Dick Perez will always be remembered by collectors as the artist behind the original series of Donruss’ Diamond Kings subset. Perez spend a decade and a half creating these portraits for collectors to enjoy until he was released from his duties after the 1996 set. Each year, for fifteen years, collectors anticipated the Donruss sets to see who Perez pictured in the subset. After Perez left the DK name had less luster and by at least my account lost much of it’s appeal. 1992 foreshadowed the loss of Perez and collector’s interest in the DK series when Donruss made the cards more difficult to collect, but more on that later. After 1996, the DK’s lost their history. Dan Gardner replaced Dick Perez, the tradition of representing each Major League Franchise with a DK player was dropped, the sets were made more and more scarce until it became quite difficult to find all of the the cards each year. But while Perez was working the set was an institution.
I thought it might be fun to write a short history of the sets to introduce the younger collectors to them (if there are any young collectors left in the hobby anyway) and to bring the rest of us on a short trip down memory lane.
1982 Donruss Diamond Kings
One year after joining Topps and Fleer in the baseball card market, Donruss was looking to add some nostalgia to it’s second release of cards. They contacted then hired artist Dick Perez to create 26 portraits of MLB players, one from each franchise, in order to bring art back into baseball card collecting. Donruss decided it would start off the 1982 set with these paintings and with that a tradition was born.
An unnumbered Diamond King checklist card was also included in packs. The DK checklist card would be included in each years packs and would remain unnumbered until 1987’s set. Alan Trammell’s DK card has an error and corrected version. Trammell is spelled Trammel on the error card (both front and back). The checklist card also got Trammell’s name incorrectly as Trammel so there is a error and corrected version of that card as well. See below:
1983 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1983 DK’s were created with the same design as the 1982 cards, just the player selection changed. The unnumbered checklist card shows a photograph of artist Dick Perez. It has two versions, an error where “Check List” is missing from the back bottom of the cards, and the corrected version where “Check List” was included. See below:
1984 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1984 set was new and improved from the previous two years. Donruss decked out the cards in red, white and blue parade-ribbon style as if the cards were to be given out on the 4th of July. Each card has an error and a corrected version. The error, where “Perez-Steele Galleries” on the back of the card is actually spelled “Perez-Steel Galleries” were found in wax packs. The error was corrected for all the factory sets. See the example below of Robin Yount’s card back:
1985 Donruss Diamond Kings
1985 saw the DK’s return to the design of its first two years except that the 1985 cards were given a black border and the team and position designation was not given with the player’s name. Donruss would continue with this design, mostly just changing the border colors until 1992 when the design went borderless and then in 1994 when the whole design was dropped for something best described as more imaginative.
1985 also marked the beginning of the Super Diamond Kings. These are 5×7 versions of the smaller DKs and were available through a mail-in offer. You mailed three 1985 Donruss wrappers plus $9.00 to get the 29 card set (26 DKs, the Checklist card, the Lou Gehrig puzzle card and a “History of the Diamond Kings” card of artist Dick Perez). The Perez card is below:
The Lou Gehrig Super DK puzzle card was the same image as its counterpart that you could assemble from the 63-piece, 3-piece per card, cards that you received from the wax packs. But the Super DK version was 12 pieces rather than 63, and it measured 5″ X 7″ rather than the larger 11″ X 7 3/4″ that the assembled puzzle from the wax packs would measure. An example of both puzzle cards are below:
1986 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1986 set continued with 26 cards (one from each franchise). The border of the cards were blue with black lines. Although Perez is very good at creating a likeness of the player’s image, with his Andre Dawson portrait in the 1986 set, he really captured “The Hawk”‘s likeness. Just as in all previous years the set included a unnumbered checklist card.
For the second year in a row there was available a redemption mail-in offer to receive a Super Diamond Kings set through Perez-Steele Galleries. Three 1986 Donruss wrappers plus $9.00 would get you the set. The set consisted of the 26 DK player cards, the unnumbered checklist card, a Hank Aaron Puzzle card, and a Pete Rose “King of Kings” card. The puzzle card as well as the other cards in the set measured 4 7/8″ by 6 13/16″. The Super Diamond King puzzle card was exactly the same as the one you could put together from the puzzle pieces from the wax packs except that it was smaller. When you assembled the puzzle from the 3-piece wax pack cards it measures 11″ X 7 3/4″.
The Pete Rose “King of Kings” card was the first of a series of special Super DK cards that celebrated a certain player’s great achievement in the history of baseball, the normal version of the card was #653 in regular set.
