Friday, September 24, 2010

The Thomas Weiner Card Company?

1981 is considered by many to be the year when baseball cards went from being a hobby to an industry. The main reason for this is that Topps' monopoly had come to an end thanks to the lankmark court case filed by Fleer. The end result was that collectors were given three options to collect in Topps, Fleer and Donruss. Heading into the 1981 baseball season, I had been anticipating Fleer's entry into the baseball card market for a few years as the court case was covered regularly in Sports Collectors Digest. Thanks to the heavy lifting done by the Fleer, a new and relatively unknown trading card manufacturer entered the baseball card market as well.

Donruss started out as a confectionary company in 1954 and was originally known as The Thomas Weiner Company. Somewhere along the way, I'm guessing the owners Donald and Russell Weiner probably figured that their last name was probably causing more harm than good since the products they were selling was targeting towards children. As a result, they changed the company's name to Donruss which was the combined short versions of their own names. Note: Looking back, it's a good thing that it happened. I don't see collectors dropping $50 - $100 in the 1980's for a 1984 Thomas Weiner Don Mattingy Rookie Card.

Below are images of all of Steve Garvey's cards from Donruss' base sets released during 1981-1987.


1981 Donruss #56 (front)
Here's my review of Donruss' initial effort in 1981

  • Release comes off as rushed as almost the entire set was photographed in Chicago (Commiskey or Wrigley)
  • Over half the cards in the set have one kind of error in it or another (Donruss arguably went out of their way to correct the errors in order to generate revenue)
  • Card stock is poor
  • Printing quality is bad
  • The cutting of the cards is uneven
  • Collation inside a pack is horrible. Often times, the 18 card packs consisted of just two or three teams worth of players.

  • The design was attractive
  • The card backs were inivative and maximized space
  • Multiple cards of star players
  • Their gum tasted the best of the three manufacturers
I've always been curious on how Donruss' product development team produced their 1981 set. For a company that had been around since 1954 and had been producing popular non-sport trading cards (Kiss, Elvis, Monkees, Addams Family...etc) for twenty years, they really shouldn't have had as many mistakes with their initial set as they did. Was it a case where they got their baseball card license at the last minute?

1981 Donruss #56 (back)

The career highlights layout is now used by on their player bios. For what it's worth, Donruss had a corrected (surpassed 21 HR) and error version (surpassed 25 HR) of the 1980 career highlight.

1981 Donruss #176 (front)

This is the second of two Steve Garvey cards in the 1981 Donruss set. It was actually taken in 1980 and at Dodger Stadium since Steve is wearing his home uniform and has the 1980 All-Star Game patch on the left shoulder of his jersey.
1981 Donruss #176 (back)

The back of the second Garvey card in the set is more of a highlight card. Unfortunately, multiple cards of the same player within a set wasn't received as well as Donruss liked and they nixed the idea. In it's place, they created the popular Diamond Kings subset.
1982 Donruss Diamond Kings #3 (front)

Steve was the third card in the inaugural Diamond Kings subset behind two of the most self absorbed players in baseball not named Reggie Jackson in Pete Rose and Gary Carter.

Diamond Kings were originally watercolor paintings created by Dick Perez.

1982 Donruss Diamond Kings #3 (back)

Donruss corrected the card stock issues from the year prior and produced a thicker card in 1982. 
1982 Donruss #84 (front)

The 1982 design was pretty forgetful (though that could be true for all three card companies). This appears to be a shot from Spring Training. I can't tell but I think that's a 1980 All-Star Game patch on his jersey.

1982 Donruss #84 (back)

Donruss revamped their backs in 1982 to include more statistics and condensed the highlights. This design must have been a hit in their corporate office as they chose to do very little updates to their card backs for close to a decade. Not to miss out on an idea, Fleer would do the same thing starting in 1983.
1983 Donruss #488 (front)

1983 Donruss in my opinion is an underrated set. While it looks a lot like their 1982 set, Donruss did a lot to clean up their set quality-wise by improving the quality of their photography as well as creating a second subset that would take the hobby by storm in 1984 in their Rated Rookies. Note: If you're not aware, Greg Brock and Al Chambers were Rated Rookies in 1983 and Donruss noted so on the back of their cards.

