Twenty-eight years sure have passed by quickly! But when I look at the calendar that is how long it has been since we opened our first baseball card shop. We were in the KC area then, and one of my very vivid memories involves Donruss baseball cards. In those days the hobby shop boom was really in its infancy, and distributors for smaller card shops were unknown in our area. It sounds kinda weird now, but at that time you would find card shop owners camping out at wholesale grocery distributors and Sam’s Club waiting for the shipments of ball cards to be unloaded. We were very fortunate to be friends with a local drug store manager, and in 1986 when he could obtain baseball cards he would call and ask how many we wanted. Thus, I have a strong recollection of loading up my car with boxes of 1986 Donruss wax and rack packs on a rainy day in early spring.
Sure, we sold Topps and Fleer as well as just about any other baseball product we could lay our hands on legitimately. But there was something about those Donruss cards that resonated with our taste AND the desires of our customer base. Our youngest buyers were going through as many packs as they could looking for the Jose Canseco rookie card, and our more mature collectors kept lauding how much nicer the Donruss cards were in their design and quality.
Flashing forward to this morning, and it seems to me that collectors may get that same sense of “cool” when they open 2014 Donruss Baseball from the folks at Panini. In between customers and vendors today I have enjoyed ripping through 24 packs of the product, and I am surprised at the enjoyment and occasional giddiness experienced opening the box.
It has been a decade since the regular Donruss brand has produced a national set of baseball cards. And from the day that Panini announced they would be bringing the iconic brand back to market they have made it known the packs would include a lot of familiar names from the past. The inserts and specialty cards would have a strong connection to the brand's heyday of the 1980s and early 1990s. This proved not only true in the names given to the cards, but also to the designs employed. The 1989 borders used on Team MVP cards and the “No-No’s” celebrating no-hit games brought an instant grin, and the backs of the base cards are almost a direct copy of the 1986 Donruss cards mentioned earlier. The backs use the full names of the players (yes, you can see who has a middle name better or worse than you!), and the blue, white and black combination is clear and easy to read.
It is not a large set, but it will be a bit of a challenge to put together from packs. The 2014 Donruss Baseball set has 200 cards (sort of). And in keeping with the Donruss roots, the set numbering begins with 30 Diamond Kings and follows with 15 Rated Rookies. As mentioned, putting together the full set from packs will be an endeavor as the Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies average about four per box.
PLUS, with the release of the cards this week Donruss made known a special wrapper-redemption program. While supplies last, collectors can exchange 24 wrappers (that is one full Hobby box worth) of 2014 Donruss Baseball Hobby for a special three-card Rated Rookie Pack that features the final three cards (card numbers 201-203) of the 2014 Donruss Baseball Rated Rookie subset. So that is why we say the base set is “sort of” 200 cards.
The special three-card packs will begin shipping on April, 2014. Collectors interested in participating in the 2014 Donruss Baseball Wrapper Trade-In promotion can submit their hobby wrappers (24 for each three-card pack) to:
2014 Donruss Rated Rookie Trade-In
5325 FAA Boulevard, Suite 100
Irving, Texas 75061-3601
But even without the redemption program there is a lot to like in this moderately priced offering. Hobby boxes promise a pair of autographs, a memorabilia card and a lot of inserts, parallels and short prints. That basic insert lineup is filled with plenty of great throwbacks. Elite Series and Elite Dominator, two of the earliest serial numbered sets, are both numbered to 999, and they have great foil looks that make the artwork pop. The two Elite subsets also have signed versions that feature on-card autographs and numbering to 10. Another insert set with autographs possible is called Power Plus. Those cards center on players who have both a potent swing and speed on the bases.
Among the autograph sets is Donruss Signatures. The 50-card checklist has both current and retired players. And, of course, Recollection Autographs return with their autographed buybacks of original Donruss cards. The Donruss Game Gear cards include pieces game-used memorabilia. Other inserts and parallels include Breakout Hitters and Pitchers, Hall Worthy (which kind of simulate suede leather in appearance), No-No’s, The Rookies (which are separate from Rated Rookies), Team MVP, Silver Press Proof, Season Stat Line and Career Stat Line cards which are serial numbered to the stat mentioned.
Every 2014 Donruss Baseball hobby box has 24 packs per box with 8 cards per pack. They also include with a 5" by 7" Diamond Kings Box Topper, and some of these sharp cards come with autographed versions. The artwork on the super-size Diamond Kings is sharp and clear. It is easy to imagine fans framing one as part of their collection showcase.
Our 2014 Donruss Baseball Box Break was a bit "richer" in the insert/parallel department than has been advertised in some places. We were glad to receive the following in our box:
- Dusty Baker autograph (sticker)
- Xander Bogaerts autograph redemption
- Leonys Martin Game Gear Memorabilia card
- 3 Power Plus: Bryce Harper, Rickey Henderson, Matt Kemp
- 2 The Rookies: Xander Bogaerts
- 2 Breakout Pitchers: Jose Fernandez, Chris Sale
- 2 Breakout Hitters: Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson
- 2 Hall Worthy: Randy Johnson, CC Sabathia
- Team MVP: Ryan Howard (nice use of 1989 Donruss design)
- No-No's: Nolan Ryan
- Jered Weaver, Elite Dominator 652/999
- Ozzie Smith, The Elite Series 829/999
- Nolan Ryan, Season Stat Line 107/301
- Chris Johnson, Career Stat Line, 158/289
- Josh Donaldson, Press Proof, 143/199
- Yadier Molina, Diamond King Press Proof, 68/99
- Miguel Cabrera, Diamond King Season Stat Line, 35/44
From our 24 packs we pulled 169 base cards, 15 of which were duplicates, which left 154 cards out of 200 in the base set (77%). Frankly, I hate duplicates in a box like this more than I hate redemptions for autographs. Still, it was less than 10%. And you must know going in that you are not going to put together a complete set from one box. But, that being said, do we really need to have duplicates in a box?
And I do have a few other “issues” with 2014 Donruss Baseball. Design-wise, I think they have given the base cards borders that are far too wide. Granted, you cannot always do borderless, but a quarter-inch seems wide. And, though I believe the backs read great, it is a bit disappointing to see only last season’s statistics and a career line for active players (and career only for retired players). Finally, do we still really need “spacer” cards randomly seeded in a box of packs? I put them to all sorts of uses, but in Hobby boxes it seems unnecessary.
I really do like this resurrection of the Donruss brand. The cards look and feel like the best of Donruss (but with the benefit of glossy fronts and sharp photography). The folks who chose the shots did a great job of picking action shots in which the logo would not usually be visible anyway, and so this MLBPAA licensed set does not really feel like it is “missing” the logos (at least to me). While I am using my own taste as the measuring stick, I will say that I also greatly appreciate the somewhat limited use of foil and metallic looks on the cards. It makes the few cards that have those touches seem extra special and makes them stand out.
It is also kind of nice that the cards came out before the season and, yet, after some other baseball changes that make this set have a special “feel” to it. There are “final” Donruss cards of Roy Halladay, Todd Helton and Mariano Rivera. They managed to label the Carlos Beltran card as with New York, and the card of Frank Thomas has the Big Hurt grouped with the other Hall of Fame players in the last 15 or so cards of the set.
Oh, and one more reason I think of 1986 when looking at this set. There is a Pete Rose card!
See 2014 Donruss boxes and singles on eBay here.