The 1997 Donruss Rated Rookies set consisted of 30 cards inserted one in every six packs of 1997 Donruss Series I. Although I much preferred the cooler second series, Rookie Update, which was stuffed with key RCs (Jose Cruz, Jr., anyone?) and awesome inserts, I must've nabbed a few of the Rated Rookies as I pieced together Series I and said "Let's complete this sucker."
Since this set is made up of 30 alleged future stars as decided 15 years ago, I also want to give a quick look at how those players turned out.
- Jason Thompson, Padres: He did belt two HR in his measly 13-game career (all in June of 1996) but that's about it. Thumbs down
- LaTroy Hawkins, Twins: 17 seasons and still ticking as a reliever. Enjoyed a couple years as a closer but he's built a nice career out of the pen, even if he never lived up to "Rated Rookie" status. Thumbs up
- Scott Rolen, Phillies: Eventually became a star, though not for the Phillies after they parted ways in a trade with the Cardinals. Rolen has 300+ HR in his 16 seasons, won a ring in 2006 with St. Louis and has made several All-Star teams while playing Gold-Glove-caliber defense at third. All that and he was the '97 NL Rookie of the Year. If that isn't a "Rated Rookie" I don't know what is. Thumbs up
- Trey Beamon, Pirates: Played for three loseriffic teams in three unimpressive seasons: Pirates ('96), Padres ('97) and the hapless '98 Tigers. A second rounder, he played 95 career games and did nothing of note, but Randy Smith loved him some trades with his former employer, the Padres, so we got the last 28 games of Trey's career. Bonus card back text: "Don't be fooled by Trey's major-league batting average, this guy can hit." Thumbs down
- Kimera Bartee, Tigers: Played parts of six seasons, the first four with Detroit, again on some pretty terrible teams. The card back plays up his speed, but a Mendoza-level batting average makes you wonder how he was supposed to get on base. The highlight of his career was being sent by the Angels to the Rockies in 2001 for Chone Figgins, who had a few nice seasons in Los Angeles/Anaheim of California until he faceplanted with the Mariners. Anyway, getting shuffled from team to team before making a shallow Detroit roster should have been a red flag. Thumbs down
- Nerio Rodriguez, Orioles: A pitcher that was a converted catcher--and that's all I have to say because his lame stats in parts of five seasons speak for themselves. Thumbs down
- Jeff D'Amico, Brewers: A 1993 first-rounder, this Milwaukee-developed pitcher led the league in losses in 2003 with the Pirates. He lasted for eight seasons, which counts for something, but he wasn't ever more than mediocre. Thumbs down
- Quinton McCracken, Rockies: RELEASE THE MCCRACKEN! Donruss was fooled by some nice minor league stats produced by this 25TH ROUNDER (Colorado's initial draft, incidentally). He did manage to hang around for parts of 12 seasons, playing 999 games. The only interesting thing about his career is that his first two employers were expansion teams--the Rays picked him #4 in their expansion draft. I'll always remember him most for the nickname my brothers and I gave him, "Quinton Buttcracken." Thumbs down
- John Wasdin, A's: Oakland's first-rounder in 1993 (#25) out of Florida State, Wasdin played for seven teams in 12 seasons. He had a decent if unexciting career as a reliever, and the highlight probably was his trade to Boston in exchange for the return of Jose Canseco to Oakland. Thumbs down
- Robin Jennings, Cubs: "The first major-leaguer ever born in Singapore," according to the card back, which is a plus, even if his 93 game, four year career wasn't all that exciting. He just couldn't match the South Side's better Robin, Mr. Ventura. Baltimore actually drafted him in round 30 in 1990, but after he didn't sign, Chicago took him the following year...in the 33rd. Donruss was thrilled about this six years later, along with some apparently flukey minor league stats. Thumbs down
- Steve Gibralter, Reds: Six games, five ABs in two years, and one Major League hit. Suck it, Moonlight Graham. Thumbs down
- Tyler Houston, Cubs: Atlanta's first-rounder in 1989 (#2 overall), Houston got flipped to the Cubs his rookie year, then played for four more teams in his eight year, 700 game career. Not a bad career, but nothing that says "rated" to me. Thumbs down
- Tony Clark, Tigers: "Tony the Tiger" was Detroit's first-rounder in 1990, selected #2 after a guy named Larry Jones (and NOT Todd Van Poppel). In his 15-year career he clubbed 251 homers (including four years of 30+) and was a 2001 All-Star. He was one of the better players during a poorly-drafted 1990s by the Tigers and enjoyed a decent career. Thumbs up
- Ugueth Urbina, Expos: 237 saves and a 2003 World Series ring with the Marlins for Ugueth Urtain Urbina. Still, mostly known for being part of the deal where the Tigers fleeced the Phillies for Placido Polanco, then being forced to serve 14 years in jail for attempted murder. But he was a very good closer before then. Thumbs up
- Karim Garcia, Dodgers: The "Latino Bambino" managed to avoid pretty much any possible award or accolade in the MLB (at a time when the Dodgers owned the NL ROY). He played 10 seasons and I laughed at him and his team when the Yanks lost to Urbina's Marlins in 2003. HAHA! Thumbs down
- Raul Casanova, Tigers: Sheesh, another Tiger. Mr. Newhouse played for nine seasons, though he made his way to the Tigers via (surprise!) the Padres. Nothing much interesting here besides his cool name. Thumbs down
