Gut Reaction: 2014 Donruss Announced

Posted: November 26, 2013 by Crackin' Wax in Donruss, Panini
Tags: , ,

Let me just start out by stating that this post was meant to hit the internet hours ago. Thanks to an outage in my area, I was unable to upload anything and was barely able to download much information. That means that I was able to tweet intermittently, and that’s about it. It was through Twitter earlier in the day that I, along with most of the rest of the trading card collecting universe (or those sitting in Canada and/or The U.S.) learned that Panini was re-reintroducing the Donruss baseball brand.

Re-reintroducing, you say? Donruss’ first run in the realm of baseball cards occurred from 1981-1998 under the Pinnacle Brands umbrella. That parent company filed for bankruptcy, thus ceasing production of Donruss baseball for a short time. In 2001, Playoff Corporation acquired rights to produce baseball cards and did so under the Donruss Playoff moniker. In 2009, Panini acquired Donruss Playoff and produced limited baseball products, such as Donruss Elite Extra Edition. However, since Panini had an MLBPA license but not an MLB license, they were and continue to be allowed only to use player likenesses and names. That means they were and remain unable to use anything owned by Major League Baseball–this includes team names and team logos.

Now, in 2014, Panini is bringing back the Donruss flagship brand for a third round–still without an MLB license.


Above is an example of the base design of the 2014 revival of the Donruss product. Given the usage of the early 80s logo as well as a call-back to early 80s Donruss designs, this is clearly a retro homage set. Instead of revitalizing the brand, Panini has decided to go the Allen & Ginter route. One could argue that they are going more the way of Archives, but that set pays tribute to multiple designs from the vintage and junk wax eras. On the other hand, sets like Allen & Ginter or Gypsy Queen are entirely based on those respective past designs. They draw from and are inspired by their original classic counterparts, much like Panini is attempting to do with this new iteration of Donruss.

dk studio elite hall

Making an appearance in this retro revival set are memorable subsets and inserts such as Diamond Kings, Studio, Elite and Rated Rookies. Panini is certainly paying special attention to hit some of the better highlights of Donruss’ junk wax era.

Of course, no modern release of a throwback product would be complete without its share of hits.

au gu powerplus_au

Each hobby box will include 24 packs with 8 cards per pack. You’ll be able to find 2 autographs and 1 memorabilia card as well as 16 inserts, 4 Diamond Kings, 4 Rated Rookies and 1 5″ x 7″ Diamond Kings box topper per hobby box. No price point was available upon this posting, however I would imagine that, based on similar products by Topps, this could easily be in the $70-$90 per hobby box range.

Since I was without internet for a few hours, I was able to let the idea of this settle in for a while and churn around my irritated and annoyed brain. Perhaps it’s not fair to the product that I was not and am still not in the most positive frame of mind while considering the new set, but sometimes a person is much more truthful and honest when they are a bit pissy.

Before I get too far into my opinions, I just want to let it be known that I am really rooting for Panini and its endeavors in the production of baseball trading cards. I am of the “it’s good for competition” camp to keep both themselves and Topps at their very best. I am hoping beyond hope that Panini is able to secure an MLB license very soon, as well. That lack of a license, however, plays a bit of a role of my gut reaction.

Firstly, while I am rooting for Panini to do well, I have not been a fan of any of their baseball products to date. I partly blame the aforementioned lack of an MLB license. Without that license, the designers at Panini America are very limited in what they are able to do. Without the ability to use photographs of ball players in their uniforms as is, they are forced to crop caps, erase logos and, in many cases, hope for an awkward logo-obstructing action pose. Also, as much as I have tried my best to look past this issue, I have never cared for professional baseball trading cards that did not use professional baseball logos. Something about them just seems amateur and cheap–even though the rest of the card may not be.

