Friday, May 21, 2004

Test Post: 2004 Cracker Jack Baseball -- 2 box break.

Two Boxes of 2004 Cracker Jack baseball (paid $38 each).
20 packs per box, eight cards plus one "Secret Surprise" per pack (MSRP $2.99/pack)

The Details

Chiptoppers: One bag of Cracker Jack and one Keith Olbermann dissertation sheet per box.

Base Set: 250 cards (237 unique cards, 13 variations)
Broken Down by Short-Print Scheme:
Short Set: 200 cards (197 unique cards, three variations)
Short-Prints: 50 cards, 1:3 (40 unique cards, ten variations)

Red Minis (200 cards, one-per-pack)
Short-Print Red Mini (50 cards, 1:20)
Blue Minis (200 cards, 1:10)
Blue Short-Print Mini (50 cards, 1:60)
White Mini (250 cards, 1:6189, one-of-one)
Stickers (200 stickers, one-per "Secret Surprise" pack)
Short-Print Stickers (50 stickers, 1:20 "Secret Surprise" packs)

Vintage Repurchased (1:2598)

Team Topps Legends (1:755,000)
Secret Suprise Signatures (11 cards, *)
Cracker Jack Autographs (six cards, 1:258)
1, 2, 3 Strikes You're Out (18 cards, *)
Take Me Out to the Ballgame (54 cards, *)

* Odds of finding an autograph or game used card: 1:10/Secret Surprise packs.

The Pulls.

Base Set (including variations): 203 of 250 (81.20%)
71 Doubles

Broken Down by Short-Print Scheme:
Short Set: 189 of 200 (94.50%)
Short-Prints: 14 of 50 (J. Reyes, I. Suzuki, S. Sosa, M. Prior, J. Ortiz, C. Schilling variation, R. Baldelli, D. Young, B. J. Upton, R. Weeks, Z. Greinke, J. Knott, I. Rodriguez variation, D. Jeter)

32 Red Minis
2 Short-Print Red Mini: C. Kotchman, E. Aybar
5 Blue Minis: E. Chavez, E. Loaiza, H. Blalock (2), B. Jenks
1 Short-Print Blue Mini: K. Sleeth
36 Stickers: (34 and 2 doubles)
4 Short-Print Stickers: R. Ibanez, C. Schilling Variation, Z. Greinke, D. Jeter

1 1, 2, 3, Strikes You're Out: P. Martinez (Jersey)
3 Take Me Out to the Ball Game: I. Rodriguez (Bat), J. Rollins (Jersey w/Pinstripe), S. Sosa (Bat)

The Review.

The slogan of Cracker Jack at the turn of the last century was: "The More You Eat, The More You Want." Such a slogan could also apply to the new Topps produced baseball card set of the same name: "2004 Cracker Jack, The More You Rip, The More You Want (to collect)." OK, maybe not.

2004 marks the third consecutive year Topps has produced a "retro" themed product based on a pre-World War I card set. But unlike 2002's Topps 206 or last year's Topps 205, each box of Cracker Jack comes with a sample of the product the original was packaged with: In this case, a bag of Cracker Jacks. In these PC times we live in, I couldn't imagine Topps putting a pack of unfiltered Camels in a box of baseball cards. That's probably a good thing. As with most recent Topps "retro" themed sets, each box also includes a fold out essay written by MSNBC liberal talking head and uber-collector Keith Olbermann. The fold out gives a brief history of the original 1914-15 Cracker Jack cards, and throws in a few nuggets of info that even the most astute collector probably wasn't aware of. For example, did you know that the original Cracker Jack was the first card set that was (for your collecting convenience) sequentially numbered? Or that the term "Cracker Jack" originally referred to sea rations?

As an aside, has there been anyone in the history of broadcast journalism that has inflicted more damage to their own career than Keith Olbermann? I mean, this is Keith Olbermann. Keith Freaking Olbermann! The biggest star of the "Golden Age" of ESPN. But he stepped on a few toes, burned a couple of bridges, and is now been banished to the journalistic equivalent of Siberia: the 8:00 PM timeslot on a third-rate cable news outlet. As the Olbermann of 1994 probably would have quipped: "Gianluca Paliguca, Gianluca Paliguca, Gianluca Paliguca."

Once you lift off the tray that holds the Cracker Jacks and the Olbermann dissertation, you get to the cards. Each pack contains seven standard (2.5" X 3.5") cards, one 2" X 3" "Mini" parallel card (which is done in the same size as the 1914-15 originals) and a "Secret Surprise" pack. These Secret Surprise packs remind me of those annoying one-card packs that were in 2001 Donruss. (Reason #713 why 2001 Donruss was the worst card set ever made.) Yes, just like 2001 Donruss, the Secret Surprise packs are a real pain in the ass to open. But unlike 2001 Donruss, the "pack-in-a-pack" gimmick works here. After all, it wouldn't be a pack of Cracker Jacks without the Secret Surprise now wouldn't it?

Much like the "20X" and Heritage lines, the design of Cracker Jack holds true to the original, albeit in the modern day 2.5" X 3.5" format. The fire engine red backdrop makes the card stand out from any other set released since, well, the original Cracker Jacks. If you're like me, you probably have a box of random commons that you'll sort through when you "get around to it." Admit it, we all have stacks of unsorted cards hanging around just waiting to be collated. If you're like me, when you finally "get around to it," you'll come across a card and have to ask yourself this question: "What set was this card from again?" Years from now, when you're thumbing through your "get around to it" pile and come across one of these cards, you shouldn't have any trouble remembering that it's from 2004 Cracker Jack.

The backs are a different story. The original Crack Jack cards were designed in conjunction with a custom album that could be acquired via mail order. Because of this, Cracker Jack purposely printed the backs of some of the cards upside down. That way, when the cards are placed in the album's designated position, the fronts and the backs of the cards are all aligned in the same direction. Although there is no custom album element to this set, Topps has done the same thing with their version of Cracker Jack by printing the backs of some cards upside down. While this does make collating the cards very tedious, it does add a touch of authenticity to the set.

Something else you may not even be aware of. If you look real carefully at some cards, you may notice slight levels of discoloration. This is especially evident on the backs and front borders. I'm not exactly sure if this was intentional, but it appears to be what a caramel "stain" aged 90 years would look like.

The actual set is composed of 250 cards: 237 unique player cards, and 13 "variations." Now, you could accuse Topps of beating a dead horse with the variations, and they have. Beaten to a point where most variations really don't serve much of a purpose anymore, other than to aggravate collectors everywhere. But much like how the "black back" variations in 2001 Topps Heritage were a play on the set they mimicked (1952 Topps), the variations in the original Cracker Jacks serve a similar purpose in this modern version. For example, in the 1914-15 Cracker Jack set, there are two different versions of Roger Bresnahan (who is one of a handful of players from the original 1914-15 Cracker Jacks, with a cameo appearance in this set), with and without the card number. For this set, there are two different versions of Alex Rodriguez's card, both with and without the card number. Other variations account for players who have recently changed teams (Sheffield, Schilling, I. Rodriguez), and a handful of "pose variations," just line in the original.

Fifty of the cards (40 from the base set, and ten of the 13 variations) are short-printed. Unlike the variations however, they really do not add to the "realness" of the set, since none of the original 1914-15 Cracker Jacks were purposely SPed. Using the example of 2001 Topps Heritage, the "Gold Standard" of retro themed card sets and the one which all others that have come afterward must be compared to, the short-printing of cards 311-407 was based on the "high-number" series of '52 Topps. By SPing the same numbered cards in '01 Heritage, Topps added that much more authenticity (and prestige) to '01 Heritage, short of releasing Heritage in six separate series.

