Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Donruss 1981 Saved the Best for Last?

I've always been curious as to how the card companies came up with the numbers for each of the cards. Topps seems to randomly mix up the players and teams, though the better players were on the 5's and 10's with the 100's saved for the super stars.

When Fleer came out in 1981, they made it real easy. They just went with one team at a time. That made more sense to me.

Donruss had its own way in 1981. Generally, they went five cards from one team, five from another, a Phillie, and repeat. After five rotations, the Phillie was replaced by a Brave in the next five rotations.

Here's how the first 120 cards broke down:

4 Padres, 6 Tigers, 1 Phillie
6 Pirates, 4 Astros, 1 Phillie, 2 Astros,
5 Rangers, 5 Blue Jays, 1 Phillie
4 Mets, 4 White Sox, 1 Mariner, 1 Phillie
4 Mariners, 6 Angels, 1 Phillie

6 Dodgers, 5 Reds, 1 Brave
5 Cardinals, 5 Giants, 1 Brave
5 Indians, 5 Brewers, 1 Brave
5 Expos, 5 Red Sox, 1 Brave
5 Royals, 5 Yankees, 1 A’s, 1 Yankee
5 Orioles, 4 A’s

That same general pattern was repeated three more times, up through card number 481. Now look again at the team names. Only 24 of the 26 teams are listed. Who's missing?

Well, since I'm writing about it you can pretty easily guess who one of the two is; the Cubs. The other missing team? The Twins.

The first Cubs card in the set is #482, Bill Buckner. The first Twin doesn't show up until #487, Roy Smalley. So in the rest of the set, from #481 - 600, you get lots of Cubs and Twins, and a random assortment of players from the other team. in no particular order any more.

Donruss goes from a pretty predictable pattern with the first 481 cards, to total randomness the last 119, and then finished with 5 checklists.

So why did they not include the Cubs and Twins in the patterns? And why were the Phillies and Braves spread out? Your guess is as good as mine. I like to think that they were saving the best teams for last!

Here's one more Cub oddity with Donruss 1981. For better or for worse, Donruss didn't do any airbrushing. If a player changed teams, they used a photo with the old team and placed the new team's name on the card. The 1981 set features a whopping 6 players in Cubs uniforms listed on different teams. And all six of those were stuck at the end of the set too.


  1. I love '81 Donruss. I never bothered to figure out their numbering system, but I was starting to notice some teammates popping up side by side in my autograph collection. Thanks for pointing this out.

  2. Ditto on 1981 Donruss, I love it. When they first came out I thought Topps had a better set/card but as Time goes on 1981 Donruss is one of the Best sets all time. The display a sort of color or design that is incredibly vibrant and hard to define.

    Nice Post about the sequence of the cards, this is a mystery that will probably remained unsolved. I would love to read an interview somewhere of some guy that actually assigned the numbers to cards. I think earlier this decade when Topps had larger sets, a Yankee always got card number 666.

  3. Re:Card #666
    For the first several years, Upper Deck always had a Dodger as #666.

  4. I didn't like the flimsy cardstock on the '81 Donruss cards.

    The '81 Fleer set was loaded with errors. What about the Donruss set?

  5. Jim,
    Donruss 81 had some errors, but not nearly as many as that first Fleer set did.

    Check this link