Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Baseball Card Evolution in the 1990s - Donruss

Yesterday we saw how the Bowman design evolved through out the 1990's eventually reaching a design they would stick with, largely unchanged until 2011.

Today we'll look at Donruss. Donruss started on a trajectory similar to Bowman but petered out before the decade was over.

1990 Donruss #61 Bo Jackson
Donruss started in 1981 already one step up the evolutionary ladder from Topps by using white card stock.  But by 1990, Donruss was stuck in a rut, albeit a colorful one.  The design had hardly changed since 1985 when they first started using the colored, crazy borders. They'd also had the exact same back design, except for color. But the back design change in 1985 was only a little different from 1982. For some reason, Donruss dropped the team logo from the front which had been a feature since 1985.

1991 Donruss #78 Jim Abbott
No big design changes for 1991. The team logo is back on the front and the crazy borders are blue instead of red. The big change in 1991 Donruss wasn't in how it looked but in how it was sold. Donruss sold the 1991 cards in 2 separate series. The set had 770 cards, their biggest set yet with one half as Series 1 the other half as Series 2. Within a few years Fleer, Score, Topps and Upper Deck will follow Donruss' lead, although Bowman never did. For this first year of a 2 series set, they made the second series cards green. I think this is the only major set in which the Series 1 and Series 2 cards could so easily be differentiated.

1992 Donruss #39 Kirk Gibson
Just as 1992 Bowman did, Donruss made a big step forward in 1992. A normal white border on the front and a complete redesign for the back. A large color photo is placed prominently in the center. The other elements of the back are the same in past years, recent stats, career highlights, personal information, but arranged differently and more interestingly. They also made another organizational change. The Diamond Kings cards became an insert set, instead of being part of the base set.

1993 Donruss #86 Brett Butler
1993 represented a bit of a consolidation. No big changes. Similar to 1993 Bowman, the front is cleaner with the card logo, team logo (back again) and player name taking little space away from the photo. The back has a larger, more conventional photo, leaving no space for career highlights.

1994 Donruss #15 Robin Yount
As with 1993, Bowman and Donruss are on a similar progression. Both went to full bleed printing on the front with gold foil. But Donruss will take it one step further by going full bleed on the back as well. They also go to minimum stats, just the previous year, and a some personal information. Donruss isn't exactly a pioneer in full bleed printed backs (Stadium Club did this from the beginning). But it's a first for a so called non-premium set. Full bleed printed fronts will be the norm for Donruss while Bowman pulled back from that in 1995. This is also the first year that Donruss started adding color highlights (for example the block containing the player name), matched to the team colors.

1995 Donruss #118 Vince Coleman
1995 Donruss represents to me the height of Donruss design in the 1990s. Keeping the full bleed printing front and back like the 1994 set, but adding a small inset photo on the front and a larger range of stats on the back. I always liked the way Donruss did the stats this year and I think it's one of the best ever. The inset photo isn't original, Topps was doing it in the 1950s. But here, I like how the player is almost jumping out of the home plate shaped border.

1996 Donruss #20 Will Clark
1996 was a misstep in my opinion. They kept the full bleed printing on the front but that foil block on the front really distracts from the photo. It's fixed in position on every card and often it's just in the way. They also pulled back from the full bleed printing on the back. OK they went to more career stats, for the first time ever, but the team logo placement makes them hard to read. For players with less career, they also added back career highlights.

1997 Donruss #204 Steve Avery
Another negative change. The fading color blocks in the lower left corners don't do anything for me. Neither do the blocks of silver foil containing the team logo. The backs are largely unchanged from 1996. Donruss actually made a slight change in the front for Series 2, replacing the blocks with a silver sunburst. I generally think that foil should be limited to text or logos.

1997 Donruss Series 2 #330 Julio Franco
Maybe I like the sunburst a bit better. This was also the smallest Donruss set in years with only 450 cards. Donruss was in trouble.

1998 Donruss #23 Roger Clemens
Another poor design choice on the front. Those stripes on the bottom are horrible. The red and blue are bearable, but other team color combinations look worse. And again little change on the back.  I said above that Donruss was in trouble and indeed they were. Donruss went bankrupt this year. They will return in 2001 with one awful set after another in the 2000s.

To wrap up, Donruss changed positively from 1990 to 1995. They they regressed a little, stayed the same for several years and died.

1 comment:

Fuji said...

Great post. I've never seen all of the 90's Donruss base card designs in one place. Just realized that none of them do anything for me.