by Rich Klein
We usually review new boxes; however this will be a fun change of pace. On my birthday, I recently opened a 1982 Donruss box. I love opening all kinds of packs but vintage baseball card boxes of any kind are hard to beat. It doesn’t seem like we’re closing in on 30 years since these were first issued.
The box was a birthday "gift" from some people I’ve never personally met. I put gift in quotes, since I joined a birthday club on the Freedom Card Board message board late last year for the calendar year 2011. The person who coordinates this effort began the idea when he used to be a member of the Beckett message boards but jumped to the Freedom Card site when Beckett switched their message boards several years ago when the old ownership tried to establish a new web site. To Beckett’s credit, the new ownership realized that the revamped site was not helping them and they spent the money to significantly improve things. And by the way, I heartily recommend joining any trading similar trading group. I have done holiday exchanges for the past two years which were great (PSA board and a now defunct board) and now this. It's a great way to help other collectors!
The three fellow board members who were working on my gift actually surprised me by working together to come up with one "nicer" box even though I would have been perfectly happy with of either junk wax or retail boxes from the Wal Marts or Targets of the world. Instead, they went over the top and sent me 2 cello packs of 1982 Fleer baseball, one of which I left unopened with a Dave Righetti RC on top and a 1982 Donruss wax box.
Looking at older boxes of cards brings back memories for those of us who’ve been around long enough to remember the era. For me, many of those memories include musical highlights. John Cougar's hits dominated the summer; the Go Gos were in their prime with lead singer Belinda Carlisle dating the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall (wearing his jersey on stage on several occasions) and even the dreadful songs such as Charlene's I've Never Been to Me. If you have never heard that song, it's worth a listen just for the sake of shock.
In addition, I was also active in what was the hobby in 1982. I was beginning to set up at more and more shows. We had only the three major sets to choose from all year, plus the Topps traded set. One collector could easily purchase all the sets that year in the $50 range and have money to go backwards in time and take on the challenge of building older sets.
It may be hard to believe but business was slow in some parts of the hobby. Cards from the 1950's were severely retrenching in price after the 1979-80 explosion when the mainstream media began to discover there was strong interest among adults in vintage baseball cards. However, there was a new and intense interest in rookie cards, the newer errors and variations that inevitably came out of all three companies’ products and players such as Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt, who were all white hot at that time.
With that background, Donruss released what would be their second year of producing a major hobby set. Their 1981 debut was best described as shaky. If you have never opened a 1981 Donruss box, there are several words that come to mind. Like ‘terrible’ (as in card quality and collation). Every single Keith Henrandez I remember from 1981 Donruss appeared to have a factory crease and the collation was even worse.
There was a chance of pulling out 300 cards of Rose, Carlton, and Schmidt,from a box,. If that occurred you felt fine. On the other hand, if you pulled the box with the 300 cards of Bombo Rivera and Bruce Bochte combined, you probably wondered if these cards burned will in your fireplace in the winter.
Donruss came into 1982 hoping to make amends for some of the mistakes they felt were caused by having to rush with their first product in 1981. They were hoping to improve the collation. Theydid end up producing factory sets and because of a court ruling, they had to switch from gum in the packs to another inducement which turned out to be a long-running series of puzzles. Each pack contained a piece of what would become a Dick Perez creation featuring a Hall of Famer. The first subject was George Herman "Babe" Ruth.
The Diamond Kings series made their debut to rave reviews. The first 26 cards in the series were player portraits done by Perez and truly created a niche for Donruss. The cards sold for a premium and dealers sold the sets separately.
I picked up the box at the post office and saw it had been purchased from Baseball Card Exchange, owned and operated by a long time hobby friend Steve Hart, who is one of the most knowledgeable people in the hobby. Baseball Card Exchange specializes in vintage unopened packs. This box cost approximately $60 which is the going rate nowadays. In 1982, you could pick up these boxes after a while for $8-10 at a show or through hobby mail order.
It is also a different world opening a box. In the days before 1-1 inserts and autographed cards, the only "hits" you get are all player based. Today, of course, the hope is you pull a Carl Ripken Jr rookie or two from the box. At the beginning of 1982, the aforementioned Dave Righetti was actually the key rookie at the start of the 1982 season. Other first year players never quite became superstars. Other names may provide a blast from the past, but the Ripken rookie is the unquestioned key.
Well, how did we do in our box of 36 packs with 15 cards per pack?
Cards: Frankly, although Donruss improved their distribution in packs from the 1981 debacle; there were still far too many quadruplicates, quintuplets and even sextuplets. I got 233 different cards out of the 660-card set. That meant I received more than 300 duplicates out of the box. Also, we had a stretch of not one card from the box between card #518 and card #580. Thankfully in 1982, with the box prices so inexpensive you could either open up several boxes to even out the distribution or make trades to help fill out your set(s).
Key cards: We did receive a decent amount of stars and rookies; Among the rookies were three Von Hayes, two Rich Gedmans, one Steve Bedrosian, five Dave Stewarts.. and oh yes…FIVE Cal Ripken Jr Rookies. Centering varied, but there were a couple of very nice ones here.
As for the puzzle, the collation was perfect in that we completed the puzzle on the last pack of cards opened. Now if Donruss only had the same collation in their packs as they did for the puzzles in 1982....
What did we learn? We learned 29 years later, if you get a box without any of the big hits in 1982 Donruss, that could be perfectly normal as many cards did not come out of this box. And from what I remember of opening 1982 Donruss, that makes perfect sense.
I consider myself fortunate to have had fun opening the box with my wife on my birthday and getting the complete puzzle and a walk down memory lane. Those five Ripken rookie cards just put the capper on a great day.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]