Ever since the recent release of 2008 Donruss Elite Football, I’ve been wanting to bust some Elite Baseball for this blog. And what better way to do that than to open a box from the very first series, released in 1997. To the best of my knowledge, Donruss Elite was the first of many sets that originally started as an insert set. Others that fall into this category include: Co-Signers, Diamond Kings, Heritage, Chirography, Leather and Lumber, Throwback Threads, and so on. 1997 Donruss Elite had beautiful base cards and legendary chase cards, making it a rather difficult box to find. I was about to track one down for about $50 recently, and pulled the following (NOTE: The box states that an insert can be found in every 5 packs on average. For the insert sets below, they give the print runs, but there are no specific odds on any of them)…
Base cards: The base set is comprised of 150 cards, the last 3 of which are checklists featuring the men who hurled no-hitters in 1996: Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, and Al Leiter. The cards are silver-foiled and have a granite-like border around the player’s picture. Below the picture is a shade of color (which differs from team to team), the player’s name, team, and a row of 5 small stars across the bottom. There is a final colored star at the top of the card describing the player’s position. In this box, I pulled 138 of the 150 base cards, with only 1 duplicate, Ryne Sandberg.
Elite Gold Stars (random inserts): The lone parallel to the base set, these cards are colored totally in gold (aside from the player’s picture), with the words “Elite Stars” written at the top. The backs of the cards are colored the same way. Like most Donruss Elite cards, these look great and don’t scan very well. I found a pair of these parallels in my box. The first was James Baldwin and the second was the Dwight Gooden checklist.
Turn of the Century (numbered to 3,500): Before it turned into an eventual subset or a crappy parallel /750, Turn of the Century started as an insert set with a similar concept to Flair’s Wave of the Future. These guys were the future of the MLB. It’s always fun looking back to see which of these players actually made an impact, isn’t it? There were 20 cards in this set, all numbered to 3500. I pulled a card of Todd Greene, a young catcher for Anaheim. The card is serially numbered 2717/3500. There is a parallel to this insert as well. The first 500 serially numbered copies are die-cut. If it weren’t for looking at this set’s checklist, I would’ve totally forgot Ernie Young or Trey Beamon ever existed.
Leather and Lumber (numbered to 500): Back in the day, I always thought this was one of the coolest inserts ever. This card is a part-wood/part-leather mutant, but it’s a beauty! The wood side, which is shown above, has an extreme close-up of a baseball bat (well, its knob more specifically!). Naturally, the player is shown hitting on this side of the card. Now, if we flip it over, we’ll see a fielding pose of the player, with another extreme close-up background: a glove holding a baseball. On this side, we also see the serial numbering at the top: 374/500 in the case of my Ken Griffey, Jr. Man, this would’ve been a MONSTER pull back then! I’m guessing this was about a $100 card back then, or close to it! There are 10 total players to the set, with Chuck Knoblauch being the only non-superstar.
What WASN’T Pulled: When I first thought about this product, only one insert set came to mind: PASSING THE TORCH. For those unaware, this was a 12-card insert set in which each card featured either a veteran, young rising star, or combination of both. Every card was limited to 1,500, but if you pulled one of the first 150 serially numbered copies, yours was autographed! Look at this checklist for a second:
1. Cal Ripken, Jr.
2. Alex Rodriguez
3. Cal Ripken, Jr./Alex Rodriguez
4. Kirby Puckett
5. Andruw Jones
6. Kirby Puckett/Andruw Jones
7. Cecil Fielder
8. Frank Thomas
9. Cecil Fielder/Frank Thomas
10. Ozzie Smith
11. Derek Jeter
12. Ozzie Smith/Derek Jeter
Yeah, those are some sick combos, eh? The Fielder/Thomas combo always confused me though. At the time, Thomas wasn’t a “young star.” He was already a Most Valuable Player twice! Anyways, it’s still a very strong checklist and a heck of a set! Aside from this, the TOTC die-cut was the only insert I didn’t pull any of.
Final Thoughts: Each box contains 18 packs and with the insert ratio stated earlier, you can expect 3-4 per box. It is a bit of a gamble when you consider that at least one of those will probably be the Elite Stars gold parallel that could be only a $4 card if you pull a common. With that said, this product is probably more of a hit-or-miss than most, and the lack of a nice Leather/Lumber or Torch card/autograph might hurt a bit. Still, there’s not a bad-looking card to be found here and it’s still a fun rip. It’s your call.
As always, thanks for reading and good luck with your own breaks!