Like I said before, the original Cracker Jacks did not feature any short-prints, contrived or otherwise. Unfortunately, much like the Heritage products that came after the wildly successful 2001 edition, 2004 Cracker Jack does not have nearly the same level of "short print authenticity" as '01 Heritage. But instead of comparing '04 Cracker Jack to '01 Heritage, a better comparison would be to '03 Heritage. 2003 Heritage had 450 cards, 100 of which were SPed. But the set it was based on, 1954 Topps, had only 250 cards and no SPs. But despite this, even with (or in spite of) the short printing, Cracker Jack is still a set worth building. Besides, unlike scores of other products with short-prints I could name, Cracker Jack is a set you can actually complete (with a little time and effort of course) without having to sell your firstborn.

Like I said before, each pack comes with a parallel done in the style and size of the 1914-15 Cracker Jack set. Think of the 20X products "Mini" cards and you have the same concept, but much more simple in scheme. Whereas 206 had fifteen different Mini versions (American Beauty, Bazooka, Carolina Brights, Cycle, Drum, Lenox, Piedmont Black, Piedmont Red, Polar Bear, Sweet Caporal Black, Sweet Caporal Blue, Sweet Caporal Red, Tolstoi Black, Tolstoi Red and Uzit), and 205 had seventeen (American Beauty, American Beauty Purple, Bazooka Blue, Bazooka Red, Brooklyn, Cycle, Cycle Purple, Drum, Honest, Honest Purple, Piedmont, Piedmont Purple, Polar Bear, Soverign, Soverign Green, Sweet Caporal and Sweet Caporal Purple) there are only three of each Cracker Jack: Red, White and Blue. Granted, there were just as many different back variations in the real T-206 and T-205 sets, but 17 versions may have gone a bit overboard. In Cracker Jack, the Red Minis are the most common followed by the Blues, then the Whites, which are a one-of-one. The same 50 cards in the base set that are short-printed are also SPed in the Minis, with the Red SPs coming once per box and the Blue SPs every third.

And now, drum roll please, the "Secret Surprise." Earlier, I stated that these packs reminded me of those pain-in-the-ass-to-open single-card packs from 2001 Donruss. Did I mention how much 2001 Donruss sucked? Oh, I did. OK. Anyway, I may have inferred that the Secret Surprise packs were also one-card packs as well. I don't want to mislead anyone here, but you actually get two cards in each Secret Surprise pack: either an autograph, gamer, or a checklist that doubles as a "pack search decoy," and a sticker. Unfortunately, the sticker is essentially another one-per-pack parallel, that just happens to look like and be the same size of the Minis (2" X 3"). As much as I don't like the concept of parallels, I can tolerate them in some instances. But sometimes you just have to scratch your head and wonder what they were thinking. What is the purpose of having two different one-per-pack parallels in the same product? And not just two one-per-pack parallels either, two one-per-pack parallels that are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Although there are not Blue and White versions of the stickers, the same 50 cards that are short-printed in the base set, and that are short-printed in the Minis, are also SPed in the stickers. To make matters worse, the SPed stickers are seeded at the same 1:20/pack rate as the SPed Red Minis! Now, like I said before, I like the "Secret Surprise" element. But if you're going to include an extra insert in every pack, how about giving the people something worth collecting? Like a non-parallel insert such as the "Team 206" cards in Topps 206?

The addition of autographs and game-used cards are, as they should be in a product like this, an afterthought. With the state of The Hobby the way it is, including such cards has become a "necessary evil." But give Topps credit, they know the target audience of Cracker Jack (much like its Topps, Bowman, Heritage and Total brands) probably isn't going to buy this just to pull gamers. You do get two such cards in each box, and while it is nice to pull one, they're really not the "marquee attraction" of this product. Topps probably could have gotten away with an insertion ratio of one-per-box, or even one in every other box, and most still would've bought it. The marquee attraction of Cracker Jack is the set itself and Topps deserves "big ups" for recognizing this.

The Bottom Line:

Nobody does "retro" like Topps. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.

Fleer? 2000 Fleer Tradition was one of those products that comes along once every couple of years, that causes a sea change in The Hobby. '00 Trad all but single handily started the "retro" trend as we know it today. Unfortunately by 2001, the retro floodgates had opened, and Tradition was left in the dust. The fact that in 2001, Fleer issued a truly mediocre Tradition set certainly didn't help. Unfortunately, Tradition has now gone the short-print route, and as such, has to reach the level (both within The Hobby and amongst "real collectors") set by the landmark 2000 Trads. Fleer Platinum has been a brand searching for an identity after its rather successful 2001 launch. It certainly didn't help that Fleer was producing two different retro themed base level products at the same time. With Tradition now going with an original (somewhat) design, it should give Fleer the chance to re-establish the Platinum brand. Either that, or put this product out of its misery.

Upper Deck? Please. If you've ever read the book Card Sharks by former USA Today writer Pete Williams, you'd discover for yourself the sheer irony of products like Play Ball and Vintage. In case you haven't read it (you should, it's long out of print, but you might be able to find a copy on Amazon), it deals with the first five years of Upper Deck, from their 1988 founding in an Orange County strip mall, up to 1993. Other than being a stinging indictment of CEO Richard MacWilliam (who apparently had no idea who "Tony Gwine" was), the book gets into the modius operanti of the company's founders. The m.o. was simple: Use modern printing technologies to build a better baseball card. This was 1988 and the card itself had evolved little in four decades. The result of their efforts: The product that changed The Hobby forever, for the better AND for the worse, 1989 Upper Deck. I seriously doubt that the men who founded UD in that strip mall, would have any idea that years later, the company they begot would be printing the kind of cards Topps was cranking out by the millions in 1988.

Besides, it's not as if either of these products are all that great to begin with. 2001 and 2002 UD Vintage were nothing more than clones of '00 Fleer Tradition. Don't get me wrong, they were both pretty decent products, but it was clear that UD was ripping off Fleer (for the concept) and Topps (for the design). Since 2003, Vintage has become much like Fleer Tradition: Just another card set with a dozens of meaningless short-prints. You could also put the equally horrendous Play Ball in this category as well.

Donruss? Originals was a great product back in 2002, and I'm still waiting for the second series they promised for 2003. But given their recent track record of dicking up formerly "collector friendly" products like Leaf, Studio and Donruss with over-the-top gimmickry and "contrived scarcity," it's probably a good thing they don't do retro anymore.

Getting back to Topps. Following the successes of Topps 206 and Topps 205, Cracker Jack had a hard act to follow. Not only does Cracker Jack follow in the footsteps of 20X, it may be the best of the Pre-World War I retro products yet. However, I couldn't believe just how affordable I was able to pick it up for. I purchased these two boxes at the recent "Philly Show" in Ft. Washington, PA, which occurred a couple of weeks after Cracker Jack went "live." $38 for a 20 pack box? $38! When the first series of Topps 206 came out, I don't remember this product selling for less than $100/box a couple of weeks after release. Granted, the MSRP of 206 was $1 more per pack ($4/pack, as opposed to $3/pack), but both products packed out at 20-packs per box. So using the trend set by 206 two years ago, Cracker Jack should be selling in the $60-$75/box range.

