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?