Donruss Studio baseball was back on the diamond again in 1997 with the smallest set and checklist the brand had ever produced. The tiny 165-card base set was issued in August of that year. Studio again reinvented itself and literally pushed the envelope with the insertion of an actual 8×10 Studio portrait in every pack, which also included five standard size baseball cards. The boxes had also shrunk not in physical size (they actually grew) but in quantity, with 18 packs per box. A hole at the top allowed them to be displayed on a rack. The MSRP was $2.99 per pack.
With the addition of the 8×10, the “packs” presented to collectors, were almost as large as UPS, FedEx or USPS Priority mailing envelopes. The artwork is a sharp shade of green that features Frank Thomas as well as smaller images of the Gold Press Proof, Masterstrokes and Hard Hats inserts.
The base set again featured the signature Studio portraits on the face of the card. The design has various shades of thick gray stripes running from the top to bottom of the card as the background. The cards technically don’t have a border outside of the aforementioned lines.
The player’s name appears in cursive at the bottom center of the card with the team name listed below. The Donruss Studio logos featured in the upper right hand corner. The design is reminiscent of a sharp tuxedo or other dressy men’s’ attire.
The card backs feature a lighter striping from top to bottom and presents the background with the player’s name in the upper left hand corner and the card number in the upper right hand corner. There is a nice action shot of the player that takes up the majority of the center of the card. Studios backs are back with some fun tidbits of information.
There are many notable backs but then New York Yankees infielder Wade Boggs card stands out, as it mentions is 1983 charity cookbook that morphed into his now well known superstition of eating chicken, often lemon chicken, on game days. These are the Studio card backs we all came to know and love.
Donruss Studio has always been short on rookie cards but this year we at least get one solid rookie, that of current Cleveland Indians and future Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Brian Giles. That’s it. One single rookie card. We cant help but think how a David Arias (Oritz) Studio rookie would have been a phenomenal addition to the set.
The Press Proof parallels are back once again with each of the 165 base cards available in both Silver Press Proof, limited to 1500 copies and Gold Press Proof, limited to just 500 copies.
The design of the cards are exactly the same as the base with the exception of the obvious gold and silver accents to the cards and the words “Press Proof” found in the upper left-hand corner of the cards. The Press Proof cards are not serial numbered in any way.
The aforementioned 8×10 portraits came one per pack. The 24-card set is, in essence, an 8×10 sized base card of the players featured and were designed with autograph collectors in mind but getting a signature from one of the players on the checklist was a challenge as they chose the best of the best. Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Vladimir Guerrero and other big names are featured.
Making its debut as an insert in studio is Hard Hats, a 24 card set that features an acetate die-cut design resembling the player’s batting helmet. There are 5,000 serial numbered copies of each card and the entire 24 card set was also issued as a promo set with the promos all being numbered xxxx/5000.
These cards are pulled off pretty well as there are number that turned out great including the intent death stare of Albert Belle in the batter’s box with his Chicago White Sox helmet in the background. Yankees icon Derek Jeter has a nice card in the set as he’s running with the iconic Yankee helmet and insignia behind him. It looks as if Ken Griffey Jr just completed his sweet home run swing with the very cool Seattle Mariners helmet in the background on his issue.
Masterstrokes returns yet again in 1997 Studio Baseball. Another 24 card set features the biggest stars of the game, again, printed on a canvas like substance with each card serial numbered to 2000 copies, making it the most valuable of the two primary insert sets. There was an 8×10 parallel set produced as well, with card serial numbered to 5000. The artsy set includes the likes of New York Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, Seattle Mariners icon Ken Griffey Jr., Baltimore Orioles icon Cal Ripken, Jr., and many others. The cards are meant to look like a painting. The shiny Masterstrokes logo is found in the center bottom of the card with the player’s name and team listed below. Studio added a nice touch with a facsimile signature towards the bottom of the card as well. The Mo Vaughn card stands out as the “Hit Dog” appears to be finishing up one of his classic big, big home run swings.
For the first time, autographs were found in a Studio product, sort of. The company had three players autograph a small number of the 8×10 portraits for random insertion in packs. Colorado Rockies star Todd Walker signed 1,250 copies. Montreal Expos Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero signed 500 cards and Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen signed 1,000. Each card has a special silver foil stamp that reads “Autographed Signature” on the front of the card. The first 100 copies of each card were signed in blue ink and the rest were signed in black ink.
It was a different sort of packaging for collectors to grasp, but Donruss gets an A for effort for doing something different without sacrificing overall quality. The cards themselves are as stunning as ever and each and every insert set is a home run. It’s a good example of what late 1990s baseball cards could be: a fun, cost effective walk down memory lane with just enough challenges to keep it interesting.
Complete sets of 1997 Leaf Studio –both base and the 8×10 portraits–can be had for $15-$25 online.
About Tony Reid
From the time he was a little kid, Tony has been a huge sports fan. If he could play sports, watch sports and talk about sports it was a great day. From as early as he was drawn to sports, Tony was drawn to collecting sports cards. Not much has changed over the years. He collects RCs of star players in baseball, basketball and football. He also has a soft spot for first autographs of MMA stars. If you want to talk to Tony about the greatness of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson or Ken Griffey, Jr. you can reach him at [email protected] and @OffCenterTR on social media.