1987 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1987 version of the DK’s have a black and gold border and as with each previous year, show player portraits with a superimposed smaller action shot of the player. 1987 marks the first year that the DK checklist card was included in the numbering of the set. Previous years sets had the DK checklist, as well as the other checklist cards, as unnumbered. The DK checklist card in this set was numbered #27.
There were three cards in the DK set that did not have the yellow coloring the ribbon on the top back of the card. These error cards were eventually corrected. The three error cards and their corrections are pictured below:
For the third year in a row a redemption mail-in offer (this time $8.00, 3 1987 Donruss wrappers, and $1.50 S&H) to receive the 28 card set of Super Diamond Kings (26 DK player cards, the checklist card, and the Roberto Clemente puzzle card).
1988 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1988 DK’s had a black and blue border. There were no errors in printing the cards but there are two versions of every card in the 1988 Donruss set including the DK’s. When Donruss printed the cards for their factory sets they reversed the border design. An example (Ron Darling’s DK card #6):
For $8.00, three 1988 Donruss wrappers, and $1.50 S&H, you could again receive through the mail the 28 card Super Diamond King set (26 player cards, the checklist card and the Stan Musial puzzle card).
1989 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1989 DK set had a rainbow of colors for its borders (black down the sides, with blue, purple and green interspersed on the top and bottom). There were no error card this year, and for the fifth year in a row you could redeem through the mail $8.00, three 1989 Donruss wrappers, and $2.00 S&H to receive the 28 card Super DK set (26 player cards, the checklist card and a Warren Spahn puzzle card).
1990 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1990 DK’s came with a red border. There were two errors involved with the set. The first concerns Ruben Sierra’s card (#3) in which the difference between the error and corrected card is a small square black notch that is on the back of the correct version but missing on the incorrect version. The second error involves the Brian Downing card (#10) in which Donruss screwed up the negative and reversed the image on the front of the card, the correct version has the superimposed Downing in a batting stance on the right side of his portrait. Both errors are shown below:
The Super Diamond Kings set was available this year for $12.00 and three 1990 Donruss wrappers. The set include the 26 player cards, the check list card and the Carl Yastrzemski puzzle card. It also included the second “King of Kings” card this time saluting Nolan Ryan (the first saluted Pete Rose in 1986). Where the Rose card had on the back the corresponding number to its regular set card (#653), the Ryan card drops the number altogether (the regular card was numbered 665). The puzzle card and Ryan card are pictured below:
1991 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1991 DK set featured blue borders. Error cards are found throughout the set but this year Donruss didn’t correct any of them. They mostly involved missing TM on team logos and mistakes in the descriptions written on the back of the cards. For the seventh consecutive year you were able to mail in to receive the Super Diamond King set ($12.00 and three 1991 Donruss wrappers). This year no puzzle or checklist card was included so the set consisted of 26 player cards only. 1991 also marked the end of the superimposed mini action shot of the player leaving only the portrait to grab the collector’s attention.
1992 Donruss Diamond Kings
For the first time since their inagrual set of 1991, Donruss did not start their regular set with the Diamond Kings subset. Instead the 27 cards (26 player cards and one checklist card) were randomly inserted into boxes. The insert set was upgraded. The pictures were full bleed and darkened. Gold trim was embossed into the ribbons and name borders making the cards stand out from the regular set unlike in previous years. Although the set was more difficult to collect, there were approximately four to five DK’s per box, they weren’t so rare that it turned off collectors in pursuing a complete set of the cards. No errors were detected from the set.
Donruss did not offer collectors a mail in option for a Super Diamond Kings set for the first time in eight years. Super Dk’s were made but not distributed to collectors. They were given to staff at a strategy meeting at Donruss and made it into the secondary market from there. No One really knows how many sets were produced but it’s guessed that very very few were made. The sets are extremely hard to find and command hundreds if not thousands of dollars to buy. When they were given out at the meeting the set came plastic-wrapped and in a sealed cardboard box. I found these images at www.calripkenjr.net
1992 marked the beginning of the end for the DK’s as they were produced previously. Perez is dropped as artist by 1997 and the cards themselves never re-enter the main yearly Donruss set instead being produced as inserts in more and more difficult to find numbers until eventually they are dropped altogether only to resurface first in 2001 as inserts and paralells in Playoff’s first Donruss product and then as a main set itself in 2002 called 2002 Diamond Kings.