So why isn't it? For starters, it appears that Topps has produced more of Cracker Jack than they did of 206 (and 205). Also, unlike the 20X products, Topps has issued Cracker Jack to retail outlets. There they are, right next to the checkout aisle at your friendly neighborhood K-Mart: Eight-pack blaster boxes of Cracker Jack for only $19.99. Increased supply equals lower price.

Now, on to the collation. Individually, each box delivered as promised. Neither box, by itself, yielded any base set doubles (although collectively they did), and the inserts ran as scheduled. Each box yielded two gamers, one Short-Print Mini Red, three Mini Blues and a Short-Print Sticker. In the first box I opened, in addition to the two promised short set Mini Blues, I received a 1:60/pack Short-Print Mini. The other box had however, was a bit quirky. I pulled three short set Mini Blues, one more than advertised, but two of the same player: Hank Blalock. Very weird. Even weirder, I got both Blalocks in consecutive packs.

Product Rating: 4 Gumsticks (out of five)
Collation Rating: 4 1/2 Gumsticks

Do I recommend this product?

Although you're going to have to rip at least two to come close to building a short set, $38 for a box is a steal. 2004 Cracker Jack is a great product that's easy to collect to say nothing of the "fun factor." Granted, you may not be able to find boxes this affordable in your neck of the woods, but if you can find a box (or two) in the $45 range, go for it. The only real negative point I have, are the stickers. I still don't understand the reasoning behind two virtually indistinguishable one-per-pack parallels in the same product.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Test Post: 2004 Diamond Kings -- 2 box break

Donruss-Playoff takes Diamond Kings to the proverbial "next level." But did it really need to go there?

Two boxes of 2004 Diamond Kings baseball. (paid $75 each)
12 packs per box, five cards per pack (MSRP $5 per pack)

The Details

Base Set: 175 cards
Broken Down by Short Print Scheme:
Short Set: 150 cards
Flashback/Legends: 25 cards (odds not stated)

Flashback/Legends Sepia (25 cards)
Bronze (175 cards, numbered to 100)
Silver (175 cards, numbered to 50)
Platinum (175 cards, one-of-one)
Framed Bronze (175 cards, 1:6)
Framed Silver (175 cards, numbered to 100)
Framed Gold (175 cards, numbered to 25)
White Framed Platinum (175 cards, one-of-one)
Gray Framed Platinum (175 cards, one-of-one)
Black Framed Platinum (175 cards, one-of-one)

Gallery of Stars (15 cards, 1:37)
Heritage Collection (25 cards)
Timelines (six cards, 1:92)
Team Timelines (19 cards, 1:29)
Hall of Fame Heroes (35 cards*, production varies)

* The checklist Donruss provided in the box is wrong. There are 23 different players in the Hall of Fame Heroes set. Each player has a card numbered to 1000 copies, and the set is sequenitally numbered from 45 to 67. Seven players (Brett, Schmidt, Ryan, Clemente, Snider, Musial and Campanella) have a variation card numbered to 500. Four of those players have a second variation card numbered to 250 (Brett, Ryan, Clemente and Musial). Lastly, Clemente has a third varation numbered to 100.
Based on my research the complete checklist for the Hall of Fame Heroes is:

45 George Brett
46 Mike Schmidt
47 Nolan Ryan
48 Roberto Clemente
49 Carl Yastrzemski
50 Robin Yount
51 Whitey Ford
52 Duke Snider
53 Carlton Fisk
54 Ozzie Smith
55 Kirby Puckett
56 Bobby Doerr
57 Frank Robinson
58 Ralph Kiner
59 Al Kaline
60 Bob Feller
61 Yogi Berra
62 Stan Musial
63 Jim Palmer
64 Johnny Bench
65 Steve Carlton
66 Gary Carter
67 Roy Campanella

Level One Variation (numbered to 500)
45 George Brett
46 Mike Schmidt
47 Nolan Ryan
48 Roberto Clemente
52 Duke Snider
62 Stan Musial
67 Roy Campanella

Level Two Variation (numbered to 250)
45 George Brett
47 Nolan Ryan
48 Roberto Clemente
62 Stan Musial

Level Three Variation (numbered to 100)
48 Roberto Clemente

DK Materials Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 150 or less)
DK Materials Silver (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
DK Materials Gold (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
DK Materials Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
DK Signatures Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 200 or less)
DK Signatures Silver (200 cards, numbered to 100 or less)
DK Signatures Gold (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
DK Signatures Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
DK Combos Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 30 or less)
DK Combos Silver (200 cards, numbered to 15 or less)
DK Combos Gold (200 cards, numbered to 5 or less)
DK Combos Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Framed DK Materials Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 100 or less)
Framed DK Materials Silver (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Framed DK Materials Gold (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
White Framed DK Materials Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Gray Framed DK Materials Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Black Framed DK Materials Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Framed DK Signatures Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Framed DK Signatures Silver (200 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Framed DK Signatures Gold (200 cards, numbered to 5 or less)
White Framed DK Signatures Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Gray Framed DK Signatures Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Black Framed DK Signatures Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Framed DK Combos Bronze (200 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Framed DK Combos Silver (200 cards, numbered to 15 or less)
Framed DK Combos Gold (200 cards, numbered to 5 or less)
White Framed DK Combos Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Gray Framed DK Combos Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Black Framed DK Combos Platinum (200 cards, one-of-one)
Diamond Cut Jersey (50 cards, numbered to 100 or less)
Diamond Cut Clubs (50 cards, numbered to 100 or less)
Diamond Cut Signatures (50 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Diamond Cut Combos - Materials (50 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Diamond Cut Combos - Signatures (50 cards, numbered to 35 or less)
Heritage Collection Materials - Jerseys (25 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Heritage Collection Materials - Bats (25 cards, numbered to 50 or less)
Heritage Collection Signatures (25 cards, numbered to 20 or less)
Timeline Materials - Jerseys (six cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Timeline Materials - Jerseys "Prime" (six cards, one-of-one)
Timeline Materials - Bats (six cards, numbered to 25)
Team Timeline Materials - Jerseys (19 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Team Timeline Materials - Jerseys "Prime" (19 cards, one-of-one)
Team Timeline Materials - Bats (19 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Hall of Fame Heroes Signatures (35 cards, numbered to 35 or less)
Hall of Fame Heroes Materials - Jerseys (35 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Hall of Fame Heroes Materials - Bats (35 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Hall of Fame Heroes Combos (35 cards, numbered to 25 or less)
Gallery of Stars Signatures (15 cards, numbered to 10 or less)
Recollection Collection

The Pulls:

Base Set:
Box 1: 55 of 175 (31.43%)
Box 2: 54 of 175 (30.86%)
Combined: 97 of 175 (12 doubles)

Broken Down by Short Print Scheme:
Box 1
Short Set: 51 of 150
Flashback/Legends: 3 of 25

Box 2
Short Set: 50 of 150
Flashback/Legends: 3 of 25

Short Set: 89 of 150
Flashback/Legends: 6 of 25

Box 1
1 Legends Sepia: J. Palmer
2 Framed Bronze: W. Young, J. Bagwell
1 Framed Gold: S. Carlton /25

Box 2
1 Legends Sepia: R. Campanella
2 Framed Bronze: A. Pujols, K. Griffey, Jr.
1 Bronze: R. Henderson /100

Box 1
1 Gallery of Stars: A. Rodriguez
1 Heritage Collection: D. Mattingly
1 Hall of Fame Heroes: C. Yastrzemski /1000

Box 2
1 Heritage Collection: M. Piazza
1 Gallery of Heroes Level One Variation: R. Clemente /500

Box 1
1 DK Materials Bronze: M. Mussina /100
1 Framed DK Materials Silver: M. Byrd /50

Box 2
1 Framed DK Materials Bronze: T. Hudson /100
1 DK Signatures Bronze: P. Konerko /8

The Review:

Diamond Kings is the latest Donruss-Playoff product that ignores the time honored axiom: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Diamond Kings wasn't broke, but D-P decided to fix it anyway.

