As a young kid with a growing Jose Canseco collection in 1990, you didn’t have many options to choose from. There wasn’t 40 releases by Topps like you have in 2019. In fact, you pretty much had a choice between the flagship and Topps Big, an over sized horizontal style card which didn’t fit comfortably anywhere except in a shoe box. Donruss, Upper Deck, Fleer, Bowman, and Score all had their flagship as well and that was pretty much it. This meant the few cards each player was fortunate enough to have released got to marinate in the minds of collectors, for some, for a very long time. Needless to say, nearly 30 years later some of those cards and its accompanying designs grew to mythical and cult-like statuses with those kids who today are now facing middle age. Some of those cards became iconic, much like the 1989 Donruss MVP Jose Canseco.
This card doesn’t look like much today and younger collectors would probably be turned off by it’s green color and the loud font on the “MVP” text that any smart phone could replicate in 2 seconds but in 1989, this card was it, man. It shows a young and badass, not to mention true MVP on the front, looking hostile and ready to crush a ball 500 feet. Add the jersey colors blending in with the card design and one awesome, very-80s gold necklace with a cross and this card screams “Tony Montana of the 80s world of Major League Baseball”. I can’t describe how special and truly magnificent this junk-wax era Donruss baseball card is but any true Jose Canseco collector around my age (30s) most likely feels the same way I do.
At one point or another, Donruss died a painful death in our hobby. Much later, it was brought back to life by the corporate entity known as Panini America. Unfortunately, thanks to Topps’ monopoly stranglehold on the world of baseball cards, it meant that Panini’s resurrection of a beloved brand would come at the expense of MLB logos. For many, including myself, that was all I needed to hear. I didn’t need or want a bastardized version of my childhood brand featuring awful photos that could be retouched, making them look more like cards you’d pull out of a box of cereal as a kid. Donruss was a classy brand that teamed with Pinnacle in the late 90s to produce the single greatest insert the world has ever seen, 1998 Donruss Crusade.
Panini America is not Donruss.
…and then I saw the card featured below. At first, I was stunned. A remake of 1989 Donruss MVP but updated to include Chrome stock, a Refractor finish, and what appears to be an on-card autograph. Furthermore, for a moment in time I completely forgot that the design didn’t have MLB logos. This baseball card provided a time machine back to 1990 when I was just 10 years of age. Still innocent, still happy with my new-found hobby. Things were so different back then. I’ve come across many Panini cards that I passed on at card shows and many that I’ve bought online only because they were priced at next to nothing but this card right here, this gaudy, unlicensed piece of my youth with a touch of today’s technology is something I will run out to purchase immediately.
To be clear, nothing about this is new. The design comes from 1989, the insert, Donruss Signatures is from 1997. The photo used is from 1989–1990. Chrome baseball cards and Refractors made their debut in 1993. Pack inserted autographs way back in, you guessed it … 1990. The same year I pulled my ’89 Donruss MVP. Technically, Panini is not reinventing the wheel, just greasing the wheels of old men like myself that have one foot out of the door of the baseball card industry. We are now reevaluation our spending habits, our collections are gathering dust as we slowly prepare to say goodbye to a hobby we outgrew, or maybe it moved on without us. Everyone has a different story.
But for this particular card, Panini, you finally did right by the Donruss name.