1993 Donruss Diamond Kings
The 1993 set, just as in 1992 was randomly inserted into Donruss boxes. The set is a duplicate in design of the 1992 set. The set was expanded to 31 cards which included 30 player cards and one checklist. The first 26 cards are as per usual a player from each of the teams, Card 27 and 28 are the 1st round draft picks of the two expansion clubs (Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies), and cards 29 and 30 are of the 1992 Rookies’ of the Year (the first time a DK was made for anything other than a team representative ballplayer). The two ROY cards are pictured below:
For the first time since 1985, no Super Dk’s were produced, not even in in-house gift form as they were the previous year.
1994 Donruss Diamond Kings
Big changes occurred in the design of the DKs for 1994. Left behind was the ribbon on the top of the card and the curve-ended rectangular shaped border for the player name. Donruss and Dick Perez decided to get funked up and surreal for the 1994 issue. Players looked like they were being painted in the sky during sunset or at dawn/dusk. This year there was no ROY cards as there was in 1993. You could look forward to pulling 4 to 5 DKs per box. The set consisted of 30 cards, 28 player cards (one for each team), a third “King of Kings” card (this year Donruss saluted Dave Winfield. 1986 it was Pete Rose, 1990 it was Nolan Ryan), and Card #30 was a checklist card with a Dick Perez self-portrait. The Winfield card and Checklist card are below:
1994 marked the return of the Super DKs after a year’s hiatus. It was also the first time the Super DKs were used as box-toppers for Series One and Two boxes. With each box you purchased, you received a Super DK.
1995 Donruss Diamond Kings
The design for the DKs changed again in 1995. Perez moved away form surreal sunset imagery to what could be called a kindergarten wallpaper background with different colors and shapes. The set consisted of 29 cards (28 player cards and a checklist). Unlike the previous year, the Super DKs were not inserted into boxes as box-toppers. In fact Donruss. like in 1993, dropped the Super DKs altogether. No errors were found in the set.
1996 Donruss Diamond Kings
Continuing the trend of wholly changing the design yearly for the DKs (started in 1994), Perez discarded colored backgrounds in order to enhance the player portrait. The cards have a simple marble-like border with a black background. This would be Dick Perez’s last work on the DKs he would be replaced in 1997 by artist Dan Gardner. This would mark also the last time the DKs stuck to the “one player from each team” formula as 1997 would issue only 10 DK cards. This year’s DK’s were serial numbered to 10,000 copies which further limited set builders ability to complete the set. Starting in 1992 when the DKs became inserts, and continuing this year with 10,000 copies, 1997 also with 10,000 copies and 1998 reduced again to 9500 copies, the DKs became scarcer and scarcer, leaving set collector’s feeling irritated. Where 1992 started the eventual decline in the desire to have sets of the Diamond Kings (at least in the minds of set builders) 1998 marked the end of the series entirely.
Along with Perez leaving, Donruss was undergoing significant change itself. By 1996 they were purchased by Pinnacle Brands, who then in 1998 declared bankruptcy which led to the end of Donruss baseball card issues. Playoff purchased Pinnacle and resurrected Donruss renaming their company Donruss/Playoff and issued a Donruss set in 2001. As for the Diamond Kings, they were reduced to 10 cards in 1997, then 20 cards in 1998. When Playoff issued their Donruss set in 2001, the Diamond Kings were resurrected. Three insert sets were produced, “1999” Retroactive Diamond Kings (5 cards serial numbered to 2500 copies with a Studio parallel numbered to 250), a “2000” Retroactive Diamond Kings (5 cards serial numbered to 2500 copies with a Studio parallel numbered to 250), and finally an All-Time Diamond Kings set (10 cards of HOF players serial numbered to 2500 copies with a Studio parallel numbered to 250 with the first 50 autographed).
in 2002, Playoff/Donruss changed the DIamond King name from a main series card (1982-1991), from and insert (1992-1998, 2001) to its own card set entirely. The 2002 Diamond Kings is a 160-card set released in two series. The first 150 cards were issued as part of the Diamond Kings set while the final ten cards were randomly inserted into packs of 2002 Donruss The Rookies. Designed to compete with Topps’ Gallery brand, all 160 base cards and inserts are painted. Below are three examples of the main set:
Donruss/Playoff would continue the Diamond King sets until 2006. Along the way they put out Donruss sets that included Diamond Kings until Donruss sets were discontinued in 2005. After 2006 I gave up on Diamond Kings, well more like in 1996. If anyone wished to continue with what happened with Diamond Kings post 2006 I invite you to post it here. Now that Panini owns Donruss/Playoff, and has no MLB licence to produce baseball cards (although they still do with only MLBPA licencing), perhaps the DKs are forever left in the annals of baseball card history. With almost every player now having Auto cards, the DKs are no longer really needed for autographs at stadiums and through the mail I guess. What once was an awesome set of cards is now reduced to ashes.