1995 must have been a tough year for baseball card manufacturers. For starters, a baseball strike cut short a historic home run chase between Ken Griffey Jr. & Matt Williams and canceled the World Series. Fans were furious and attendance would suffer for years to come. I can’t imagine there was much anticipation for new releases that year and from the research I’ve done, it appears several companies produced much less product than usual due to what many believed would be a downturn for business.
One company, which was owned by Pinnacle Brands, would go on to release perhaps one of the most peculiar and flat-out strangest designs we’ve ever seen, with baseball cards that resembled debit/credit cards. In hindsight, Donruss Studio was way ahead of the times. In 1990, there were 300 million transactions made with debit cards, just 14 years after 1995 Studio, there were 39 billion transactions, which leads me to believe Studio likely deserves some credit for that growth.
As usual with Pinnacle Brands, collectors weren’t ready to think outside the box and the product tanked. It probably wasn’t the best idea to release cards of millionaire ball players on literal credit cards during a baseball strike that caused fans to turn on the players for they perceived as greed. For me personally, I loved 1995 Studio and it’s easily one of my favorite designs of the 90s. The set featured no certified autographs or serial numbered cards, which were still new-ish concepts in 1995 but it got collectors talking.
What I didn’t know was that in 2002, Donruss went back to the well to recreate their infamous 1995 design. Just as it failed in 1995, it repeated the performance in 2002. By then, Donruss was a company on its last legs. Pinnacle Brands had long filed for bankruptcy and Upper Deck had been the King of Baseball Cards for nearly a decade. What no one knew was that in just a few years, Topps Company would introduce the 1/1 Superfractor, which mixed with their Bowman lines, would make every other card manufacturer obsolete.
Also, what a contrast between the player on both images. In 1995, Griffey Jr. was destined to be the new Home Run King, easily on pace to surpass Hank Aaron’s immortal spot in baseball. By the time he appeared in 2002 Donruss Studio, Junior had become injury prone and had lost his smile. The shine was off the apple, the records were no longer in sight, and he had been surpassed in popularity by a new crop of superstars, not to mention a behemoth named Barry Bonds.
My only experience with Kenny was after a Marlins game in which several of Cincinatti’s squad signed and posed for pictures with the Florida Marlins fans but Griffey Jr. walked out in a business suit and a smug look on his face and ignored every kid who begged for his attention. Luckily, Austin Kearns and Bucky Dent, who was a coach at the time, spent nearly 20 minutes with the rival team’s fans signing away until they were practically dragged to their bus. I’ll never forget how miserable Ken Griffey Jr. looked.