- Brooks Kieschnick, Cubs: The #10 pick in '93 by the Cubs, Brooks looked like he had the makings of a star coming out of powerhouse Texas, but he only eked out six seasons, including an interesting comeback as a pitcher/hitter. Big points for the first name, but it's not enough. Thumbs down
- Luis Castillo, Marlins: Luis missed out on the '97 champion Marlins but did pick up a ring in 2003. In his 15-year career, which ended last year, he earned three All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, led the league in steals twice and hit .290 while playing for a total of three teams. Not bad. Thumbs up
- Edgar Renteria, Marlins: I won't hold his regrettable stint with Detroit against him, though he was clearly an NL-only player. He'll always be remembered for his game-winning hit in the '97 Series against Cleveland (SUCK IT, OHIO), plus two game-winning HR as the Series MVP for the Giants last year. In 16 seasons he's a five-time All-Star with some great stats. Thumbs up
- Andruw Jones, Braves: His stats really fell off the table around the time steroid testing became tougher (just sayin') and his defense has always been overrated, but he put up some bigtime numbers for a while, mainly for some great Braves teams. Lots of Gold Gloves, All-Star appearances and 400+ homers make for a great career, though I wouldn't put him in the Hall myself. Thumbs up
- Chad Mottola, Reds: The #5 overall pick by Cinci in 1992, Mottola's one of those minor league slugger types you got to see regularly in a small town near you for a long time. 59 big league games in five seasons screams "rookie" but not "rated." Thumbs down
- Makoto Suzuki, Mariners: Checks card back to see if they call him "Mac"...yep Parts of six seasons worth of "nothing to see here except a cool nickname for a guy from Kobe." Thumbs down
- Justin Thompson, Tigers: #32 overall by Detroit in 1991, Justin was starting to look like he had some promise before Detroit made the ill-advised deal for Juan Gonzalez in 1999. Arm trouble limited him to two games the rest of his career, both in 2005. It's a shame because he might have been at least a decent third or fourth pitcher. I'm not gonna ding Donruss for a guy that put up decent numbers before injuries took their toll. Thumbs up
- Darin Erstad, Angels: #1 overall out of North Dakota to the Anaheim/LA Angels of Los Anaheimes, Erstad played 14 seasons, mostly with, um, that team. He was a two time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and he had 240 hits in 2000. His career highlight was the 2005 Champion Angels, the "Rally Monkey" team that defeated Bonds and the Giants. Thumbs up
- Todd Walker, Twins: #8 to the Twins in '94, Walker played for seven teams in 12 seasons, hitting .289 with 107 HR. No awards and he wasn't exactly a special player, but his #1 comparison is Carlos Guillen, who's had a decent career. Good enough for me. Thumbs up
- Todd Greene, Angels: In 11 seasons, Greene was nothing all that special as a catcher, and was somewhat comparable to Tyler Houston, actually. Still, he was fairly solid at a position not really known for hitting, even if Donruss called him "As fearsome a power hitter as any prospect in the game." He did have 40 HR in 1995 between AA and AAA, but Donruss didn't realize that those don't exactly translate into Major League stats. Thumbs up
- Vladimir Guerrero, Expos: I dunno, is this guy any good? The 2004 AL MVP has played 16 seasons and has 2500+ hits, 447 HR and a career .317 average (at the time I'm writing this, anyway). He looks like a good bet for the Hall of Fame to me. Thumbs up
- Darren Dreifort, Dodgers: Darren was #2 overall to the Dodgers in 1993, after some guy named Alex. He was chosen ahead of, among others, Billy Wagner and Torii Hunter. During his nine seasons, he used what must have been some impressively incriminating photos to blackmail the Dodgers into a ridiculous contract that they regretted for years. Between wasting the pick and the money, you can see why the Dodgers haven't won a thing in years. Sorry, Night Owl. Thumbs down
- John Burke, Rockies: Wow, I don't even remember this guy. Houston picked him #6 overall in '91 and he didn't sign, so the Rockies made him their #1 pick (27 overall) the following year. Eight picks later, the Royals picked some bum named Damon. Thumbs down
- Damon Mashore, A's: Really nothing interesting to say about this guy, a 9th round pick who hardly played in the Majors. Nice job, Donruss. Thumbs down
Thumbs up: 12
Thumbs down: 18
By my reckoning, Donruss batted .400 here, which really isn't that bad, even if they did pick a crazy four Tigers from weak teams and ignore the Nomars and other future stars of the minors, plus, you know, ENTIRE TEAMS. If I was Donruss I might have gone with the one player-per-team theme, but that's just me.
Overall I was relatively cool with the design, although I'll always prefer some of the past Rated Rookie designs to this one. And more importantly, I'll always prefer having them as part of the base set, all together in a group, just like Donruss used to do with the Diamond Kings too. Hey guys, remember when other manufacturers besides Topps made cards?
I'll close with a back for completeness' sake. Two gripes for me here: come on, Donruss, list the position for me. Also, pick a font that's easier to read. I'm edumacated, I know how to read cursive, but this font just isn't easy on my eyes.
That was a lot to put together for a 30-card insert set from almost 15 years ago, but I hope you enjoyed a look at yet another of my complete sets. I'll work on finding another one to post before long, and I promise to try to make it an interesting one!