One of the few aspects of this year's DK that they didn't fix (fortunately) is the composition of the base set. Like last year, it's 175 cards with 25 short-prints. Yeah, I know last year's DK was 176 cards, but they added that Contreras late in the production run so it doesn't count. Just kidding. Kudos to Donruss-Playoff for not monkeying around with the integrity of the base set, like they did with 2004 Donruss and Leaf. Unfortunately, as with the aforementioned Donruss and Leaf, the fact that the 25 Legend/Flashbacks cards are SPed is not mentioned anywhere on the box or on the wrapper. A very disturbing trend that D-P MUST end immediately.

As usual the Diamond King base set cards are spectacular, but not without fault. Foremost among these faults is the design of the card. While the artwork is, as it has always been, spectacular, the "framework" of the card leaves much to be desired. In another review I read that it reminded the writer of an Old West "WANTED" poster. A pretty apt description as any I've seen. Unfortunately, the actual artwork as laid out is so small that you can't really see any of the details. Don't get me wrong, the artwork is stunning. Well, what little I could make of it. And by the way, if anyone at Donruss is reading this, could you please bring back Dick Perez? No offense to the artists you've hired, but the DKs haven't been same since he left in '96.

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous; or, the parts they decided to "fix." Normally, in my reviews I follow up the base set with the parallels. Normally. I'm going to deviate from this a little bit (you'll see why later) and go straight to the inserts. The Gallery of Stars, Heritage Collection cards and Team Timelines inserts carry on the same theme of last year's similarly named subsets. Nothing of real distinction here, however, there is a bit of a twist to the Timelines. The 19 card "Team Timelines" follow on the same concept of the "Timelines" inserts in 2002 and 2003 Diamond Kings (two players of different era from the same franchise on the same card). However, the six card "Timelines" series have six active players depicted with two of the teams they have played for.

The final non-parallel, non-game-used insert is, by far the most confusing insert scheme I've seen since another Donruss related fustercluck, Fractal Matrix (although you could place the 2004 Leaf Exhibits as a close second in the "fustercluck" category): The Hall of Fame Heroes. Confusing because, although the checklist provided in the waxbox says that the cards are sequentially numbered from 1-35. Now, there are 35 total cards in the set, but they're are only 23 players depicted, and the set is sequentially numbered from 45-67. About the only logical explanation for starting at 45 is that the 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes set on (which this series is based) had 44 cards, and that these inserts are meant as an extension. Never mind the minor detail that the '83 HOF Heroes were its own standalone product and not a serial numbered insert in another product. To add even more confusion, last year's DK also had an insert set based on the '83 HOF Heroes called the "Hall of Fame Heroes." However the 2003 edition were reprints and the 2K4's are original artwork. The structure of this series is way too confusing to explain, but it involves as many as four different cards of selected players, and all produced at different levels of scarcity. Just see the chart I've produced in The Details section of the review.

And now to the part of Diamond Kings that everyone is talking about: the parallels and game used. For the record, since most of the game used and autographs are, for all intents and purposes, parallels, again, I'll be deviating a bit from my usual review formula. Nobody ever accused me of being inflexible. In a recent Beckett article explaining the 2004 Leaf Exhibits inserts, Steven Judd, Donruss-Playoff's baseball brand manager, said that D-P wanted to take many of the same concepts of their high-end brands (like Leaf Limited), and bring them to their base-brands. Judd, whom for the record, has convinced me by his efforts that he had never opened up a pack of baseball cards in his life prior to his employment at D-P, wanted to take products like Donruss, Leaf and Diamond Kings to "another level." Whatever that is supposed to mean.

Well, we all know what "another level" means: more "contrived scarcity" than you can shake a stick at. If you include the autographs and game used cards as a "parallel," (technically they're not true parallels, but work with me here) than each of the 175 base set cards has anywhere from 33 to as many as 79 different versions, twenty of which are "one-of-ones." Yes, 79 different versions of what is, essentially, the same card. Stephen Judd was right, DK takes it to the "next level:" a level bordering on self-parody. Just like with the Hall of Fame Heroes, it would take me way too much time and effort to explain each and every one of the 79 different versions, so just check the list above.

The Bottom Line:

After the 2004 Donruss and Leaf debacles, I promised myself that I wouldn't be purchasing, much less collecting, any further 2004 Donruss-Playoff products. Unfortunately, the "buzz" regarding Diamond Kings was just too great for me to resist. In retrospect, I should have used that $150 to pay down my credit card.

One thing about 2004 DK that I haven't heard in other reviews is the increase in price by $2 a pack. Whereas last year, you could have purchased a 24-count waxbox in the $65-$70 range, the MSRP for a 12-count box was $60. Since then, Hobby hype has driven this product to the $75-$90/box range. Individually, each box yielded roughly the same: no base set doubles, three short-prints and a "sepia" variation, two framed bronze parallels, and three cards (two autogamers and a parallel) numbered to 100 or less. On the surface, if you plunked down $75 for a product (any product), and received three cards serial numbered to 100 or less, you would think that you got your money's worth. Unfortunately, as with most of it's other recent efforts, D-P has made it easy, too easy, to pull really low serial numbered inserts and game used cards.

In addition to complete ignorance to the workings of The Hobby, I am also convinced that Judd (as well as 95% of people drawing a paycheck from The Hobby), know little, if anything, about the basic theories of economics. Then again, you could make a compelling argument that 95% of the population in general is economically illiterate. Getting back to my point, you don't have to have a Ph.D. to figure out that if you increase the supply of a commodity (for shits and giggles let's just call this commodity, "game used trading cards numbered to 100 copies or less"), and the demand for said commodity remains stagnant, the market forces will cause the value of the commodity to decline. Kind of ironic, isn't it? In their haste to deliver "value," manufacturers like Donruss-Playoff have flooded the market with game used cards. But along the way the powers of supply-and-demand come along to bite The Hobby in the ass.

Product Rating: 2 Gumsticks (out of five)
This is the best Donruss-Playoff baseball product released to date. That's not exactly saying much, but it is.
Collation Rating: 4 Gumsticks

Do I recommend this product?

