Don’t be confused by its drab, almost amateur appearance. Simplicity, quirkiness, and historic value make 1981 Donruss Baseball one of the most significant and fascinating sports card sets ever produced.
The 1981 Donruss Baseball Card set was the first complete set since the early 1950s not to bear the name Topps. For the first time since 1955, more than one company was producing extensive sets representing major league players. A legal decision in the fall of 1980 gave both Fleer and Donruss the legal right to produce cards. The verdict cleared the path for Upper Deck to enter the fray and revolutionize the hobby with its premiere baseball card set in 1989.
Fleer and Donruss finalized their deals with the Major League Baseball Players Association in September 1980, leaving just five months to produce and deliver cards to stores by the last week of January 1981 to compete directly with Topps. Gathering
photos, matching players with photos, writing informational blurbs, and proofreading statistics, proved to be a daunting task for companies producing baseball cards on a grand scale for the first time.
There were more than 30 error cards in the 1981 Donruss Set. Houston Astros pitcher Vern Ruhle’s card actually pictures teammate Frank Lacorte. Cleveland Indians infielder Duane Kuiper was listed as “Dwayne” Kuiper. In a strange but true tale, Donruss listed Cardinals’ outfielder Bobby Bonds – father of current “Home Run King” Barry Bonds – with 986 homers, 231 more than Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader at the time.
There has been interest in both the error and corrected versions for nearly three decades because both versions are more limited than the other cards in the set. The 1981 Donruss series has also kept the growing number of baseball historians and “oddball” card collectors entertained over the years.
Tim Raines’ induction into the Hall of Fame has given the 1981 Donruss Set a recent spark. Although Donruss somehow skipped over National League Rookie of the Year Fernando Valenzuela that year, it was the only company to picture Raines by himself on a rookie baseball card. Topps featured Raines with two other rookies on a prospect subset card, while Fleer swung and missed altogether. The series also includes rookie cards of Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, and Toronto Blue Jays infielder Danny Ainge before he became a three-time championship winning guard and executive with the Boston Celtics.
Rushing into the production of the 605-card 1981 Donruss Set also caused collation and printing issues. Factory sets were not produced. Instead, hobby dealers had to buy wholesale from TCMA, Donruss’ exclusive hobby distributor. Cards of each player were shipped to dealers in 100-card lots secured by rubber bands. The cards then needed to be hand collated. The collation of wax packs caused further problems for collectors. Several of the same card were often found in a single wax pack, which was great news if the card featured Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski or Johnny Bench. Not such good news if the Leo Sutherland card was the featured player.
The cards bend easily and show tremendous wear over time due to flimsy paper stock. The lackluster design consists of predominantly blurry portrait or posed photos against mostly empty stadium backdrops. Time constraints prevented Donruss from airbrushing uniforms or caps. Players changing teams during the offseason appeared in their former uniforms with the name of their current team displayed across the bottom of the card.
Donruss also had considerable trouble securing player photographs. Ray Burris was traded by the Cubs to the Yankees who later sold him to the Mets during the 1979 season. Although he hadn’t played for the Cubs in nearly two years, Burris sports a Cubs uniform on his 1981 Donruss card. Many of the pictures were taken in Wrigley Stadium or Comiskey Park by amateur photographers as Donruss scrambled to put together a set. A handful of photos were taken by political and sports commentator Keith Olbermann, then a 21-year-old photographer with a passion for baseball.
Although limited in value, the 1981 Donruss Set has its own charm with an array of hard-to-believe mishaps and a unique history.
During his 14 years with the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz became the face of the franchise, leading the team to three World Series championships while becoming just the 27th member of baseball’s exclusive 500 home run club. As one of baseball’s top sluggers, Ortiz became quite popular with baseball card and memorabilia collectors as well. A wide-range of Ortiz variation, rookie, game-used-memorabilia, and autographed baseball cards remain popular even with Ortiz six months into retirement.
Some of the most memorable and coveted baseball cards are the ones that capture a unique moment in baseball or a city’s history. The rare variation of Ortiz’s 2013 second series Topps card captures one of the more emotional moments in Boston sports history. A defiant Ortiz took the field just five days after the tragic Boston Marathon bombing, making an impassioned, heartfelt speech declaring the city’s resolve.
