The Year Donruss Was King

It’s pretty much universally accepted that 1998’s Donruss Crusade inserts are THE inserts of the 90s. Today, twenty years since its release, Crusade cards of stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. still bring in thousands of dollars on the secondary market. It should of course come as no surprise that ’98 Donruss was produced by their new owners, Pinnacle Brands. Like I’ve said for years, Pinnacle’s exit from the card industry is nothing short of God forsaking his only son. Yes, this is blasphemy and I take full responsibility for it.

Aside from the now legendary Crusade inserts, 1998 DonAcle (Donruss & Pinnacle) made some of the nicest-looking die-cut, overdose on foil parallels the hobby has ever seen. Keep in mind, Pinnacle’s Dufex technology was never going to compete with Topps’ Refractors and Donruss didn’t have a collector-favorite, well-known parallel either. From the looks of it, Pinnacle just threw a bunch of gimmicks together and what stuck absolutely worked, much like most of what Pinnacle was known for.

The card you see above you could be described as “Baseball Card Perfection” or an abomination, depending on the age of the collector. For me, this card came out when I was 18 years old and despite strong efforts from Upper Deck SPx brand and Topps Finest, there was no release that year that provided more bang for your buck than ’98 Donruss. Today, boxes don’t come cheap or appear often but if you lurk eBay long enough, you will see an unopened box appear. BUY IT. TRUST ME.

It’s sort of tragic that the brand that produced the iconic ‘Crusade’ insert never even had a chance for a curtain call. Unfortunately, due to Pinnacle Brands’ bankruptcy, we didn’t get another Donruss product until 2001. By then, the hobby’s attention was dead set on certified autographs and game-used relic cards thanks to some guy named Albert Pujols and a Bowman Chrome card. It is fair to say that Donruss lost its 1998 momentum and never truly recovered it.

Keep in mind, that in 1998, Donruss was dirt-cheap. I found packs for $2 dollars and even if you didn’t pull a ‘Crusade’, there was so much flash that it didn’t even matter. This is around the time of $15 “signature packs” and $6-$8 dollar high-end Upper Deck products. There’s no reason why 1998 Donruss should be beloved but thanks to Pinnacle Brands’ design geniuses, who spent their time focusing on the look of a card and not autographs and relics, Pinnacle helped produce the greatest one-hit wonder of the 90s.

Today, Donruss is a shell of its former self as it is owned by Panini America, the company that produced MLB stickers during the “Junk Wax” era. Unfortunately, thanks to Topps’ monopoly and the hype created by Shohei Ohtani and his “official” cards, not even the old employees of Pinnacle Brands could pull Panini/Donruss from their position as a second-rate baseball card manufacturer. Sure, their stuff is cheap and fun but at the end of the day, collectors want logos & Refractors.

The Baseball Card War is over and Topps has crushed not only Upper Deck but Panini America and Leaf Trading Cards. Still, you can’t take away that lone victory in 1998 when Donruss, headed by the immortal designers of Pinnacle Brands, produced the best baseball card product of 1998. That year, Upper Deck’s fancy holograms and Topps’ long tradition of dominance meant absolutely nothing next to Donruss’ upset victory, thanks to Crusade, die-cut cards, gold foil, and serial numbered parallels.

Even with an immenent hobby death looming around the corner, Pinnacle Brands was still able to pull one rabbit out of their hobby hat after another. One could only imagine what could have been had they stuck around just a little longer. Had Jerry Meyer not given up on baseball cards and collectors like me. We could have seen Pinnacle Brands reach the top of the trading card world and stay there for good.

Unfortunately, we will never know …

2 thoughts on “The Year Donruss Was King

Add yours

  1. I have three Cruses of Tino Martinez (all green). Can’t help but pick them up when I see them on eBay for a decent price.

  2. I loved the epic battle of the 90’s between the card companies. It inspired a lot of creativity which in return gave collectors a lot of quality options. You mention that Donruss is a shell of its former self. Personally… I think our hobby is a shell of its former self. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy and collect cards from new products, but this hobby isn’t anywhere near what it once was. Hopefully MLB will recognize this… and end the Topps monopoly.

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