At the current market prices ($75-$90/box), no. Of the three game jersey cards (Tim Hudson and Mike Mussina each numbered to 100 and a Marlon Byrd numbered to 50) and one autograph (Paul Konerko numbered to eight) I pulled from these two boxes, I bet you that if I put them all on eBay, I would get much more than $50 for them all. Combine that with all the other cards inserts, parallels and base set cards I pulled, and clearly this collector didn't get his $150 worth. On the other hand, if you are just looking to collect the base set, you're probably better off avoiding wax and piecing together your set by buying singles.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Test Post: 2004 Fleer Tradition

The Details

One box of 2004 Fleer Tradition Baseball (paid $55 for box)
36 packs of 10 cards (MSRP $1.49/pack)

Base Set: 500 cards

Broken Down by Short-Print Scheme:
Short Set: Cards 1-400
Basic Card Short Prints: Cards 401-445 (1:2)
Stand Outs: Cards 446-461 (1:6)
Award Winners: Cards 462-470 (1:9)
Trio Prospects: Cards 471-500 (1:3)

Parallels: NONE

This Day in History (15 cards, 1:18)
Diamond Tributes (20 cards, 1:6)
Retrospection Collection (10 cards, 1:360)
Career Tributes (10 cards, production varies*)
Career Tributes Die-Cut (10 cards, production varies*)

* Odds of finding a Career Tributes, or CT Die-Cut: 1:36

Autogamers **:
This Day in History Game Used (1:288)
This Day in History Dual (numbered to 25)
Diamond Tributes (1:36)
Diamond Tributes Patch (numbered to 50)
Stand Outs Game Used (1:41)
Stand Outs Gold (production varies)
Retrospection Collection Autographed (numbered to 60***)
Retrospection Collection Dual (numbered to 19***)

** Odds of finding a Game Used Card: 1:18
*** Odds of Finding an Retrospection Collection Autograph: 1:720

The Pulls:

Base Set: 348 of 500 (69.60%)
Short Set: 308 of 400 (77.00%)
Basic Card SPs: 18 of 45
Stand Outs: 6 of 16
Award Winners: 4 of 9
Trio Prospects: 12 of 30

2 This Day in History: Sosa, Soriano
6 Diamond Tributes: V. Guerrero, Ja. Giambi, R. Johnson, P. Martinez, J. Beckett, M. Prior
1 Career Tributes: M. Schmidt /1989

1 Diamond Tributes: R. Sexon
1 Stand Outs Game Used: R. Baldelli

The Review:

For the 24th year, Fleer brings us their flagship product, the 500 card 2004 Fleer Tradition. For the first time since 1999, Tradition features a completely original (or in the case of the 2001 Fleer Trad set, somewhat original) design. Althought he design is different, the rest of the product remains consistent with what the brand has offered in recent years.

The set is broken down into 10 World Series Highlights, 30 Team Leaders, 405 regular cards, and three short-printed subsets: 16 Standouts, 9 Award Winners and 30 Trio Prospects. In addition, 45 of the 405 regular cards are also SPed and, although these cards are not marked as such, it appears that cards 401-445 are the SPs. Each 36-pack box should yield about 40 of the SPs. The Award Winners subset needs a little explaining. They’re one of those, let's-double-up-on-the-superstar-player themed subsets. Here's the strange part: they have the same exact design and photograph as the player’s regular card (kind of like a parallel), the only difference being the addition of an “Award Winners” seal on the front. Very weird. There are no parallels in the traditional (no pun intended) sense. But if recent history is any indicator, Fleer is probably saving them for the Update set.

Two of the four insert sets are holdovers from previous Fleer Trad brands: The 10 card This Day in History and the 20 card Diamond Tributes. Going further up on the scarcity scale, are the 10 card Career Tributes. These foil-fronted cards remind me of those cheesy “Gold Cards” you see advertised in the Sunday paper’s coupon section. Right between the $1.00 off Frosted Flakes and the Dale Earnhardt collector’s plate. They come in both regular and die-cut flavors. The scarcest insert of all is the 10 Retrospection Collections. Done in the style of the 1960 Fleer Baseball Greats set, it features all of the top rookies and a couple of young stars. As I mentioned on the review of 2004 Ultra, just about every recent Fleer baseball product has included one insert set that’s a little bit scarcer than the rest. According to my calculations, only 223 copies of each Retro-Coll were inserted into packs. You shouldn’t expect to pull one, but if you do, you might have a card that’s actually worth something.

Another trend of recent Fleer sets is to make all the Autographed and Game-Used cards pseudo-parallels. You’re promised two autogamers in a box, and the one’s you’ll probably pull are from the Diamond Tributes and Stand Outs series. The DT’s also come in a patch version numbered to 50 and the SO’s come in a gold version. The scarcest pull among the gamers are the This Day in History GUs, which also come in a dual version numbered to 25. The only autographed cards in Tradition are signed versions of the Retrospection Collections. These cards are numbered to 60 copies with a dual signed version numbered to 19.

The Bottom Line

No complaints on this box’s collation. No doubles, and all inserts ran as promised. I paid about $55, but since I purchased this box I've seen it selling in the $45-$50 range. Judging by the size of the base set and the recent track record of this brand, we’re not likely to see a formal “series 2” of Tradition this year (again). More than likely, Fleer will release another one of those update sets that’s not really an “Update” set. Like I suggested in my review of 2003 Fleer Tradition Update, this is a product that would be better if it were a 600-700 card base set followed up by a real “Update” set of 150-200 cards (preferrably in a factory set). I’d also be remiss if I did not mention the short-prints. Why does Tradition still have SPs? What purpose do they serve in a product like this? The set would be so much better without them.

Collation Rating: 4 Gumsticks (out of 5)
Product Rating: 2 ½ Gumsticks

Do I recommend this product: Chances are, if you’re like me, you have a complete run of Fleer/Fleer Tradition set from 1981 on. Therefore, I shouldn’t have to tell you to buy this product. It is cheap (by today's standards) and the design is pretty nice, but the SPs kill this product.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Test Post: 2003 Fleer Tradition Update

The Details:

One box of 2003 Fleer Tradition Update Baseball (paid $55)
32 packs per box, 10 cards per pack (MSRP $1.49/pack)
Box also includes one 25 card "rookie box" as a chiptopper.

Base Set: 398 cards

Broken down by short-print scheme:
285 card short set
14 "Pack" Rookies (1:4)
99 "Box" rookies (25 per rookie box)

Glossy (885 cards, 1:6, numbered to 100)

Long GONE! (20 cards, 1:64, production varies)
Diamond Debuts (25 cards, 1:10)
Milestones (20 cards, 1:8)
Turn Back the Clock (10 cards, 1:160)

Throwback Threads (5 cards, 1:64)
Throwback Threads Patch (5 cards, numbered to 100)
Throwback Threads Dual (2 cards, numbered to 100)
Milestones Memoribilia (16 cards, 1:20)
Milestones Memoribilia Gold (16 cards, numbered to 100)

The Pulls:

Base Set:318 of 398 (79.90%)
6 doubles

Broken down by short-print scheme:
One Full Short Set
8 "Pack" Rookies: C-M Wang, J. Willingham, M. Kata, D.Young and four others
25 "Box" Rookies: B. Hart, R. Hammock, L. Ford, C. Gaudin, D. Haren, B. Webb, P. LaForest, J. Bonderman, D. DeJesus, M. Ryan and 15 others

9 Glossy
Reg. Set: Mon Team Leaders, J. Lieber, G. Jenkins, E. Marrero, K. Garcia, M. Olivo
Update Set: C. Bootcheck, A. Brown, M. Nicolas

1 Long GONE! A. Pujols /452
3 Diamond Debuts: R. Calloway, J. Contreras, D. Matranga
4 Milestones: R. Palmerio, R. Johnson, C. Jones, J. Thome

2 Milestones Memoribilia: C. Jones, P. Martinez

The Review:

Fleer Tradition Update is an "update" set in name only. It's more of a "Series Two" than a true "Update." Yes, there are loads of rookies, 113 to be exact. And there are the standard dozens of players who changed teams. But for God sake, Alex Rodriguez is in the base set (and I'm not talking about one of the many subset cards, he's in the regular set). Granted, he wasn't in the first series, and nor were Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling and Alfonso Soriano. But doesn't the inclusion of players like A-Rod, Barry Bones and Schill defeat the purpose of an "Update" set?