Known in collectible circles as the “Boston Strong” card, Ortiz is pictured with a microphone in one hand and a clenched fist raised to the heavens with the other. In the background is a giant American flag draped over Fenway’s left field wall, creating a uniquely patriotic scene. Upon release, the short-printed “Boston Strong” card sold in the $50-$75 range. Following the Red Sox third World Series title in 10 years in October of the 2013 season, the card was selling in excess of $150. During the height of the Big Papi Farewell Tour last summer , the card sold for as much as $199. Today the card value has settled in the $35-$65 range.
Ortiz played a huge role in the Red Sox six-game 2013 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .688 with two homers and six RBI en route to being named World Series MVP. The popular Topps World Champion autograph insert set features top postseason sluggers. The 2014 edition captures Ortiz’s famed home run stroke along with his certified signature. Limited to a production run of 50, the Ortiz World Series autographed card sells for $59.
When Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003, there was considerable confusion surrounding his rookie baseball cards. Prior to signing with the Red Sox, Ortiz played several seasons in the Seattle and Minnesota systems. Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in 1994 just days after his 17th birthday, Ortiz, who gradually established himself as a power-hitting prospect, was traded to the Twins as the player to be named later for Dave Hollins prior to the 1997 season.
After joining the Twins system, Ortiz decided to change his baseball name. His legal name had always been David Americo Ortiz Arias. While playing with the Mariners, he went by his maternal family name (Arias) rather than his paternal family name (Ortiz). As a result, his earliest baseball cards are listed as David Arias. With the Twins, he requested to be called Ortiz, which has stuck ever since.
Ortiz joined the Red Sox as a platoon player in 2003, so many collectors didn’t connect the dots between David Arias and David Ortiz, meaning the Arias rookie cards were readily available for under $1 during the first half of the season. With more playing time came more home runs and a knack for late-inning heroics. By season’s end Ortiz slugged 30 homers in just 128 games, boasting the David Arias cards to $10-$15.
One of only two Ortiz rookie cards, the 1997 Fleer “David Arias” card could be found in 1997 Fleer Series 2 packs. The base version of the card, sporting a throwback matte finish during an era of high-gloss cards, currently sells for $30. The far more limited “Tiffany” parallel version — one of the more valuable Oriz cards in the market — features a high-gloss look and feel while selling for $400 .
The other Ortiz (Arias) rookie is from the 1997 Fleer Ultra series, a slightly more upscale version of the Fleer set, sells for $35. The full-bleed, glossy look was a popular alternative to the high-priced Tiffany parallel set. Gold Medallion parallel versions display a different picture and gold-foil lettering. Limited to just 200 copies, the popular parallel version sells for $49.
The Topps Bowman brand, known as the “Home of the Rookie Card”, somehow bypassed Ortiz in its 1997 set. Sometimes wrongly advertised as a rookie, the 1998 Bowman Ortiz is readily available for under $4. Far more limited chrome and International refractor parallel versions sell for $18 and $15 respectively.
For oddball baseball card collectors, there is a handful of Ortiz pre-rookie cards that have become quite popular in the slugger’s final season. The Ortiz (Arias) 1996 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Midwest League All-Star card,is an overlooked gem selling for $48. His 1998 New Britain Red Cats Best minor league card is selling for $15. Both cards feature a relatively elementary design with simple white borders — a far cry from the the glitzy, full-bleed photos popular with major league sets in the late ‘90s. The more mainstream Upper Deck 1998 SP minor league Ortiz card — featuring a portrait of a svelte, smiling Ortiz inside a silver foil border — sells for $5.
Ortiz made his Topps debut in the 1998 edition where he was featured in a prospect card with future All-Star slugger Richie Sexson. Ortiz made his first appearance in a Red Sox jersey in the more obscure 2003 Fleer Update Series and the 2003 Upper Deck 40-Man set. All three cards can be had for $3.
The hobby’s most sought after and costly cards are serial numbered autographs of baseball’s top players. Ortiz autographs have been extremely active in the secondary market since the start of the season. His 1997 Donruss Signature Series Autograph is his first card to carry the name “David Ortiz” instead of “David Arias”. The base version (red background) has 3,900 copies and is selling for $122, while the Millennium parallel Version (green background) is limited to 1,000 copies and is selling for $225. Perhaps the most valuable Ortiz autographed card is the Signature Series Century Autograph (blue background) is numbered to just 100 and is selling for $600.
