Thursday, December 27, 2007

Always Be Collecting -- 2001 Donruss

"Do you know what it takes to collect 2001 Donruss?"

We all have our vices and guilty pleasures. We know they're bad for us, but we just can't help ourselves.

I know if I eat too many Gorditas, I'll get fat. But I like Gorditas, and I eat them anyway.

I know if I drink too many pints of Boddington's Pub Ale, I get a hangover. But I like the taste of Boddington's, and I drink it anyway.

I know if I take too many Xanaxes, I'll be zonked out the rest of the day. But it "takes the edge off," so I take them anyway.

When it comes to baseball cards, my vice is 2001 Donruss: the Xanax of baseball cards.

So to "celebrate" the return of Donruss-Playoff to the baseball card industry with an unlicensed draft pick product, and to sate the never-ending rumors that D-P will be getting their real licenses back, let's set the WABAC machine six years to examine their first "real" baseball card effort.

In 1998 Pinnacle Brands -- which had spent $41 million dollars for the rights to the Donruss and Leaf brand names two years earlier -- filed for bankruptcy protection. Shortly thereafter, both Major League Baseball Properties and licensing arm of the Players Association revoked their respective licenses, and Pinnacle's assets were ordered liquidated. In the summer of '98, it appeared that Donruss baseball would come to an end after eighteen glorious years. But then an unlikely savior appeared. A savior that took the form of football card manufacturer Playoff, who paid $9.6 million at auction for everything that was left of Pinnacle.

Shortly thereafter, speculation in The Hobby immediately began as to Playoff's intentions -- specifically in regards to acquiring MLB and MLBPA licenses. Although Playoff was granted a temporary license (so that those players Pinnacle contracted to sign for 1998 Donruss Signature could be paid) they were denied a permanent license. It appeared that Playoff's quest to get into the baseball card business would never bear fruit.

That is, until late-2000. Things started to turn in Playoff's favor after Pacific inserted into packs of 2000 Invincible a Manny Ramirez bat card with what appeared to be a piece of cork embedded in it. When Pacific was unable to vouch for the bat's authenticity -- they admitted to having purchased the bat from a third party -- MLBPA yanked Pacific's license.

Almost immediately, rumors of Playoff finally getting the licenses it had long coveted began to fly again. Finally, after a three year quest, those efforts came to fruition in February 2001, when it was announced that Playoff (now renamed "Donruss-Playoff") had at last received permission to produce Major League Baseball cards.

With nearly three years of pent-up demand -- not the mention the novelty of it being the first completely original baseball card product from Playoff -- loyal Donruss collectors immediately began to place pre-sell orders with their local hobby dealers. (Many of those same dealers were disappointed to find out that they would be limited to only one six-box hobby case.) In April 2001 Donruss Baseball went live.

The result: The worst baseball card set ever made.

In their haste to produce their first real baseball card product, Donruss-Playoff (D-P) essentially recycled the same formula that had successfully worked for them in football cards. In fact, the parallels between the 2001 Donruss Baseball and 2000 Donruss Football sets are uncanny to say the least. Both sets have roughly the same number of cards (220 in baseball versus 250 in football), and both had an MSRP of $1.99/pack. However, both products relied heavily on a gimmick that was becoming commonplace in football cards, but had never, ever, before appeared in a base level baseball brand.

2001 Donruss was the first entry-level baseball trading card product to feature short-printed, serial-numbered, rookie cards. While short-printing may have appealed to the football card audience, it didn't to base-level baseball card collectors. By limiting the production of each "Rated Rookie" to only 2001 copies (not including the Albert Pujols and Ben Sheets exchange cards -- each limited to 500), D-P had abandoned the one segment of the market that traditionally purchases and collects such base level products. The one segment that had been the cornerstone of the Donruss brand since 1981: Set builders.

While 2001 Donruss did sell well, not all collectors were pleased.'s Rich Klein was one. Shortly after the set's release, he wrote:

"(Collectors are) beginning to realize there are almost no (rookie) cards out there and some, unfortunately for Donruss/Playoff, are beginning to learn that they can live without Donruss in future years... I just think too many collectors will have gotten fed up trying to get 2001 Donruss Baseball that their Donruss collection will permanently end with 1998."

In retrospect, D-P screwed up the comeback edition of Donruss baseball royally. Long-time Donruss baseball collectors simply gave up after 2001. What D-P failed to realize, and to the bitter end never really quite understood, was that football card collectors and baseball card collectors are two completely different breeds of hobbyist. What works in football, may not (and usually does not) necessarily work in baseball. Again, quoting Klein:

"I'm worried that Donruss/Playoff has used the Donruss brand name to turn a quick profit so their next product sells well. To me, this is thinking only a few months ahead instead of looking a year or more into the future. This is the same type of marketing that - in my opinion - failed to serve Score/Pinnacle well after about 1995 or so. Donruss/Playoff's lack of long-term vision with the release of the limited 2001 Donruss Baseball product could eventually hurt the Donruss name."

Well, some collectors; but not this one. You see, for the "so-bad-it's-good" reasons I stated before, I made it a quest to attempt to complete a 2001 Donruss master set. I know I should know better, but I can't help it.

I can't help it. But I'm addicted to the worst baseball card set ever!

Here's my original 2001 Donruss box break and review (as posted to the old

And here's my 2001 wantlist. (HELP ME OUT!!!)


Steve Gierman said...

Great post! I've always wondered about the oddities in Donruss. I never found much information about why things happened in that period, since I was out of collecting at that point.

Thanks for filling in the blanks!

Anonymous said...

Great article Chris.

Thanks for connecting the dots on the whole Donruss thing. I never really got over the miscut 1981 Donruss issue so I have never bought much Donruss baseball.

Wax Heaven said...

Excellent history lesson, Chris!!!

Good to see you back in the bloggin' world.