Anyway, let me be the first to officially declare the whole "retro" craze, while fresh a couple of years ago, as officially "played out." This is the second time in five years that Fleer has recycled the design of the 1963 Fleer set for Tradition. Yeah, I know, I know, the '63 Fleer reprints were a parallel in '98 Fleer Trad. But still, there's only so many times you can go to the well, before coming up dry.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Fleer's latest packaging gimmick. You see, there are 113 "rookies" in the set, but instead of putting them all in the packs, they separated them into two different packaging formats. Fourteen were inserted into the packs at the rate of 1:4, while the remaining 99 were randomly inserted into a special "rookie box" chiptopper. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, by getting 25 of the 99 "box" rookies in one shot (and with many dealers selling the "rookie box" as a standalone item), you shouldn't have to invest much in wax to build your set. In fact, one box should yield the full short set and half of the "pack" rookies. I do wish Fleer would make their mind up. Either put them all in the packs, or make the whole thing a factory set.

In addition to the 113 rookies, the rest of the base set contains 200 regular cards (including the aforementioned A-Rod, Bonds and Schilling), 59 All-Stars, 16 Interleague Plays and 10 Tales of the Tape. Each card also comes in a glossy parallel version that's numbered to 100 copies. Glossy versions of the 485 first series cards are also included for your collecting pleasure.

The rest of the insert program includes Long GONE! (their spelling), Diamond Debuts and Milestones which look exactly like the insert set of the same name from the first series. About the only way you can tell the difference between the series of Milestones are the fact that there were 25 in the first series and only 20 in the Update, and are sequentially numbered as such. The last of the conventional inserts are the ten card Turn Back the Clocks. In just about every recent Fleer product there has been at least one non game-used insert that a little tougher to pull than others. A non-game-used card that actually carries value? A novel concept in these days of $70 one-per-pack game-used products like Leaf Limited. In FTU the TBTC's are it, coming only once every five boxes.

Just like in last year's set, each box promises at least two gamers. Now, if you're into that kind of thing, that's great. But I think Fleer needs to do a little market research. The typical collector who purchases products like Tradition are, well, "traditional" collectors (read: set builders). While it's nice to pull two gamers from a box, most that collect sets like this aren't in it for the game used cards. Besides, by making these cards easier to pull, the potential value of such cards becomes diluted. The two game-used sets are the Milestones Memorabilia, which are a quasi-parallel of the regular Milestones, and Throwback Threads. The Milestones come in both regular and Gold flavors, and the Throwback Threads come in Patch and double swatch versions, are which are numbered to 100.

The Bottom Line:

Like I said, this is an Update that's not really an "update" set. If I could make a suggestion to Fleer, instead releasing a 500 card set in January, and following it up with a pseudo-update set in November, put out a 700 card set in March (or two 350-400 card series), followed by a 150-200 card true update set in November. Kind of like the 1994 Fleer set. Also, another suggestion: GET RID OF THE SHORT PRINTS! In a product like this SPs really don't serve much of a purpose anyway.

Like a mentioned before, the box yielded the full 285 card short set, 8 of the 14 "pack" rookies and a quarter of the "box" rookies. I received all of the inserts as promised and three additional Glossy parallels.

Collation Rating: 4 1/2 Gumsticks out of five
Product Rating: 3 Gumsticks

Do I recommend this product: If you are building this set, one box should yield a full short set and a good number of the SPs. Because of the unique distribution of the SPs, you should have no problem chasing after them.

Oh, and another thing: About a month after I bought this box, I went to a card shop and purchased another one of the 25-card Rookie boxes. The 25 cards I pulled from this Rookie box were the EXACT same 25 cards I received in this box. Something to be wary of.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Test Post: 2004 Ultra

The details:

One box of 2004 Ultra Baseball (paid $59)
24 packs per box, 8 cards per pack (MSRP $2.99)

Base Set: 220 cards

Broken down by short-print scheme:200 card Short Set
20 All-Rookies (odds not stated)

Parallels:Gold Medallions (200 cards, one-per-pack)
Gold Medallion All-Rookies (20 cards, 1:8)
Platinum Medallions (220 cards, 1:36, numbered to 66)

Ultra Performers (15 cards, 1:6)
Ultra Kings (30 cards, 1:12)
Ultra Kings Gold (30 cards, 1:350, production varies)
Diamond Producers (10 cards, 1:144)

Season Crowns Game-Used (50 cards, numbered to 399, **)
Season Crowns Game-Used Gold (50 cards, numbered to 99, **)
Season Crowns Autographed (50 cards, numbered to 150, ***)
Season Crowns Autographed Gold (50 cards, numbered to 25, ***)
Ultra Performers Game-Used (numbered to 500)
Ultra Performers UltraSwatch (production varies)
Diamond Producers Game-Used (numbered to 1000)
Diamond Producers UltraSwatch (production varies)
Ultra Kings Triple Swatch (10 cards, numbered to 33)

* Odds of finding any game-used card: 1:12
** Odds of finding a Season Crowns game-used card: 1:24
*** Odds of finding a Season Crowns autograph: 1:192

The Pulls:

Base Set:153 of 220 (69.55%)

Broken down by short-print scheme:
Short Set: 141 of 200 (70.50%)
All-Rookies: 12 of 20 (60.00%)

24 Gold Medallions
3 Gold Medallion All-Rookies
1 Platinum Medallions: A. Ramirez

4 Ultra Performers: A. Pujols, R. Johnson, C. Jones, H. Nomo
2 Ultra Kings: M. Prior, A. Pujols

2 Ultra Performers Game-Used: R. Baldelli, M. Piazza
1 Diamond Producers Game-Used: D. Willis

The Review:

Whenever somebody who is new to The Hobby asks me what they should collect, inevitably I recommend the same handful of products: Topps, Bowman, Upper Deck, Fleer Tradition, Topps Gallery, Stadium Club and Ultra. (For the record, Donruss and Leaf used to be on this list, that is until Playoff managed to butcher them up with short-prints and other collector unfriendly gimmicks). Although the 2004 edition bears little, if any, resemblance to the great Ultra sets of the mid-90s, it is still a "must have" addition to any serious baseball card collection.

Like I mentioned in my review of 2003 Fleer Tradition Update (see my website, I'll get around to posting it here soon), "retro" is now officially "played out." More proof of this: The design of the 2004 Ultra base set. It's one thing to rip off the design of a 1960s card set for a 2003 product, but quite another to rip off a 1999 design for a 2004 set. This year's Ultra base set is virtually indistinguishable from the Ultra set released just five years ago with the only difference being a "swipe" underneath the player's name. But that's not all! Oh no. The backs are virtual carbon copies of the 2002 Fleer Premium set!

