Donruss Studio Produces Another Aesthetic Winner in 1998 but Ends Season on Baseball Card Bench

The 8×10 picture card format was back for a second season in 1998 Donruss Studio Baseball.

Hobby boxes consisted of 18 packs with seven baseball cards and one 8×10 per pack with the suggested retail price of $2.99.

The box art featured a rich red color that faded in and out of a dark black and featured the words “Donruss Studio” at the top of the box the box imagery feature the card of Chicago White Sox slugger and Donruss poster boy Frank Thomas. There were smaller images of other cards in the set, including Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Jr., and more. Studio again improved their packaging, marketing and boxing this year with arguably their most aesthetically pleasing packaging yet.

Base Set

The 220-card base of standard sized cards was released in June of 1998, right as the infamous home run race of ’98 was getting started.

The base card design again incorporates a full color action shot as the backdrop with a posed Studio session photo in the foreground. There is a pretty standard white border around the entire card. The players first name appears in a small font on the bottom of the card followed by the players last name in a large foil font. There is a nice shading of the main team color at the bottom of the card within the player’s name. The studio logo appears in one of the upper corners of the card and a foil font as well.

The card backs are similar to the year prior with an action shot of the player on the upper half of the card (the same image as the picture in the background on the card front) to the right of the picture you’ll find the card number, the basic biographical information of the player with the team logo below. The player’s name is listed towards the center of the card at the bottom left of the image. The bottom half of the card is Studio’s signature “Up Close & Personal” information about the player featured. Although most of the card backs weren’t as interesting as years past, as they say, at least you tried.

Studio had a few more rookies in the lineup than in years past, led by Chicago White Sox super prospect Magglio Ordonez,  Atlanta Braves flamethrower Kevin Millwood and New York Yankees (and eventual Florida Marlins) semi-star third baseman Mike Lowell.

Previous seasons’ Press Proofs have been replaced by cards that are now termed Studio Proofs but they are done in the exact same Proof spirit. All 220 cards of the base set are found in a Silver Studio Proof numbered to 1,000 and a Gold Studio Proof serial numbered to 300 copies.

The proofs, both Silver and Gold, are very distinguishable with the silver proof having a shiny Silver border around the card and the Gold proofs having a very sharp Gold shiny border all around the card.

8×10 Portraits

Inserted one per pack, the 8×10 portraits were a 36-card set featuring some of the bigger stars on bigger cards. It’s a big base card, is what I’m saying. The last 12 cards in the set are a hobby exclusive.

Today, you can snare a complete set of portrait cards for less than $20 on eBay.

There is a Gold Portrait Proof parallel available with each of the 36 cards in Gold form and serial numbered to 300 copies. You will find Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones and many other greats in this set. The first three cards in the oversized set were autographed by the three young stars featured. Travis Lee put his John Hancock on 500 cards while Ben Grieve and Todd Helton signed 1,000 copies each.

Insert Sets

Freeze Frame is a 30-card foil based insert set that’s designed as a film strip capturing a moment in time for the great players featured in the set. It’s rather interesting that the images on the front don’t mirror the information on the back of the card, so there’s no real tie to the freeze framing of the image itself. Serial numbered to 4500 copies, the first 500 serial number copies are in die cut form. You will find the usual suspects as far as players on the checklist. Seattle Mariners slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. looks like he’s about to golf one out of the yard on his card.

Hit Parade is back again in 1998. A 20-card etched foil set, serial numbered to 5,000 cards, pays homage to the biggest sluggers in baseball. The card design has an image of the player at the dish with beams shooting up from the base of the card towards the top of the card. The foil background really makes the card pop as does the foil Hit Parade logo that appears at the bottom of the card with the player’s name and a small team logo below. Los Angeles Dodgers slugging catcher Mike Piazza is seen taking a daddy hack on his card in the set.

The canvas-like Masterstrokes insert is back again. The design holds true to previous years, offering what appears to be an artist’s rendering or painting of the featured player. The paintbrush at the bottom of the card under the Masterstrokes logo is a nice touch. Serial numbered to 1,000 copies, this insert has become an every day player in the Studio line. See the Tony Gwynn card in the set. It might be my favorite as one of the all-time greats at the dish is taking a classic cut and the image that’s captured is in mid classic Gwynn swing.

Aside from the standard inserts that there was a cross branding promotional release in conjunction with the PlayStation video game MLB 99, in which a special insert set that was placed into update packs and also inserted the packs of 1998 Studio. The card photography shows action shots of the player with the MLB 99 logo in the PlayStation logo featured prominently on the cards.

Like the other Leaf Studio sets, the cost of ownership for sets, singles and inserts is quite modest.  

End of an Era

Aside from one blip (see credit cards), the Studio brand continued to gain traction and offer stronger products each and every season but things were about to change drastically.

Unfortunately for Studio and the entire Donruss brand, the set issued in 1998 was the last as we knew them.

After the purchase of the iconic company by Pinnacle in 1996, it was seemingly smooth sailing for the next two years but in July of 1998, two years after Donruss, Inc. was purchased by Pinnacle Brands, Pinnacle filed for bankruptcy protection and was liquidated within a few short months.

The Playoff Corporation paid $9.6 million for all of Pinnacle’s assets and subsequently entered a license agreement with the MLBP allowing them to sell a portion of the remaining baseball card inventory they inherited. In 2001, Playoff, now rebranded as Donruss-Playoff, was able to secure an MLB license and the Donruss brand was revived. It would be the next time we would see a Studio baseball card set.

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.

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