By the spring of 1991, I was just about done collecting new baseball cards.
The past eight years had been a flurry of wax packs and rookie cards and card shows that swallowed my high school years before I even knew what hit me.
But I finished my freshman year of college a few months after the United States pushed into Iraq for the first time, and I had plenty of things on my mind aside from acquiring one (or a hundred) of every baseball card issued that year.
I still went to shows whenever I could and even set up as a dealer at a couple of them. I “played” with my cards on a regular basis and still poured through every hobby magazine I could find: Sports Collectors Digest, Baseball Cards, Beckett Monthly, Tuff Stuff, Baseball Card News.
So, I knew what was happening in the hobby, but I just didn’t spend any of my scant funds on new cards.
Super Special Shiny Limited Edition Preview (with Foil!)
If you’ve had this cardboard affliction as long as I have, you might remember that 1991 was just at the dawn of the super premium era.
In 1988, Score had gone after the big three — Topps, Fleer, and Donruss — with a set of vibrant cards that featured full-color photos on both sides and plastic wrappers that made tampering less likely.
Then, in 1989, Upper Deck released the most beautiful and innovative set that most collectors had ever experienced. Mylar packs, tamper-proof holograms, card stock as thick as a slice of bread, and eye-piercing color action photos on both sides sent the hobby into a tizzy.
The only question was, would we pay a premium for better cards? As it turned out, we would.
The next question, then, was, how much would we pay if the cards got better and better and better?
The card companies set out to find out, starting with Donruss and their resurrection of the Leaf brand in 1990. It was a high-end issue in the tradition of Upper Deck, but early word on the street was that Leaf was super scarce.
By the end of summer 1990, the Frank Thomas rookie card was inching north of $50 toward $100 and then to who knew where.
The next year, Fleer countered with Ultra, and then Topps upped the game again with the candy-coated Stadium Club.
Suddenly, collectors were shelling out five bucks or more for a pack of baseball cards, and the hobby began to fracture down the middle.
On one side were collectors and investors (speculators, usually) who clamored for more quality, more glitz, more scarcity.
On the other side were old-timers and some kids who decried the outlandish prices and the emergence of adults as the primary target of the card companies.
Think of the children!
The Siren Call of the Cardboard
I watched it all and understood very little of it. I certainly didn’t plunk down several dollars for a pack of brand new baseball cards. But as the temperatures climbed in that summer of 1991, so too did my cardboard appetites.
Free from the chains of another school year, I went to more card shows and stayed up later sorting and pricing my own wares.
I also noticed that our local Wal-Mart had begun to carry a huge array of new cards, and they had all the whiz-bang issues you could want. Yet I refrained and went on my own collecting way.
Sometime that summer, SCD began talking about an upcoming release from Donruss that might revolutionize the hobby yet again. The cards were called “Studio,” and they consisted of a very simple, elegant design that let the black-and-white glamor shots of the players shine through. The images were captured in — yes — a photo studio.
It was an interesting idea, and the advance press created enough buzz that collectors would ask me about them at shows. Really, though, as with all the other fancy new stuff, I didn’t know anything about the cards.
Then one day I was in Wal-Mart again, shopping for tuna or soda or ramen, and I just happened to pass by the big pile of shiny baseball cards.
It was mostly the same pile of expensive junk I’d been passing by all year, but something caught my eye just as I was about to walk toward the checkout: complete sets of 1991 Donruss.
Now, the 1991 Donruss set was no favorite of mine, and it still isn’t. But there were a few interesting things about this particular offering:
- The box had full-color photos of the cards on it.
- The set was big by Donruss standards (792 cards).
- The box said it contained four preview cards of the Studio set.
Nineteen ninety-one was the first year I hadn’t bought complete sets of the Big 3, and I hadn’t even considered buying any set from that year until that moment.
But I thought about the hype surrounding the Studio set, and the idea that I might get lucky with a big score intrigued me. Even if the Studios amounted to a handful of commons, they had to be worth something, right?
And I’d still have the base set to warm my feet at night.
So I scooped up one of the boxes, hurried through the checkout, and raced home to bust open my treasure.
For $20, I got a 1991 Donruss set that is worth about 20 cents today, two Willie Stargell puzzles, three Studio cards that I can’t remember at all, and an Andujar Cedeno Studio card that saved the whole wretched mess.
Andujar Cedeno was going to hit for power and average, and he was going to steal lots of bases.
Andujar Cedeno was named Andujar and Cedeno, for crying out loud.
Yep, that Andujar Cedeno card was going to pay for itself and the rest of that 1991 Donruss set many times over in the years to follow. I was so sure of it that I almost went back to Wal-Mart to buy another set and snag another four Studio preview cards.
Would have, too, if I hadn’t been broke.
Andujar Cedeno left the Major Leagues after the 1996 season having accumulated 47 home runs, 26 stolen bases, and a .236 batting average in parts of seven Big League seasons.
He bounced around the minors for another year or two and was killed in an automobile accident between baseball games in his native Dominican Republic in October 2000.
It was a tragic end for a talented young man who lived his dream of being a Big League ballplayer, but who didn’t live it long enough.
Regardless of what he did or didn’t accomplish on the Major League diamond, Andujar Cedeno and his 1991 Donruss Studio preview card reminded me of two important facts.
First, the truth is usually quite a bit different than the hype.
And second, I will always, always be a sucker for baseball cards, baseball potential, and the combination of the two.
That’s why I still love this card.
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