Other than the design, the composition of the base set is pretty much consistent with what Fleer has been offering with Ultra over the last couple of years. The single series set features 200 cards of all the usual suspects and a 20 card "All-Rookie" subset that appears to be seeded one in every other pack. I say "appears" because, while the last couple of Ultra sets have had SPs, this year Fleer took a page from the Donruss deceptive marketing playbook. Nowhere is it mentioned that the All-Rookie subset cards are, in fact, short-printed. Granted, there are fewer of them to chase (20 as opposed to the 35-50 in previous years) and they are seeded at a little more generous ratio of 1:2. (as opposed to the 1:4 that the SPs were in previous Ultra offerings). So in theory, this year's Ultra set should be easier to build than in years before. Still, for a card company to include short-printed base set cards and fail to mention it to the collector is fraudlent, not to mention extremely unethical. They pulled a stunt like this two years ago with 2002 Fleer Tradition baseball (not coincedenitally the worst Fleer/Fleer Tradition set in ten years), and they did it again this year with Ultra. Hopefully, Fleer will come to their senses and not repeat this mistake in the future.

The Gold Medallions, one of the few one-per-pack parallels left, return for another year, with a Platinum version (each numbered to only 66 copies), coming every thirty-sixth pack. Each Medallion has one of it's corners clipped off to differentiate it from the base cards, as if the Gold and Platinum foil fronts wasn't enough. Also, it appears that the All-Rookie Gold Medallions and Platinum Medallions were seeded separately from the short set GMs. In every pack that produced an ARGM or a PM, I also received a short set GM.

Ultra's non-parallel insert program includes the 20 card "Ultra Performers," 30 card "Kings," and ten "Diamond Producers," all of which have a game used parallel version (more on those later). The Kings are actually three different 10 card sets in one (Home Run, RBI and Strikeout Kings), and are modeled after similar themed inserts from Ultra sets gone by. There's also a Gold version that's numbered to 50 copies each. The Diamond Producers are seeded at the rate of 1:144 packs (that's one in every six boxes), and are actually a tougher pull (or is it "tuffer pull?") than the game used quasi-parallel version.

Speaking of which, all of the autographs and game used cards are de facto parallels, or in the case of the 50 card Season Crowns, de facto partial parallels. The SCs take the design of the base set and add either an autograph or a jersey swatch. Both come in regular and Gold flavors. The Ultra Performers and Diamond Producers game jersey cards come in both regular and Gold "UltraSwatch" versions as well. Like I previously mentioned, the game used Diamond Producers are easier to pull from the packs than the non-game used version. A pretty novel concept if you ask me. The UltraSwatch cards have a piece of a uniform patch and are serial numbered to the respective player's uniform number. The showcase inserts in 2004 Ultra though, are the Ultra Kings Triple Swatch cards. These cards feature game used patches from one player from each of the three different Kings sets, and each are limited to only 33 serial numbered copies.

The Bottom Line:

The box delivered just about everything that was promised. I received 70 percent of the base set (including 60% of the short-printed All-Rookies). Inserts and parallels came as listed and I received an extra game used card. What curious about the game used cards is that, although I did receive three gamers (as opposed to the two promised), I one the three was not from the one-per-box Season Crowns.

With that aside, 2004 Ultra is a pretty good product that suffers from three fatal flaws. Two I previously mentioned: the total lack of originality in base set design, and that little minor detail of short-printed All-Rookie cards. The other has plagued Ultra (and to a certain extent Stadium Club, Donruss and Leaf) for the last couple years: It's a single series product released almost a month before Christmas. Call me old fashioned, but if it says "2004" on the wrapper, then at the very least the players on the cards inside should be pictured on their 2004 uniforms. Believe it or not, the very first Ultra cards of Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood in their Phillies uniforms are in 2004 Ultra -- 11 months after the team acquired them. Obviously, with 2003 Ultra going live almost a month before their acquisitions, it would be impossible for Thome and Millwood to be added to the set with their new teams. But 11 months is way to long. This problem can easily be rectified three ways:

1) Wait a couple of months.
2) Release a second series.
3) Both.

The first option, waiting until 2004 to release a "2004" product, other than making much more sense, would also allow more than enough time to include free agents and traded players. Also, one of the worst things Fleer did to the Ultra brand was to make it a single series. This is a product that deserves to a second series or update series made. Besides, I'd much rather purchase a box of 2004 Ultra series 2 than crap like Box Score, Hardball or Authentix. My recommendation to Jim Stefano, Lloyd Pawlak and the rest of the gang is to hold off on releasing the first series until January (at the earliest), and to replace one of the aforementioned mid-summer premium price-point products (try saying that five times as fast as you can), with a second series of Ultra.

Product Rating: 2 1/2 Gumsticks out of 5.
I would have given this 3 1/2 if they had only listed the short-prints on the packaging.
Collation Rating: 4 1/2 Gumsticks out of 5.

Do I recommend this product: Yes. Despite it's flaws, it's still Fleer Ultra, and it deserves to be in your collection.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Test Post: 2004 Donruss

The Details

One box of 2004 Donruss Baseball (paid $38)
24 packs per box, 10 cards per pack (MSRP $1.99/pack)

Base Set:

400 cards

Broken Down by Short-Print Scheme:
Short Set: 300 cards
Diamond Kings: (25 cards, pack odds unkonwn)
Rated Rookies (45 cards, pack odds unknown)
Team Checklists (30 cards, pack odds unknown)

Season Stat Line (400 cards, production varies)
Career Stat Line (400 cards, production varies)
Black Press Proof (400 cards, numbered to 10, hobby only)
Gold Diamond Kings (25 cards, numbered to 2500)
Black Diamond King (25 cards, numbered to 25, hobby only)
Studio Series Diamond King (25 cards, numbered to 250)
Elite (15 cards, numbered to 1500)
Elite Black (15 cards, numbered to 150, hobby only)
Elite Dominators (15 cards, numbered to 25)
Power Alley Red (20 cards, numbered to 2500) Power Alley Red Die-Cut (20 cards, numbered to 250)
Power Alley Blue (20 cards, numbered to 1000)
Power Alley Blue Die-Cut (20 cards, numbered to 100)
Power Alley Purple (20 cards, numbered to 250)
Power Alley Purple Die-Cut (20 cards, numbered to 25)
Power Alley Yellow (20 card, numbered to 100)
Power Alley Yellow Die-Cut (20 cards, numbered to 10)
Power Alley Green (20 cards, numbered to 25)
Power Alley Green Die-Cut (20 cards, numbered to 5)
Power Alley Black Die-Cut (20 cards, one-of-one, hobby only)
Production Line OPS (10 cards, production varies)
Production Line Black OPS (10 cards, numbered to 125, hobby only)
Production Line Die-Cut OPS (10 cards, numbered to 100)
Production Line Slugging (10 cards, production varies)
Production Line Black Slugging (10 cards, numbered to 75, hobby only)
Production Line Die-Cut Slugging (10 cards, numbered to 100)
Production Line OBP (10 cards, production varies)
Production Line Black OBP (10 cards, numbered to 40, hobby only)
Production Line Die-Cut OBP (10 cards, numbered to 100)
Production Line Average (10 cards, production varies)
Production Line Black Average (10 cards, numbered to 35, hobby only)
Production Line Die-Cut Average (10 cards, numbered to 100)
All-Stars (20 cards, numbered to 1000)
All-Stars Black (20 cards, numbered to 250, hobby only)
Longball Leaders (10 cards, numbered to 1500)
Longball Leaders Black (10 cards, numbered to 250, hobby only)
Longball Leaders Die-Cut (10 cards, numbered to 50)
Craftsmen (15 cards, numbered to 2000)
Craftsmen Black (15 cards, numbered to 275, hobby only)
Master Craftsmen (15 cards, numbered to 150)
Mound Marvels (15 cards, numbered to 750)
Mound Marvels Black (15 cards, numbered to 175, hobby only)
Inside View (25 cards, numbered to 1250)
Autogamers *:
Jersey Kings (12 cards, numbered to either 100 or 250)
Jersey Kings Studio Series (12 cards, numbered to either 25 or 50)
Bat Kings (8 cards, numbered to either 100 or 250)
Bat Kings Studio Series (8 cards, numbered to either 25 or 50)
Timber and Threads (40 cards, 1:38)
Timber and Threads Studio Series (40 cards, numbered to 50)
Timber and Threads Autographed (production varies)
Recollection Collection (production varies)
Base Set Autographs (production varies)

