I have had an on again/off again relationship with Donruss for just over 30 years. Some of the “off” was my fault and some of it was Donruss’. But even through all the ups and downs we’ve had, our relationship is still strong. Part of that is due to Donruss being a very nostalgic set year-in and year-out, but there are other reasons as well; which I’ll cover in detail in the below box break. But before we rip some 2019 cards, let’s discuss Donruss itself for a moment.
While my love affair with Donruss only goes back 30 years, the company itself started way back in 1954, much like other sports cards brands, originally as a company that manufactured bubble gum, hard candy, and suckers. Two brothers founded the company, Donald and Russell Weiner. This should explain the name if you’ve ever wondered where Donruss comes from. This also explains why you often hear it pronounced “Don-Russ”, separating the two names. As the target audience for candy makers consisted mostly of kids, this opened a doorway for collectible cards along the way.
While Topps had the baseball card market cornered, Donruss began by making entertainment cards. These cards included hit shows like “The Addams Family” and “The Monkees”. If you have the time, there is a really interesting video that can be found at www.gogts.net/history-of-donruss-trading-cards-company-and-brand/ that gives a more detailed background into the company’s rise in the industry. But in summary; during the mid-70’s, another rival card company, Fleer, began the arduous process of fighting Topps in court to try and obtain the right to make baseball cards. Donruss would ultimately benefit from the fight that Fleer waged and they would both begin producing cards in 1981. So I suppose some of the credit for my enjoyment of Donruss in the late 80’s and early 90’s goes to Fleer as well. A breakdown of that legal win that led to competition in the baseball card market deserves its own post so we won’t delve into that here.
While I had occasional cards show up at my house throughout the 80’s, some through odd trades on the playground and some that were passed down, my first real entry into collecting came in late 1988. My first Donruss pack opening was in 1989. This set is widely known by collectors because of the inclusion of a Rated Rookie by the name of Ken Griffey Jr., which is the card that everyone had to have if they couldn’t afford the Upper Deck card. This was the first big rookie card I owned and I still have several copies today. I have a list of favorite cards that probably shifts from time to time but I don’t think there is any card that could ever be more influential to my collecting start than this beauty.
Along with that 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Rated Rookie, the wrapper from that year is also very sentimental. Some wrappers from the 80’s can blend together from time to time but I know that wax the minute I see it. I remember when I was 16 (early 90’s), the Suwannee Swifty down the road from my house still had boxes of ’89 Donruss on the racks. The packs were .50 cents and it was like opening something “old” because they weren’t being printed anymore (as far as I know). I would stop in that store on my way to school in the morning and buy a pack of Donruss, a hot dog with mustard, and a Swifty Peach Drink; all for less than $2. That was my breakfast and entertainment in the lunchroom while we waited on the homeroom bell.
In that same lunchroom, I had a now infamous scandal take place that involved a 1990 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. Diamond Kings. As teenage boys, we were relentless on each other when it came to picking on and agitating those around us. I think I pushed somebody too far one day because that card went missing from my book bag one morning, only to show up later in the day, ripped in two pieces, back in the small pouch of that JanSport bag. I was pretty fired up that day because Beckett said it was worth $1.00 and that was not small change for me at the time. I still own a version of the 1990 Jr. Diamond King, even though it has dropped well below that monetary value, and ’90 Donruss has become a leper among the collecting community.
The “Elites” and a Donruss Rebirth.
I kept chugging right along with Donruss as they innovated and brought us something in 1991 that the hobby had really never seen; a wild chase for an insert! Upper Deck hit us with some rare autographs in 1990 but I never considered that being anything I would pull. But when Donruss dropped “The Elite Series”, a card that was serial numbered to 10,000; I lost my mind, along with many others in the hobby. Think about what production levels had to have been if individual Elite Cards were numbered to 10,000, with 9 players in the checklist + a 5,000 count run of Ryne Sandberg autographs and they were considered EXTREMELY RARE! They are so rare that in 2019, yours truly has still yet to ever pull an Elite from any box I’ve opened from 1991-1993 and that number is in the hundreds over the last 30 years. Elite remains my “White Whale”.
I do own some
Elite cards though, with my recent addition being the Andre Dawson from 1991,
which comes with a great story. I recently received that card in the mail from
a good friend of mine named David. He pulled that card in 1991, making me one
of the most jealous human beings on the planet. We hung out with each other,
traded cards, played baseball together, and stayed at each other’s houses, but
that one card is the one that I will never forget when it comes to memories of
our journey through high school together.
I’ve written about that card before and how cool it was that I actually saw someone pull it. It was worth around $120 in Beckett when he pulled it, which was absolutely unheard of for our little collections. In a very touching twist on this story, my friend mailed me that very card last month and told me that he wanted me to have it. He kept it all those years and thought that I would appreciate adding it to my collection. I was almost moved to tears on that one.
Donruss disappeared from the hobby sporadically throughout the late 90’s and 2000’s, with licensing issues and mergers leaving the name dangling in the wind. Panini purchased the rights to the Donruss name and logo in 2009, but the cards remained on the shelf for several more years. Then, in 2014, the Donruss Brand was officially revived with Panini releasing a set of Baseball Cards, albeit unlicensed. Panini has the rights to NFL, NBA, and NASCAR licenses but has to work hard on the baseball releases to keep the name alive and provide collectors with cards that they will like, despite the absence of logos. I grew up in an era where not having logos was more commonplace than now. We had food issue cards in almost every name brand imaginable but they were airbrushed or showed the players with no team markings.
