Friday, July 1, 2016

The Most Overproduced Set Ever. Probably.

When you hear the word "overproduction", or its more derogatory cousin "junk wax", what do you think of?

Those words probably conjure up images of sets like 1991 Donruss, maybe 1990 Topps, or perhaps one of the earlier Upper Deck sets. It could be one of the color bombs like 1991 Fleer. 1987 Topps is a strong candidate, but it's just too iconic to be lumped in with some of the others. Maybe you know the sets from that era so well that the only one it doesn't make you think of is 1990 Leaf.

But for me, I think the best example is 1988 Donruss, also one of the worst-collated sets ever. Maybe one day I'll break down and buy the factory set, but I feel like I've been on a perpetual quest to complete it since I was a kid.

On the same day I drove that Ferrari, I stopped by the Colorado Mills mall afterwards. Inside a sports memorabilia shop filled with autographed bats, jerseys, and other things of that nature, I found a box partially filled with sealed packs priced at a buck apiece. I selected the five packs from 1988 Donruss, swiped my card, and instantly added to my collection.

As an aside, what's the proper slang equivalent for "swiping" a chip card? "Inserting?" Too technical. "Chipping?" Maybe. We'll probably still be "swiping" our chip cards in much the same way we "dial" an iPhone or "roll down" a power window. Or even "text" over iMessage, which isn't entirely correct.

Let's get to the cards.

1988 Donruss #309 Darren Daulton
If nothing else, opening up some overproduction packs gives you a look at some minor stars that haven't had cards in ages. Darren Daulton participated in the 1993 World Series, and had a pretty good season in 1992, earning a spot on the All-Star team and finishing sixth in MVP voting. "Dutch" was one of the Wild Bunch 1993 Phillies, coming up just a bit short that year, thanks to Joe Carter's walkoff home run in Game 6.

1988 Donruss #238 Bobby Bonilla
Bobby Bonilla, a six-time All-Star and near-MVP (second only to teammate Barry Bonds) ended up being a journeyman player later in his career, though he was a Marlin in 1997, winning his first and only World Series ring. But in recent years, he might be most famous for the financial deal he worked out with the Mets. As part of a deferred payment plan, the Mets will pay him about $1.2 million annually (every July 1st, in fact) until 2035, when Bonilla will be 72. The contract makes the Mets an annual laughingstock, but much has been written about how it's not as bad a deal as everyone makes it out to be.

And yes, Bernie Madoff indirectly had a hand in all that. Sort of isn't that surprising that the Mets re-signed Jose Reyes to a minor-league deal after the Rockies waived him.

1988 Donruss Bonus MVPs #BC-15 Kirby Puckett (SP)
Sadly, Kirby Puckett passed away about ten years ago. But he won two World Series, was elected to the All Star team every season besides his first two, and was a fan favorite in Minneapolis for quite a while. The MVP logo in the upper left signifies that this is an insert card, or what Donruss that year called "Bonus Cards". According to BaseballCardPedia, this card, from the second half of the Bonus Cards insert set, is very slightly harder to find than the first half. I'd have never thought a phrase like that would be said about 1988 Donruss, but apparently there are a handful of short prints out there.

Maybe those go for two cents instead of one.

Despite its alleged scarcity, this card is an example of the primary gripe I have with 1988 Donruss. It's dark. And yes, I do realize that Mr. Puckett is African American, but many of the photos in this set are quite underexposed.

1988 Donruss Bonus MVPs #BC-24 Will Clark (SP)
Camera flashes can only do so much. Depending on their power and a few other factors, they're pretty much useless beyond about thirty feet. And action shots in sports are not done with a flash. But photographing a guy under a helmet in direct sunlight just doesn't give you the best results. Another Bonus Card, this one of Will Clark, demonstrates this.

I didn't pull his card in these five packs, but one of the worst underexposures in the whole set can be found on Nelson Liriano's card #32. Flip through your stacks of '88; you'll see what I mean. And who doesn't have stacks of 1988 Donruss?

1988 Donruss #324 Rafael Palmeiro
Perhaps the most glaringly obvious thing about 1988 Donruss (and most 1988-ish sets) is that steroid use hadn't taken over the league. Maybe Jose Canseco, but that sort of goes without saying. Rafael Palmiero, one of the asteriskiest players with an asterisk, was a bit more on the Regular Human end of the athletic spectrum when this photo was taken, in sharp contrast to cards from later in his career.

1988 Donruss #1 Mark McGwire DK
Same goes for this Diamond Kings card of Mark McGwire. He looked a lot different during his home run chase of 1998, and not just because of the facial hair. But his rookie year was good enough to earn Card #1.

Dick Perez did what he could, but this still looks a touch dark to me. When it comes to Diamond Kings cards, the painting always looked creepy enough that I never really noticed the tiny action shot in the lower area. Even on a set like this you can still spot new things.

1988 Donruss #326 Barry Bonds
One can't bring up steroid use without mentioning Barry Bonds. For the longest time, he was my least favorite player in the league, but I did start warming up to him a little bit once his greatness became undeniable. And say what you will about his steroid use, he stood head and shoulders above the league when almost everyone else was using PEDs, too.

1988 Donruss #34 Roberto Alomar (RC)
1988 was almost 30 years ago. Players that are now in the Hall of Fame were once baby-faced rookies, or Rated Rookies if Donruss thought particularly highly of you. Alomar had no major league experience at this point, but went on to have a stellar career, even leading the league in sacrifice flies in 1999. Plus a slew of stolen bases, and even a couple hundred home runs.

Of course, the back of the card is sure to mention the rest of the Alomar family, father Sandy and brother Sandy, Jr.