A common gripe among autograph collectors is Ortiz’s failure to sign within the designated area of the Donruss Signature Series. Most signatures in all three versions appear towards the side of the card rather than the bottom. Ortiz’s signing gaffe may have held down the card values before he established himself as one of the game’s top sluggers. There is no such issue today. The 2005 SkyBox Autographics signature card is available for under $60, providing a nice alternative to the high priced Signature Series autographs.
As the Red Sox prepare to retire Ortiz’s number, expect his baseball cards to sell at elevated prices. No. 34 placed among Red Sox immortals along Fenway Parks right field roof facade means increased attention for their charismatic slugger, which means inflated values for his cards. You can anticipate card values to decline and level off later this summer. The next boost for Ortiz cards will come in five years when one of the Red Sox all-time sluggers is Hall of Fame eligible.
The Hall of Fame electorate and many old school baseball fans have shunned the DH position since its inception in 1973. Edgar Martinez, one of the best pure hitters of his time, has yet to receive more than 36.5 percent of the HOF vote in six tries. Quality hitters such as Don Baylor and Harold Baines have barely registered a blip on the HOF ballot.
However, the anti-DH faction has been weakening in recent years. Enshrined in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly half of the games he started. Last year, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.
Ortiz is looking to become the first full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor. He has established the standard for designated hitters, collecting more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH. His endless late-inning production — including 11 walk-off homers — have made Ortiz one of baseball’s most feared hitters throughout his Red Sox career.
Ortiz’s Mantle-esque playoff production (a slash line of .295/.409/.553 with 17 homers and 60 RBI) have made him one of the game’s most recognized players. His postseason success and affable persona has made Big Papi the ultimate fan favorite among Red Sox fans, which reflected by his many memorabilia cards. His 2013 Topps Tier One Game Used Jersey and 2014 Panini Classics Game Used bat cards, each selling for $15, are great additions to any Red Sox baseball card collections.
Curt Schilling is a blowhard. He talks and talks and talks and I’m not sure he always knows what he’s talking about, but he keeps talking. I will never understand why he thinks people care about his views on politics, gender issues or anything else, but he keeps talking.
What I do understand is Curt Schilling was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His social media rants have grown tiresome, but should not block his path to Cooperstown. He was never suspended, never linked to drugs, gambling, or anything else harmful to the game. Not being able to control himself on Facebook should not keep him out of the Hall.
Naysayers claim Schilling’s 216 career wins don’t pass muster. But wins are not the sole measure of a pitcher’s value. Schilling proved to be dominant in most essential categories, ranking 15th all-time in strikeouts. More important in today’s advanced metrics, Schilling ranked third in strikeout-to-walk ratio all-time and 26th in career pitching WAR, tied with first ballot HOFers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. By not giving away bases or allowing hitters to make consistent contact, Schilling put his teams in position to win as much or more than baseball’s all-time greats.
Doubters are also quick to point out the Cy Young Award missing from the mantle in the Schilling household. Schilling spent his best years in the shadows of teammates Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, but he was one of the best and arguably most dominating pitchers of his era, striking out three hundred batters in consecutive seasons (1997 and 1998 with the Phillies).
Schilling was also one of the best money pitchers in baseball history, leading three teams to World Series titles and winning some of the most memorable games in postseason history. He finished with a 2.23 postseason ERA en route to an 11-2 record when the games counted most. Schilling’s playoff heroics started in 1993, when he earned MVP honors in the National League Championship series by throwing a 147-pitch shutout, forcing a Game 6 in Toronto (when Joe Carter hit his memorable World Series walk-off homer).
Schilling was overpowering in the 2001 World Series, giving up just two runs in seven innings before Randy Johnson sealed the deal in the final two innings to end Yankees mini dynasty. Three years later, he held off the Yankees — bloody sock and all — in Game 6 of the American League Championship, leading the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. He closed out his career with another ring with the Red Sox in 2007.
It’s unfortunate that Schilling’s political and social rants cost him his job with ESPN. He was thoughtful and insightful as a color commentator on the network’s Sunday night showcase. I’ve heard more than enough of Schilling’s political views and will never vote for him for political office (he has threatened to run for senate), but he gets my Hall of Fame vote.
Schilling’s Topps 2005 World Series Game Worn Jersey card is a favorite among Red Sox fans.You can fine Schilling sporting his Baltimore Orioles uniform in his 1989 Donruss Rookie — a drab looking set with black and purple borders.