1983 Donruss #488 (back)

For much of his time with the Dodgers, Steve lived in Calabasas. It's a suburb in the southwest San Fernando Valley that's part of Los Angeles. Calabasas gets a lot of airplay today because the Kardashians live and film their TV show there (unfortunately, part of being married is watching shows like these which means that I guess I'm not going to be able to sue for $75K like some people). 

I didn't notice until this post that his contract status says, "Became a free agent after the 1982 season". I still remember the Dodgers excuse (in particular Al Campanis' excuse) for letting Steve go as a free agent. It was "It's better to let a player go one year to soon than one year too late". If I remember correctly, Steve actually was willing to take a hometown discount to re-sign with the Dodgers but Peter O'Malley/Al Campanis weren't really interested since future Hall of Famer (sic) Greg Brock had just hit 50 Homers in AAA Albuquerque in 1982 and was set to take over at first base.

Without going on too much of a tangent, I'm as much a fan of what the O'Malley's (especially Walter) did for the Dodgers as anyone. With that said, Peter O'Malley unfortunately had one major character flaw that resulted in my two all-time favorite players leaving the Dodgers when in both cases they didn't have to go.

That flaw was the inability to adapt to changes as the changes were happening. In the first case, the change was Free Agency. Instead of accepting it, he initially tried to low ball the system. It wasn't until he brought in an outside influence in Fred Claire that he was able to figure Free Agency out. In the second case, the change was cable television and the player was Mike Piazza. While sports was growing into a 24/7 industry, Peter O'Malley feel asleep at the wheel while Jerry Buss of the Lakers was starting a sports cable channel in Prime Ticket. The extra money and exposure from Prime Ticket helped the Lakers take over the Los Angeles market and dominate NBA in the 1980's (and arguably since then).

The Dodgers on the other hand were missing out on this opportunity and soon would be taken over by a corporate entity that would establish a local sports cable channel (see page 216) but result in Mike Piazza getting traded in order for it to happen.

That's enough reminiscing for one day.


1984 Donruss #63 (front)

1984 saw Donruss issue their landmark set that's arguably the most popular release of the entire decade (sorry 1989 Upper Deck, 1984 Fleer Update and 1983 Topps). For Steve, it meant a chance to model his self-proclaimed "Taco Bell' uniform.

1984 Donruss #63 (back)

Donruss started another ritual with their card backs in 1984 that continued on for the rest of the decade in numbering the major stars card backs right after the first two subsets (Diamond Kings and Rated Rookies). This was an attempt to replicate Topps' success of issuing cards ending in 5, 0, 50 and 00 for stars and superstars.

1985 Donruss # 307 (front)

Donruss recesistated black borders in 1985 and ended up doing a rather fine job of it. Two years later, they'd try it again but not be as successful. Fortunately for Steve, this is his last Donruss card in the Taco Bell uniforms.

1985 Donruss #307* (back)

* I guess you could say I pulled a Donruss (circa 1981). In my rush to scan the cards for this post, I ended up scanning the 1985 Leaf version instead (as evidenced by the French writing on the back of the card).

1986 Donruss #63 (front)

Judging by the look on Steve's face, reality has probably set in the he's a Padre. At least he can take comfort in the fact that the Padres changed their uniforms.

1986 Donruss #63 (back)
During his playing days as a Padre, Steve lived in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya). It's known as the Beverly Hills of San Diego and has some of the richest real estate in the country.

1987 Donruss #114 (front)
Steve's shown here wearing the Padres' jersey he made famous during Pete Rose's 4192nd hit on 09/11/1985. It's interesting to see that some of his cards show him wearing one batting glove and others show him wearing two.

1987 Donruss #81* (back)
* I dropped the ball again and scanned the 1987 Leaf version.

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