*Stated odds of pulling an autogamer: 1:24

The Pulls

Base Set:
217 of 400 (54.25%)
9 doubles

Broken Down by Short-Print Scheme:
Short Set: 195 of 300 (65.00%)
8 Diamond Kings: I. Suzuki, R.Clemens, B. Bonds, S. Rolen, ManRam, A. Soriano, A. Kearns (2), C. Jones
6 Rated Rookies: M. Ojeda, C-M Wang, H-C Kuo, I. Ferguson, O. Villarreal, R. Wagner
8 Team Checklists: M. Mora, M. Ordonez, M. Sweeney, T. Hunter, B. Zito, C. Delgado, I. Rodriguez, M. Piazza

1 Season Stat Line: R. White /115
3 Career Stat Line: T. Hall /262, O. Hudson /196, C. Izturis /278
1 Black Press Proof: D. Jeter
1 Gold Diamond King: D. Jeter

1 Elite Black: A. Kearns
1 Power Alley Red: Ja. Giambi
1 Power Alley Blue: Ja. Giambi
1 Production Line Slugging: A. Pujols /667
2 All-Stars Black: R. Clemens, M. Piazza
1 Longball Leaders Black: J. Thome
1 Craftsmen: A. Soriano

1 Timber and Threads: L. Berkman Bat

The Review

On May 26, 2001, I posted my collation of 2001 Donruss set on my old website. The very last line says it all:

Maybe, just maybe, next year they (Playoff) can produce a set worthy of the "Donruss" name.

Well, it is now 2004, and Playoff still has yet to produce a set worthy of the "Donruss" name.

The main problem I had with 2001 Donruss was that it wasn't a "real" Donruss set. In their haste to "pop a big number in the Beckett" with their first ever original baseball product, Playoff produced a set that bore absolutely no resemblance to the Donruss sets of the 80s and 90s. It was, arguably, the single worst baseball card product ever, up to that point anyway). 2001 Donruss took about every dumb idea concocted by every two-bit marketing "genius" and rolled them all into one steaming pile of cardboard crap.

Things began to look up later in '01 when it was announced that Doug Goddard and the rest of the Pinnacle Brands refugees responsible for 2001 Donruss (and other equally dreadful '01 Playoff baseball brands), quit/were fired from their positions in Donruss' product development team. Unfortunately, the 2002 Donruss set was too far along in the pipeline to completely salvage. The result: Another lousy "Donruss" set.

To be fair, '02 Donruss was a bit of an improvement over the '01 edition. Which is to say, if having two of your fingernails ripped out with a pair of pliers is an improvement over having all five ripped out. Much, but not all, of the extreme gimmickry of 2001 Donruss (the BGS chipptopper, the "pack-in-a-pack," the serial numbered "rookies") was removed. But the set still suffered from the inclusion of 50 short-printed (but not serial numbered) "rookies" and 20 SPed "Fan Club" cards.

As 2002 wore on, it appeared that Playoff was finally getting their act together. They released a number of decent products like Diamond Kings, Donruss Originals, Leaf Rookies and Stars and Donruss The Rookies. All of which led to 2003 Donruss, a set that, while it still wasn't what I would call a true "Donruss" set, was a drastic improvement over their previous efforts. At 400 cards, it was still a couple of hundred cards smaller than the Donruss sets of the 80s and 90s. But without any SPs, 2003 Donruss was, unlike the '01 and '02 versions, a set you could actually collect. A novel concept, I know. Like I said, it was an improvement, but far from perfect. The problem I had with 2003 Donruss was that they pushed up the release date up from March to December. By releasing a single series set that early, there was no way possible to include the scores of players who changed teams via trades or free agency. Granted, this isn't a problem that is unique to Donruss. Fleer and Topps are just a guilty of it as well, with their Ultra and Stadium Club brands. But '03 Donruss would have been better, a lot better, if they had followed it up with a second series.

Which leads us to 2004 Donruss. On the surface, it appears to be similar to the 2003 edition. All similarities end though, when you open the pack. You see, Playoff went back to short-printing base set this year, but you wouldn't know it by looking on the wrapper. Or by looking on the display box. Or on the press releases. Or at the dealer brochures. Or anywhere else. It isn't until after you open up your box that you'll discover that the 25 Diamond Kings, 45 Rated Rookies and 30 Team Checklists are, in fact, short-printed. Let's set aside the fact that, once again, they unnecessarily short-printed the base set. What irks me is that they SPed the base set, and never bothered to tell. This kind of "bait-and-switch" marketing is absolutely unconscionable. How "Pinnacle" of Playoff.

The rest of the 2004 "Don****" (I refuse to recognize this set as a legitimate "Donruss" set), follows the same kind of contrived scarcity and gimmickry that Playoff has been shoving down The Hobby's collective throat the last couple of releases. Case in point the 20 card "Power Alley" inserts: In addition to the regular PAs, or "Power Alley Red" as Playoff calls them, there are Power Alley Red Die-Cut, Blue, Blue Die-Cut, Purple, Purple Die-Cut, Yellow, Yellow Die-Cut, Green, Green Die-Cut and Black. Do we really have to have 11 different versions of what is, essentially, the same card? Seriously, do we? All of the rest of the non-parallel inserts have some sort of "parallel" element, which I guess is supposed to add some sort of "value." Whatever.

I'm not even going to waste any more time and effort reviewing this steaming pile. 2004 Don**** sucks and is not worth your time, money and effort. This set proves that the current Playoff baseball product development team have absolutely no clue as to what they're doing, and that any previous baseball card collecting experience is not a prerequisite to employment with Playoff.

The Bottom Line:

As far as this box, I guess I pulled everything I was promised. I couldn't tell you if I did, since Playoff never bothered to list the insertion ratios for the subsets, or the inserts. I guess I'm supposed to be excited by the Derek Jeter parallel numbered to 10 copies that I pulled. More of that "contrived scarcity" thing I was telling you about. If there is one positive to 2004 Don****, is that it's one of the few Playoff products left that you can actually afford to buy a whole box of without taking out a second mortgage. For the price of one four-pack box of 2003 Leaf Limited ($280), you can buy seven 24-pack boxes (I paid $38 for this box) of 2004 Donruss, and get a better bang for your hobby buck.

Collation Rating: Incomplete
Product Rating: 5 Hot Pokers up the Ass

Do I recommend this product: I'll say the same thing I said three years ago: Maybe, just maybe, next year they can produce a set worthy of the "Donruss" name. I wouldn't count on it though.

Oh, and another thing: You would think that a trading card company that has it's offices in a baseball stadium would include the previous year's National League Rookie of the Year in it's flagship card set. Yep, they forgot Dontrelle Willis. 2004 Don**** proves that Playoff knows nothing about baseball cards, but does anybody there know anything about baseball?