In 1981, Donruss joined Fleer as the second “new” entrant into the Baseball Card industry. After several decades of exclusivity, Topps would face competition from both Fleer and Donruss after losing a multi-year court battle. The timing of the 1980 court decision meant Donruss had a relatively short window of time to get a product onto the shelves. Ultimately, they readied a finished product in time for the 1981 season, albeit with about 30 errors/variations attributed to the rushed production schedule.
The cards shipping in 36 count boxes with 18 cards in each pack, and they retailed for .30 per pack. Topps and Fleer packs also retailed for .30, but only had 15 and 17 card per pack respectively.
Unlike Topps, Donruss used a white card stock which provide a clean look, but the stock wasn’t all that great. On the front of the card, a large player photo is surrounded by a variety of colored frames and a white border. The Donruss logo is paired with the ‘81 designation, and is found in the upper left corner. The player’s name, position, and team name are centered at the bottom of the card.
The three color card backs designate the “First Edition Collector Series” and featured a brief biographical section which was followed by some brief career highlights and the player’s stats from the 1980 season.
The photography in the set also gets a bad wrap, again, most likely due to to the accelerated timeline. Despite the reputation, there is still a nice mix of posed and action shots, and the player selection on the checklist is solid. The highlight of the set is probably card #538, the Tim Raines rookie. While the 1981 Topps set had Raines as part of the Expos Future Stars trio card, you had to pick up the Donruss version if you wanted to have him as the solo subject.
Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders gained popularity as multi-sport stars, Danny Ainge was a pioneer as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. His rookie card was found in the set. Ainge played for the Jays during parts of the 1979 - 1981 seasons, but then turned his focus to the NBA where he went on to play 14 seasons, winning two NBA championships.
The Tim Raines rookie is the most valuable card, and can be found on COMC or eBay for just a few dollars. Most of the other stars of the day such as George Brett, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, and Nolan Ryan can all be found for less than $1.
The complete 605 card set can be delivered to your house for around $30, and full wax box will set you back $50-$75.
This may not be the best set Donruss ever produced, but nevertheless it still played an important role in the transformation of the hobby.
The full checklist can be found HERE