1988 Donruss #657 Gregg Jefferies (RC)
Looking even younger is Gregg Jefferies, who had one of the hottest cards in the whole set. The 1988 price of this card could have paid for these packs twice over. It's slightly disappointing to know that it's worth pennies today, but there is something about having cards that were totally out of reach back then.

I still need to find a Griffey rookie, though. It's a glaring omission in my collection.

1988 Donruss #88 Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed is probably the least recognizable player thus far. It's been a lot of Hall of Famers, and a few more that should be in the Hall. But Expos cards are few and far between these days, plus Jeff Reed played behind the plate as a Rockie for several seasons in the late 1990s.

Still, pretty underexposed.

1988 Donruss #638 Bob Melvin
Mostly I've been featuring younger players, but in 1988 there were lots from the old guard still in the league. Melvin has spent the last decade or so as a manager for a few Western teams, including his current tenure as skipper of the A's. Melvin actually only had a few years' experience by 1988, but he had a relatively short career, and didn't play past 1994. He was one of numerous players whose career was ended by the strike.

1988 Donruss #401 Tommy John
Tommy John had been in the league since 1963, and was nearing the end of his career at the not-quite-Jamie-Moyer age of 45. He never won a World Series, as he always seemed to be on the wrong side of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But of course he is known for the surgical procedure he underwent on his elbow in 1975 that now bears his name, and lesser known for the dubious distinction of being the only player to commit three errors on one play. Still, he came pretty close to 300 wins, and was an All Star in three different decades.

1988 Donruss #305 Bob Boone
Tommy John's career predated the Designated Hitter by quite a bit. I'm sure he got plenty of plate appearances, but I doubt he was the type to wear batting gloves. Melvin and Bob Boone above also don't use any fancy batting gloves, and it didn't seem to hurt anything. In addition to lots of underexposed shots, there are plenty of "bats resting on shoulders" shots. He might be in the on deck circle, but that's one of the most casual postures I've ever seen on a card.

Like the Alomars, the Boones are a longtime baseball family, in fact one of only four to have three generations in the Big Leagues. Ray Boone played as postwar baseball cards were becoming what we know today, Bob you see here, and sons Bret and Aaron played until quite recently. Aaron, of course, won the 2003 ALCS for the Yankees with a dramatic extra innings walkoff home run.

1988 Donruss #249 Paul Molitor
Even the great Paul Molitor can't escape 1988 Donruss. But he's a batting glove guy, apparently.

1988 Donruss #641 Stan Musial Puzzle
Donruss' big selling point were all the puzzle pieces. Every year, they'd pick another baseball legend and create a 27-card puzzle. Technically it's 63 pieces but I've heard of no one that's ever split each card up into its constituent three pieces. At least, I never have. They make enough of a mess of tiny paper shreds just taking them out of the border.

So we'd know what the final product looked like, Donruss always included a card showing the completely assembled puzzle. I've completed a few of them, but I'm still a few short on Stan Musial's 1988 puzzle, even after these five packs. I've seen this card a few times, but didn't quite notice the old-style black and red Cardinals logo before yellow crept its way in.

I have a bit of sorting to do on this set. I just have too many to keep it in binder pages anymore, so I'll probably be moving it to a box soon. But don't be surprised if a few 1988 puzzle pieces make it onto my Eight Men Out list so I can complete this beauty of Stan the Man.

And all that for a mere five bucks. I even found a few commons.


  1. This reminds me I need to get to the cheapie dollar store on the other side of town and pick up some junk wax packs, especially '88 and '89 Donruss.

    Donruss had a problem with dark photos throughout the '80s. Also, I still stumble across 1989 Topps more than any other junk wax set.

  2. You're right about '88 Donruss being collated horribly. My mom got me 2 boxes of '88 Donruss years ago, and after busting them and putting them with the couple hundred '88 Donruss cards I already had, I am still short of the complete set. Not sure how many, but it could be anywhere from 50-100 cards short. I'll have to mark my checklists sometime and find out.

    As far as the most over-produced set, I've always thought '87 Topps was, but I think we'll never know the answer for sure.

    1. I found maybe 30 duplicates of what I already owned, often in a frustrating sequence of card numbers.

  3. If you wind up needing some Musial puzzle pieces I could probably help you out. Just let me know.

  4. And if you ever put together a wantlist for this set I should be able to fill most or all of it.

  5. Ahh... remember all the hype over Greg Jefferies? He came up a few weeks before the end of the season, and did so well he was seriously considered for Rookie of the Year.

    1. ROY votes in two straight years...that is impressive.

  6. Great job! This is the best post about 1988 Donruss I've ever read. I've owned a few of these sets and even unopened boxes in my lifetime... but dumped them years ago. Now I just own some A's, Padres, probably a Maddux, and maybe Glavine, Grace, and Caminiti rookie cards.

  7. So many great cards even in the junk wax sets!

  8. In terms of collation, I'll see your 1988 Donruss and raise you 1991 Upper Deck. Every other pack from a sealed box had a duplicate, think I wound up with about 10 Andujar Cedeno cards. Anyway, much like Fuji did, I've kept some of the better cards (Alomar, Glavine, etc.) and dumped the rest.

    1. A lot of them were pretty bad, frankly. I have a good eight or nine duplicates from some of the early Stadium Club sets.

  9. Great blog post and now that you've put it in my head, I couldn't agree more about the '88 Donruss. I bet I had more of them than '88 Topps. Like P-Town Tom, I have some of the Musial puzzle pieces. I'll take a picture of them tomorrow and send them to you to see if they are one's you need.