There were a number of things that separated Donruss from Topps and Fleer (and later Score and Upper Deck). First, as Evan points out, they gave the full name of every player, so you could see that Roy Smalley really was Roy Smalley, Jr. (something you'd already know from the Topps father-son cards done periodically, but never while I was collecting cards). Topps did include full names in a few issues during the Fifties and Sixties, which was really great with players referred to by nicknames on the front of their cards, or had especially long real names, like it was with Cal McLish. I think his full name was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish (though he sometimes went by the nickname of ‘Buster’). Donruss would’ve had a field day with that one. Actually, they probably would’ve given him a larger All-Time Greatest Name card, similar to those special All-Star cards you got in weird grab bags sold at independent toy stores (the independent toy store of my childhood was Mr. Big on Moody Street in Waltham, Mass., where I remember making special trips with my Mom to buy packs of first and second series Garbage Pail Kids instead of basketball cards…I mean, getting Joe Blow in a pack was a big deal, and besides, nobody’s ever heard of Michael Jordan, right? So who would want his rookie card…jeez, hindsight’s a bitch sometimes).
Another thing that Donruss did that the other companies didn’t was that it listed how the player got on their current team (amateur draft, free agency or ill-advised trade), which I thought was actually the most fun thing about Donruss cards. I always loved sorting cards and coming across a player who got traded straight up for a future Hall of Famer, like Garry Templeton (though if I was the Padres GM at the time and someone told me I could get Templeton for Ozzie Smith, I might make that trade), or players involved in ridiculously complex trades that included a lot of nobodies and a superstar.
I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and I think I’ve come up with some kind of break down of what each card company stood for. Topps was as American as a wood-paneled basement; it transcended the hobby. If your Dad stopped at the corner store on his way home and thought of you and bought a pack, it was most definitely going to be a pack of Topps. It being Topps brand baseball cards meant more to him as a grown-up reflecting on the hobbies of his youth than it ever could to you as a kid. Some things never change: Coca-Cola, IBM, Ford and Topps. Donruss and Fleer, no matter what your argument may be, were and always have been also-rans (Fleer less so than Donruss). Fleer was Topps’ little brother, the one who’d always try to prove he was cool enough—ever since the early Sixties. Donruss was the kid obsessed with numbers and computers, the one who saw beauty in facts, figures and statistics. Fleer always seemed to have a subconsciously soft edge to it, all rounded edges and brightness (a lot of white through the years), whereas with Donruss, it always felt like the cards were prepared by a mad mathematician intent on keeping thorough utilitarian statistics and couldn’t really give a shit about photography or design (as long as it had a futuristic, computer graphics appeal).
1. Mark Davis Are you kidding? I just got this card in Pack 1. This is a bad thing, and I remember from my pack-buying days that if you got a double right away, there was a better than very good chance you’d get other doubles in the pack. You’d be getting cards from the same press sheet, and after a while, like by May or something, you could predict which cards you’d get in a pack just by viewing the first card. Judging by getting Davis as the first card, I’d say it would be safe to assume I’ll get at least one of the following players in this pack: Chris Speier, Bob Kipper, Charlie Puleo, Mitch Williams, Steve Rosenberg, Mark McLemore, Craig Biggio and Jose DeLeon. That really doesn’t bode well for the chances of this being a good pack.
2. Candy Maldonado Well, I’ll tell you this: I’m happy it’s not Speier. I’ll also tell you that I never understood the draw of Maldonado. Wait, scratch that last sentence. After consulting the back of his card, it has come to my attention that Candy is short for Candido, which makes him Candido Maldonado, which is totally fantastic. I'd really like to make a comparison to Voltaire's Candide right about now, but Maldonado's career wasn't exactly a series of pratfalls before excelling in the playoffs with the Blue Jays. Nor do I know anything about his mental make-up (that is, if he was especially optimistic in the face of hardship), but I will say this: If I was a grown man and my name was 'Candy', there would be about a 100% chance that I'd either be the star of a real-life Midnight Cowboy or I'd be Candy Maldonado.