I personally welcomed 2014 Donruss Baseball back with open arms and collected a massive amount of the entire set, including autographs, parallels, and serial numbered cards; of which there are a multitude. Some collectors can’t get past the logo issue but I haven’t let that stop me from enjoying the cards from my favorite card manufacturer in 1989. The releases over the last few years have incorporated some really fun aspects of collecting that make the license issue only a small concern for me. They have reintroduced “Elite”, even though they are much more available now, and they provide multiple (3) hits per box at a very reasonable price of $68 per box.
A full box is 24 packs with 8 cards per pack. The hits are autographs or memorabilia and “usually” that breaks down to 2 autographs and 1 memorabilia card. There are also an average of 1 variation per pack, to go along with 10 parallels and inserts per box. Those inserts include the famous Diamond Kings that we all clamored for in the 80’s, along with Retro cards, Stat-Line Parallels (numbered to the stat highlighted), Action All-Stars, American Pride, Dominators, Elite, Franchise Features, Highlights, Nicknames, and Whammy. Several of these are obvious nods to the past, as they were also found in the “Junk Wax Era.”
With multiple variations, autograph design, and memorabilia cards; there are a ton of possibilities when it comes to Donruss, and most of them look extremely sharp when it comes to design. The throwback year for 2019 Donruss is 1985, which is one of my all-time favorites, as you can see from this recent post on my blog ranking the 9 releases from the 80’s from worst to first. 1985 came in at number 2, so, I am very excited to see that design making an appearance this year. Let’s rip a box of 2019 Donruss and see what other fun stuff is waiting!
Ripping Into Donruss 2019.
One of the highlights for 2019 Donruss is the 1985 Diamond Kings. The set from 1985 had a great design and Diamond Kings have always been a popular card.
The checklist from 31-50 is Rated Rookies for the 2019 season. A lot of things may have changed over the years but that Rated Rookie logo has remained constant. I highlighted two cards here to show how important photography is in a non-licensed product. The Hampson is a nice looking card while the Kyle Tucker is a bad angle for no logos.
This is the base design for 2019 Donruss. I think the design for this year is a step up from the last few. There is a little more going on graphically but the border is still white. There are multiple variations throughout the set. These Yadi’s represent the photo variation.
This Ozzie Albies pairing showcases the “Nickname” variation found in the base set. This is another photo that is not very flattering in the set. The front facing batting cards just don’t play well in my opinion. While I am a fan of Donruss, I can certainly be objective with its flaws.
The back end of the base checklist is made up of the base Rookies. As you can see here, there are nickname and photo variations to be found here. Again, I do love the 1985 design.
Again, being objective and outlining flaws as well, I am not a fan of the card back. That is typically an important piece of the set for me and this one is lacking. I prefer the old school Donruss horizontal card back. They have also gotten away from the 5 years and total, which is already less than Topps’ stat lines. Now they are only one season and a total. This is a bigger issue for me than the lack of logos.
And some of the photos are just bad. This photo of Luke Voit makes no effort to avoid the logo issue. I am a Donruss fan; but I do wish they would use better photograph selection.
Donruss really shines, literally and figuratively, with the serial-numbered cards and inserts. This is the “Stat Line” parallel that is numbered to a particular stat that is outlined at the top. In this case, JT had 114 Doubles, so this card is numbered to 114.
Another throwback is the Action All-Star Insert. This harkens back to some early 80’s sets that Donruss produced.
American Pride is a tribute to Team USA.
“Dominators” has been one of the more attractive inserts over the last few years. 2019 is no exception.
“Franchise Features” is a new insert for 2019. This is a good looking addition!
Donruss is a big fan of nicknames. This insert is dedicated to them and is a fun addition to the set.
Another new addition to 2019 Donruss is the “Independence Day” parallel. These take the base cards and add a star-studded border. I pulled about three of these from one box.
As with 2019 Topps, there is a 150 Year Anniversary Parallel. These are numbered to 150.
One of the relic lines is “Majestic Materials”. I opened two boxes and scored these two. Always good to add Ohtani, and I always enjoy a pinstripe patch.
I also pulled these two 1985 Retro Materials. The photos are almost identical. Love the design though.
I pulled a short-print rookie of Yusei Kikuchi. He was not found in Topps Flagship but will appear in Topps Opening Day.
I pulled one of the major cards I would have been looking for from 1991-1993; Elite Series! These cards are still beautiful and while they are on lower print runs than in the early 90’s, this one to 149, they are not as scarce in relation to production.
I pulled two autographs. One was this Michael Kopech, not numbered. The other was Kevin Newman, numbered to 25. This is only one of the signature designs in Donruss this year but I do like it.
I am a realist, and Donruss does have its flaws. But I really think it gets too much heat for not having logos. In fact, there are some issues that are more important to me than the logos, like the card back. But the inserts are always beautiful in Donruss. And the “Rated Rookies” are a staple of the hobby, with or without a team name on the card. The set balances out this year with the positives being the design, 1985 retro look, Diamond Kings, and number of aesthetically pleasing inserts. The negatives for me are the large number of parallels, the card backs, and less than ideal photography for an unlicensed product. I still like the set and will likely rip a few more boxes this year. What do you think of 2019 Donruss?