Portraits of the Dead Ball Era: Memo From Human Resources, Use Your Six Days With Care

The 1981 Donruss cards.  A standard of hideousness.  The colors are off; and they’re often blurry.  It’s possible the problem was just the use of printer’s inks that were unsuitable for the card stock they were printed on.  It’s also possible that I’m pissed about getting multiple blurry John Castinos* with purple road uniforms and orange skin.  The accumulated lore** on Donruss is that returned they (it?***) to making baseball cards in 1981, as well as Fleer.  So Topps were the industry leader — with their ‘generic smiling baseball dudes’ illustrating the heroic deeds of your better players and illustrating the arcana and quirks of your less accomplished players — while Donruss specialized in tanning booth accidents and Fleer cornered the market on airless posed shots and the most boring ‘action photography’ known to man.

Okay, this one isn’t actually too bad looking.  The hues are a little saturated, but pretty close to ‘normal.’  I’m not going to comment on the K-Billy Super Sounds of the Super Seventies uniform, because I just heard on this past weeks ‘Hang Up and Listen’ podcast that this Brewers uniform is vastly more popular than the current ‘retro-ball-nerd’ threads the Brewers have been wearing for years, and that their ‘turn-back-the-clock-uniform’ games are their best-attended.  I’m not even going to comment on Bob McClure’s sex offender mustache; you’ve just got to accept kind of appearance from your middle relievers in your pile of cards from the early 80s.  At least I think he’s a middle reliever; let us see what can we learn about Bob McClure from the back of his card:

Greaaaaat.  Thanks for nuthin,’ Donruss.

San Diego’s a pretty sunny town; I know this because Th’ Wife has family there and I get out there every couple of years.  Also, I used to watch a lot of Simon & Simon, and I caught a few episodes of Land’s End.  I’d never know it from this card.  Maybe there was a brushfire near the stadium that day.

The Twin’s didn’t really have pale blue uniforms in 1980, did they?  I wouldn’t know; when this picture was taken, my family didn’t have a color tv set, so I’d never know that way.  And they never have pale blue uniforms in any of my Topps cards.

By the way, this is the only Jerry Koosman card I’ve ever seen where he doesn’t have a big old glob of chaw in his cheeks.

Boy, lookit those full stands.  Were the Braves even any good in those days?  Welp, that’s life before cable and video games.

Ross Baumgarten’s mother was an integral part of the Greaseman’s radio show.

Not so easy to make baseball cards, is it, Donruss?  Although this is a bit blurry (you tell me where Jeff Burroughs’ chin is), it’s a great portrait of the Braves’ uniform.  As we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, Topps thought nothing of putting a dude’s mug front and center (except, I guess, in the case of Gorman Thomas), letting you see all the nose hairs, pox scars, unibrows and existential ennui; it helped make each player (in his way) seem unique to a n 8 -10 year-old consumer.  Donruss could take a good picture of a uniform with a fairly faceless (here, quite figuratively indistinct) guy in it.  Fleer did this as well, except they seemed to do as much of their photography as possible inside domed stadiums, the lack of natural light throwing an awkward shade on each uniform’s inhabitant.  I suppose there’s a metaphor in here for public reaction (as exemplified by the choices made by the Donruss and Fleer art departments) to Major League Baseball’s then-new dalliance with free agency, but I’ve seen the cards from the 50s and 60s, and (due to the limits of their eras’ photomechanical reproduction) efforts were made — either by airbrushing or flat-out commissioned illustration — to make each player as distinct as possible from each other.

*Who in Sam Hill is John Castino?

**’Accumulated lore’ being a term for whatever I’ve read over the years on Donruss and their ugly, ugly cards.  I’m not going to google a damn thing right now and get a more clear-cut version of the ‘Donruss Production Awfulness Story;’ I’m not a journalist, dammit.



About rockiebee

Husband. Dad. Carpenter. Troubadour. Creative Director for an action figure theater troupe. Video director. Critic. Comics fan.
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One Response to Portraits of the Dead Ball Era: Memo From Human Resources, Use Your Six Days With Care

  1. Hank says:

    I’m having one of those, “Now that Rock mentions it…..” moments regarding Donruss and Fleer.

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