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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Donruss: An Outside Review

The return of Donruss for the first time in almost a decade was pretty exciting, when I first heard of it. Granted, even with the previews there was room for improvement, but as an initial offering it was a step in the right direction.
 I don't have any cards in-hand yet. I've been keeping an eye on eBay and some of the conversation on the blogs, though. I've heard a lot about collation, but that's not important to me because I never get a chance to bust boxes anyway. Since I don't have any cards in hand (I tried, really I did), I'll be using the original preview images and some others from around the web.
 I like the nod to the 1987 set with the baseball border. Those borders are thick, though - perhaps too thick. The base set has 200 cards, but only 155 of those are part of the regular set. There are two subsets that make up the first 45 cards.
 The set begins, as is tradition with Donruss, with 30 Diamond Kings cards. These are short-printed and fall four per box. The design is based on the 1984 Diamond Kings subset, but these appear to be photos with a "painted" filter. The other 15 short printed cards are Rated Rookies, which also fall four per box (and thus are twice as abundant). The Rated Rookies use the same design as the base card, with the addition of the classic Rated Rookie logo in the upper right corner of the card.
Thankfully, there are only four parallels in 2014 Donruss. And they are all attainable. There are two Press Proof parallels - a silver version numbered to 199, and a gold version numbered to 99. The only difference between proofs and regular cards is the foil on the front including the serial numbering.
The other two parallels are Stat Lines. There are two versions - season and career. They are identifiable by the foil stat on the front; Career Stat Lines show career totals, while Season Stat Lines show season totals. They are serial numbered to the statistic, up to 400 copies. Stat Line inserts also use foil card stock.

The Diamond Kings are also available as box toppers; a 25-card jumbo set is found one per box. This is not a parallel of the regular set, although some players appear in both sets. Signed versions of 24 cards are available. Not all 25?
Starting the insert list is Breakout Hitters and Breakout Pitchers. They are two separate insert sets and are numbered separately, but they have identical designs. The design is pretty cool, showing the player popping through a brick wall.
Next is Game Gear, the lone relic set. There are 50 cards in the set, which has a very simple but still appealing design. Almost all the cards in the relic set have a Game Gear Prime parallel version, usually serial numbered to 25.
 The main autographed set is simply called Donruss Signatures. There are 50 subjects in this set, too. And again, the design is simple but eye catching.
 The Elite Series makes a return, serial-numbered to 999 copies. As expected, these have a foil background and look pretty good. There are 20 cards in the set, 17 of which have autographed parallels numbered to 10.
 Also returning is Elite Dominators. This set has 30 subjects, numbered to 999, with 29 autographed parallels numbered to 10.
 Hall Worthy is a 15 card set depicting players on a plaque. Although some on the checklist should go first ballot (Mariano Rivera, for instance) others will have a difficult time reaching Cooperstown. I'm not sure how this looks in person - the preview images from Panini looked great but seeing scans like the one above doesn't impress me.
With a design that reminds me of 1991, just with more color, the No-No's insert set has 10 cards which feature specific no hitters. As you might expect, Nolan Ryan is part of this series, but so is Dwight Gooden and Homer Bailey. Some of the players on the list pitched perfect games. 
 The Power Plus set uses a 1985-inspired (remember those All-Star cards) border and a split front with two photos. Two photos plus a grid background makes the card feel somewhat busy. The regular insert set contains 12 cards, but the autographed version has 19 subjects, serial numbered up to 25 each.
 Studio is a reminder of the 1991 set, going back to the set's roots with black and white photos of players out of uniform. But I'm not sure it made it into packs. Panini first posted the white background Puig when it released information about Donruss, and in February it posted a bunch of images of black-background cards. However, I haven't seen them on eBay. Are these going to be used in the wrapper redemption? Beckett has a 12-card checklist in its database.
A set that reminds me a lot of my first collecting days is the 30-card Team MVP insert. They use the simple design of the 1989 Donruss set. It's not my favorite, by any means, but it is a usually pleasant design. Of course, if you have a dresser drawer full of them the design gets dull very quickly.
Last for the inserts, with a somewhat-1988ish border design, The Rookies is back in this 16 card set. It's not as true to the 1988 design as others are to their years, as the '88 set had horizontal and parallel lines with some black mixed in.
Beckett lists 39 different buyback autograph subjects that were randomly inserted in packs, appearing to be numbered between 3 and 86 copies each. 

Overall, I like the set. Let's face it, this is a throwback set. And I'm okay with that. I hope that in the future, Panini goes one of two ways. It can move forward, and turn this into its flagship baseball brand, expanding the size of the base set, but I would like for it to drop the throwback edge if they do. Or they can keep it as a throwback set, reusing or re-imagining old designs and keeping the set small. I'd hope if that was the case they bring back Score or another brand to create a full 600+ card set with purely active players. Actually, if Panini could secure an MLB license, that would be a great time to bring back Leaf for a high-quality photo based issue.

As for this Donruss issue, the not-quite-reprint throwback style works for my taste. I have the base set purchased already (without SPs). I collect Diamond Kings so those will be on my want list. It's probably going to be impossible to finish, but I'd like the box toppers too. Panini inserts are difficult to come by in Japan, otherwise I'd probably add several of the other sets to my collection as well! I am really hoping to find a bunch of these cards somewhere in my travels around Tokyo in the next few weeks.


  1. What I'm assuming is the "base" design seems to be an odd fusion of 1987 Donruss with 1978 Topps. And I agree, the borders are way too thick. This set suffers from design overload. Many of these look like they shouldn't have made it past the concept stage. It's clear what they were trying to do, but they really could have refined the concepts a bit more before pulling the trigger. Too many are just so close to being faithful to the originals, but far enough off that it seems the designers just couldn't be bothered to finish the job. And they definitely want to make sure you know what brand these are with the size of that Donruss logo.

    I give Panini an B for thought, but a D for execution. There is just too much going on with this set, and almost none of it is done well. Thankfully none of my players have cards in these sets, so I can give it a miss. Panini seriously needs to lose it's current group of card designers. I consistently see better designs as customs on various blogs and message boards.

    Despite having now crapped all over the set, I did enjoy your coverage of it! I am now informed to the point where I will not be tempted to buy any of it.

  2. I think I agree with Jason`s review - they do a good job of making the cards look Donruss-y, but take that mission way too far and ruin the eye appeal of the card (particularly with the thick borders).

    And oh god, I had completely blocked the memory of 1991 Leaf Studio from my head for the past 23 years, but now that you mentioned it all the awfulness of that set has come flooding back. Do we really need to be inflicting this on another generation of collectors (I ask rhetorically)?

  3. Jason and Sean: I really want to like this set. It's priced out of my range though, especially for what I want to pay. The almost-the-same designs and bold colors actually stand out as something good for me compared to Topps' "same-as-always" ideas. '91 Studio was wonderful and horrible at the same time, and I agree that there are so many better custom sets out there. But given what I have choices for, I'll take it... if it comes cheap.