Secondly, while I believe I fully understand the retro throwback homage-paying theme to the set, the base design they came up with looks as if it were designed by an amateur custom card designer–one with very little practice. That may be a limitation of the look of that era, but it may also have to do with the planning and execution. Since this design isn’t being straight up copied a la Archives but rather drawn from Donruss’ look of the 80s, it has its own unique design layout that looks familiar a la Allen & Ginter’s. The difference between 2014 Donruss and recent releases of Allen & Ginter is that Topps has a nice design from which to draw inspiration whereas Panini does not. They instead have junk wax styles from some of the ugliest sets of that era. What I believe would have worked better would have been an updated, more modern version of the design they settled on–hell, they could even keep the retro logo (although scaled smaller). Pay homage by designing an 80s style card with 21st century sensibilities and call back to that era by throwing in some fun junk wax design short prints and inserts.

Thirdly, I am inclined to agree with some of my fellow bloggers that plain white blocks do not a good autograph area make… in most cases, that is. I don’t so much mind it on cards designed like the Strasburg “Donruss Signatures” card shown above but have a hard time stomaching that big bad glaring white block on the already ugly Mike Trout “Power Plus” card. The white block works on the Strasburg because it looks as if it belongs there. It ties in perfectly with the rest of the design. On the Trout card, it looks like an accident. Actually, that whole card just looks like one big mistake.

Additionally, the Diamond Kings insert set, based only on the Harper example, does not fit with the set they’re trying to present. When I think Diamond Kings, I think of portraits of players painted by sports artists. Harper’s photo looks slightly photoshopped to bring out some extra contrast. To me, that hardly looks like an oil-on-canvas painting. If you’re going to properly pay homage, do it right. Don’t cut corners. Don’t rush things. Trust me, a little detail like this could go a long way to help repopularize this product.

I am actually pretty excited to see how this set fares. My guess is that it will do fairly well this year, but, without vast improvements and an MLB license, sales of subsequent releases will diminish year after year. Retro themed sets aren’t always the easiest to design and sell. By the very nature of the hobby, if anyone wants old school and/or vintage style cards, they’ll just go out and get old school and/or vintage style cards–period. Products like Heritage and Archives work because they’re modern day copies of past styles. Trying to invent a retro style is hard to do, especially when that retro look you’re going for is inherently gross to the eyes. Without the benefit of an MLB license, it’s going to be hard for me and many other collectors to view this set as a serious option. Sure, it might be fun to bust open a packs or two, but I just don’t see the collectibility. A modern twist on the throwback style, more care and attention to the execution of beloved inserts, making the logo less of a focus on the design, fixing the white autograph box where one does not fit the design (a nice fade will do the trick) and using actual old school designs as short prints and inserts may just give this set a big boost if Panini decides to make another retro run with Donruss in 2015.

Agree? Disagree? I want to know! Tell me your thoughts on Donruss 2014. Share with me what you agree and disagree with. Heck, you can even literally tell me what’s in your guts. Seriously. I wanna know what you had for dinner!

The deadline to sign up for the 2nd Annual Crackin’ Wax trading card holiday gift exchange is this coming Saturday November 30th! Names will be drawn the following day. No spending minimum OR limit! There are already some big names involved–including Ultra-Pro. Go sign up now! Also, information for the 2014 Allen & Ginter’s charity case break has been updated. Spots are currently being filled for all listed case breaks. For more information and to secure your spots, please see the Crackin’ Wax Case Breaks page!

  1. Matt says:

    I am very excited about this product. I have just recently gotten into the Hobby, and I find it sad that Topps has such a monopoly. I will most certainly buy several packs, maybe even a box, to check it out. I have to see more base cards to see how this set comes together.

    • topher says:

      You can’t necessarily blame Topps for its monopoly. At this point, the MLB is entrusting only Topps with its license. If other companies (who I’ll leave nameless–they know who they are) did a better job of complying with MLB licensing, there’s a good chance Topps wouldn’t be the only trading card company currently able to use team logos and names. That could all change very soon, though.

  2. Very meh about this. Donruss always was one of the lowest level products out there. And knowing Panini the retail packs will be priced at $4 a pop which is about $2 too much. Maybe even $3 too much. I agree that their biggest issue is the lack of having the full license. And that isn’t something they can immediately remedy. But they have yet to wow me on card designs either while ignoring the missing logos. So almost certainly won’t be buying any of this. There’s too much other stuff for me to catch up on from the decade I missed anyways.

