan University. The Rams went 31-23 last season.
#44 Sid Fernandez
Fernandez, who wore No. 50 in honor of his native Hawaii’s distinction as the 50th state, was a fan favorite throughout his career. A two-time All-Star, “El Sid” finished with 114 wins in 15 seasons, most of them with the Mets.
#45 Brian Dayett
Dayett appeared in 218 games over five seasons after being drafted in the 16th round of the 1978 draft by the New York Yankees. He was out of the major leagues by 1987, but played three more seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Dayett is currently in his seventh season as a hitting coach in the Rangers’ minor league system.
#46 Chris Smith
Smith was selected in the 11th round of the 1978 draft by the Rangers, broke into the majors with the Expos, and was traded to the Giants. Smith batted .328 with 1 home run and 11 RBI in 22 games with the Giants in 1983, but was released after the season and never played in the major leagues again.
Madden’s selections weren’t perfect. There were a number of rookies in the 1984 set who weren’t rated but probably should have been, including Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry. Other rookie stars, including Dwight Gooden, Kirby Puckett, and Roger Clemens, were omitted from the 660-card set altogether.
Future Rated Rookies
Donruss introduced a flashier Rated Rookie logo, the one most collectors associate with the brand, in 1985, and used it through 1993. Rated Rookies were included in Donruss’s baseball sets until the company lost its MLB license in 2005. Today, the Rated Rookie label lives on in Panini Donruss’s sets of NFL and NBA cards.