Monday, July 10, 2017

1984 Donruss Champions

The Shlabotnik Report asked if I take requests and asked if I would feature the "one-and-done 1984 Donruss Champions set." Your wish is my command!

INTRODUCTION TO THE SET

In 1983 and in a set that will eventually feature here, Donruss tried something that one would have expected TCMA or one of the other underdog/lesser lights of card production to have done: Donruss put out a 44-card set called "Hall of Fame Heroes" featuring art from Diamond King artist Dick Perez and consisting entirely of Hall of Fame members. While Topps had included Hall of Famers in various subsets within its flagship set (such as the "All-Time" team in 1976 Topps and the season-and-career leaders in the 1979 set), it had not paid much -- if any -- attention to baseball history. Once a player retired from playing, they would only show up again in a set if they became a manager.

Now, I am guessing that either Donruss had a contract with Mr. Perez that allowed them to lean on him for more artwork or that the company liked the Hall of Fame concept but wanted to pair it with current players. Why they chose to do it with an oversized card is not clear. Still, at least Donruss was trying different things to use its license to create different sets to get collectors' attention.

Apparently the venture either was not successful or proved too difficult to execute for more than one season, since the product was shelved after one year in production. 

EXEMPLARS

The big thing with this set is that it combined Dick Perez's art for the Hall of Famers with normal photography for the active players in the set. 








DETAILS

The set composition here is noteworthy for the mixing of Hall of Famers and active players. Certainly, the 1982 Topps K-Mart 20th Anniversary set highlighting 20 years of MVPs did the same thing, but the conceit behind this Donruss set was more unusual. As the last card of the set -- the Checklist card -- fills us in:



Some of the selections of "Grand Champions" were either questionable or could have been any number of people, while others were simple. 

The Questionable: 
  • The Grand Champion for Season Home Runs was Babe Ruth (rather than Roger Maris...Ford Frick strikes again). 
  • The Grand Champion for Season Batting Average was Ted Williams -- the last to hit over .400 -- rather than Hugh Duffy (.440 in 1894) or, if you're inclined to say modern baseball began with the American League in 1901, Nap Lajoie at .427 in 1901.
  • For Career Batting Average, Donruss used Rogers Hornsby in its effort not to have two Ty Cobb cards.
  • For the World Series, Mickey Mantle. For me, Yogi Berra should have appeared instead. 
  • For All-Stars, Carl Hubbell, whose inclusion was based entirely on his striking out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin in succession in 1934. That 50th anniversary must have mattered a lot. In light of the fact that all the players selected were hitters here, I would have selected Willie Mays or Stan Musial, both of whom are tied with Hank Aaron for most All-Star games at 24 (and benefited from a time in the early 1960s when 2 games a year were played)

The Simple: 
  • Hank Aaron for Career Home Runs
  • Ty Cobb for Career Hits (I guess he is here because of Pete Rose's chase being topical in 1984)
  • Cy Young for Career Wins
  • Walter Johnson for Career Strikeouts (though Steve Carlton had passed him in 1983, Carlton was still active)
  • Frank Robinson for MVP (as the one player to date who has won the MVP in both leagues)

The cards measure 3.5" x 5" -- the same as the Donruss Action All-Stars of the day. Due to ties -- such as the log jam at 41 HRs in a season -- the number of players for each category seems almost random. Also, it would have been a more straightforward set to use ERA, stolen bases, and maybe saves rather than using MVP, World Series and All-Star. 

As you can see from the card backs for Ben Oglivie and Jeff Burroughs, Donruss used a stat called HR% -- simply home runs as a percentage of at bats -- for the home run hitters. I'm pretty sure that Donruss used the "All Star" category just to add in three players -- Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, and Gary Carter -- that they felt like adding into the set. The fourth All Star highlighted Fred Lynn's grand slam homer (off Atlee Hammaker).

In retail, the cards came packaged similarly to how its similarly sized product Donruss Action All-Stars did in 1984: 5 cards to a pack in cellophane wrapping and three pieces of that ubiquitous Duke Snider puzzle.


HALL OF FAMERS

There are a whole bunch of Hall of Famers in this set. You start with the Grand Champions, all of whom are in the Hall, and you go from there. It's a total of 36 out of 60 cards that feature Hall members:

Grand Champions:  Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Carl Hubbell

Active Players: Jim Rice, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Eddie Murray, Rod Carew, Tony Perez, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven, Joe Morgan, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Paul Molitor, Gary Carter

ERRORS/VARIATIONS

The Trading Card Database does not show any variations or error cards.

MY TAKE

When you read the rather perfunctory history of Donruss available on Wikipedia, it notes that Donruss had problems with "overproduction and distribution" early on in its life as a card manufacturer, and that its merger into Leaf, Inc., helped benefit Donruss through using Leaf's established distribution network. Maybe so, but I can say that I don't think I ever saw these cards in the wild growing up as a kid. 

In fact, I don't know that I ever saw any of these cards until they started showing up either on eBay or in trades from people when I got back into collecting in 2014. I like these cards as a player collector, of course, because it's always nice to get "your guys" in a set -- and for me, four of my "guys" in Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie, and Cecil Cooper made it into this set. Indeed, this is a very strange set to me as Brewers fan and collector -- fully 10% of the set is comprised of Milwaukee Brewers when you add in Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton.

I am not a big fan of the photography in this set. While many people sing the praises of 1980s Donruss, the company consistently had problems with photographic quality. Photos are dark (like the Brett above) or the printing process threw in too much red, which tended to make black players appear purple and white players look like they were severely sunburned -- like Jeff Burroughs.

If you look on eBay to see your purchasing options for these cards, you will find a fair number are available and with prices all over the board. A complete set goes for $8.39 shipped. A few empty sales boxes are available as well; I should probably pick one up since Robin Yount is featured on it. The cheapest unopened box with 36 packs in it is for sale right now for $18.64. Or, if you're feeling sporty, you could grab this 7-box lot of four Action All-Stars boxes, a Champions box, and a 1987 All-Stars box for just $69.99 shipped. For the oversized card lover, that's almost a bargain.

4 comments:

  1. I really dig these posts. Excellent!

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  2. Wow, talk about prompt service!

    My brain has shriveled considerably in the 30+ years since this set was released, but I know I bought enough packs at the time to nearly complete the set. Whether I bought them in stores or at shows, I couldn't say anymore. I do remember them being a bit harder to find than Action All-Stars.

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  3. Tony L is a man of the people. Great post!

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  4. I have a few singles people have sent me over the years. Maybe I'll target an unopened box on eBay. I just wish they would have had a special puzzle for this set like the Action All-Stars had.

    ReplyDelete