    PS: I had turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and mac & cheese for dinner. =)

    • topher says:

      Ahh, a little early Thanksgiving dinner, eh? Nice! As far as what Panini charges, they’re a business. They’ll charge whatever the consumer is willing to pay. That means if they’re going to charge too much for Donruss, we only have ourselves to blame for putting out the type of demand that necessitates higher prices.

  3. cardsoncards says:

    I’m hoping these are just mock-ups and not actual prototypes, because these cards seriously look like they were designed in MS Paint. That being said, I just can’t get excited about unlicensed stuff no matter what the design. It’s really surprised me how some people have actually embraced stuff like Prizm. As a team collector, I’ll take the cards if someone wants to send them to me, but I’m never in the market for them.

    • topher says:

      It’s just a personal preference for me, but I just have a hard time accepting commercially produced trading cards of MLB players without the use of MLB logos. They just come across as something that you’d get out of a box of cereal. That’s just my perception, anyway.

  4. Kent R. says:

    I think that MLB licensing will be essential to insure the legitimacy of Panini products in the upcoming future. I do like some of their product but I hope they don’t keep running out set after set like Donruss and Fleer did in the early and mid 2000s. That being said, I will still continue to collect my Brewers no matter if they have MLB licensing or not.

    • topher says:

      If I were a team collector like yourself, I would likely feel the same as you. However, I have very strict parameters for my PC. I only collect Twins Prospect/Rookie/First Card autos and they HAVE to be shown in a Twins uniform–even if they’re airbrushed into the uni. That’s just my personal preference, though.

  5. I like the idea behind the set but the execution is about as poor as one could expect. The designs look like they’re meant to be ironically bad. It’s strange that the ugliest designs were slotted for the ‘hits.’ And the base card looks like 1978 Topps with Donruss’ baseball tube added. That’s pretty egregious if you ask me.

    I’ve actually been pleased with Panini’s baseball offerings this year and felt like the designs made the lack of logos less noticeable, so these images are kind of a bummer.

    • kirkmack says:

      I thought the same thing RE: the 1978 Topps design. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw it. Like they took the template for their 1987 cards for the frame, turned it white, then added the 1978 design (or a very near facsimile), and quit.

      I’m also with you, Topher- I’ve always found non-licensed cards with logos and such airbrushed out to be very cheap and just a signal as to something you shouldn’t waste your money on.

      Also, mentioning Archives got me thinking about how Topps has used Heritage and Archives, and I thought how amazing such a thing would be with the early Fleer and Donruss brands, especially if they incorporated the many MANY errors made into short prints. You’d practically have a short print error variation for every single card…

    • topher says:

      Ironically bad is certainly one thing, but that’s no way to sell a set… unless they come right out front and say “Hey! Check it out! We’re making fun of 80s Donruss!” Even in that instance, I can’t imagine the set being all too popular.

      • cardsoncards says:

        I did really like what they did with the 2010-11 Donruss NBA set. It’s one of my favorites, and I don’t really collect NBA aside from asking people to send me their unwanted Trail Blazers cards.

        • topher says:

          I’m so far out of the loop on NBA cards. I’m assuming they were at least able to use logos?

          • cardsoncards says:

            Yeah, totally licensed. Panini got their NBA license in ’09-’10 and then became exclusive the following season I believe. That particular Donruss set that I like featured a modernized tribute to 1984 Donruss baseball, with some interesting color filters on their photos (darker, I guess?) and thicker cardstock than Panini usually uses.

  6. Jeff says:

    My first impression was like others – its a mashup of 1978 Topps and 1987 Donruss. Outside of the missing license, the biggest problem is it looks like they spent too much room on the border/design and logo, and not enough on the picture. Squeeze the design down, expand the picture and it will look better.

    But again, MLB needs to give out a 2nd (and maybe a 3rd) license and then limit what each of the companies can produce. Topps’ monopoly is bad for the hobby.

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