3. Ron Darling I always thought Darling kind of looked like a man version of Phoebe Cates, which in and of itself is totally messed up.
4. Rafael Palmeiro Raffy was always a favorite of mine, both because he seemed like a pretty average guy and because he played for perennially awful teams. Like everyone else, it was kind of hard to take watching him defend himself into retirement about steroids. I just ended up feeling bad.
5. Luis Rivera This is a pre-Red Sox Rivera, though even then he sported those Bob Watson glasses. Have you noticed, when perusing a Beckett monthly, that cards of players fetch more when they’re on a good team. Like Johnny Damon, for example, or David Ortiz. Damon’s cards from when he was on the A’s aren’t worth as much as when he was on the Red Sox. Same with Ortiz and his Twins cards (not counting his Fleer rookie). I always thought that was weird. On a completely different but very similar point, you’d think that Cub cards from the Fifties would be worth more, because people were probably more apt to destroying those than of the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals or Red Sox. But they’re not; Yankee and Dodger cards from the Fifties and Sixties go for about 1.5x the value of other teams. So I would guess then that this Rivera is worth roughly three cents (about one half of the value of one of his cards from when he was on the Red Sox).
6. Steve Rosenberg Steve Rosenberg. That’s two. There will be more.
7. Mark McLemore Oh Donruss print runs, why do you taunt me so? Even 17 years later, you still get the better of me.
8. Craig Biggio I’m not really mad about this double, because it still counts towards the merits of the pack, which up until now were looking kind of iffy.
9. Jose DeLeon I hate you, Jose DeLeon.
10. Milt Thompson Here’s where things get tricky. It’s hard to say whether the seeding sequence of cards 6 through 9 ends with DeLeon, or if it continues with the rest of the pack. This could set a precedence for Packs 3 through 6, especially if they’re all from the same press run. On Thompson: I always felt kind of bad, that he was going to be on bad teams for his whole career (early Eighties Braves, late Eighties Phils), and he was a pretty good player.
11. Norm Charlton A really boring card of a pitcher I never understood. Is there such a thing as a player having a filler career? There were years when Charlton was good, right? But his career just kind of feels like it happened because it had to have happened to somebody. That last sentence sounds awfully mean, and I know that it takes a lot of perseverance to make it to the big leagues, but still…
12. Chris Brown Nothing like having your photo for the year be one of you checking your swing. What does that say about you as a player? That you’re conscientious? That you maybe didn’t read The Science of Hitting all the way through, but you skimmed part of it when Tony Gwynn was taking a nap?
13. Craig Lefferts I always thought it was risky being in the major leagues and being named Craig. Just ask Craig Nettles. Or was his name Graig Nettles? I honestly don’t know, as most of my knowledge of baseball comes from baseball cards. It’s like your fate is decided by a design student interning for the summer at a card company. You’re lucky if your card comes out without your photo being reversed (just ask Juan Gonzalez or Brian Downing) or of someone else (just ask Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds and Johnny Ray and Al Leiter), your stats are all right (I can think of at least two instances of stat typos) and they have your position listed correctly (just ask Ryne Sandberg). It’s amazing there weren’t more mistakes.
14. Bob Walk This guy wasn’t that bad. If only he was sporting a mustache in this picture, then he and Drabek could’ve gone out to bars and tried to get women to think they were twins.
15. Andre Dawson Holy crap, it’s Eriq LaSalle from Coming to America! The Hawk was one of my favorite favorites ever. I can’t believe he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet. When he gets in, does he go in as an Expo or a Cub? I think you could make a case either way. Personally, I’d like to see him go in as an Expo, if only to keep the Montreal Expos in baseball forever.
It’s a shame this pack was full of doubles from a previous pack, but like assessing a defendant’s guilt during trial, you really can’t take past problems into account. So, as a pack, it’s got a 27% success rate, with 4 good cards out of 15 (Palmeiro, Darling, Biggio and Dawson). Still no Red Sox players, not even Wes Gardner, which is surprising because I remember having about 100 of his card from this set.