Too legit to quit, not quite legit enough
Donruss’s Panini incarnation has suffered from one major setback – the lack of licenses to use Major League Baseball players or team logos. After Playoff/Donruss bid farewell to licensed MLB products in a blaze of Absolute Memorabilia glory, the brand fell on hard times. Limited to minor leaguers and retired players, Donruss managed to release a few passable products before being absorbed by Panini. Topps outlasted Upper Deck and claimed the title of MLB Survivor, but then Panini swooped in and secured a license – from the MLB Players Association. While that wouldn’t give Panini the rights to use MLB team names and logos (Upper Deck paid a hefty price for crossing that line in 2010), it did give them access to the MLB roster of players for the first time in six years. 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition (released in January 2012, the first of several “2011” Panini releases in 2012…) positions the brand to begin chipping away at the Topps monopoly (mk. II) by laying down a thick foundation of prospects. Will that be enough to draw collectors back into their fold?
Ordinarily I would comment on the base set, but there’s really no reason to bother with the base set in this product – the autographs are the real draw and they are basically just the same cards anyway. 2011 EEE uses the same all-metallic style that was common on Donruss products in 2001 (and was largely abandoned afterward). This style may have been cutting edge in 1997, but it was dated in 2001 and is just plain embarrassing in 2011/2012. It’s a bit more rainbowy than the usual metallics, but it still feels dull and flat. As a bonus, some parallel versions are die-cut, another 2001 Donruss staple. I don’t know if they were going for some millennial retro look, but the results just aren’t pretty.
This is where the set really shines. While Topps was content to get autographs from the Mets’ top two 2011 draft picks (Brandon Nimmo and Michael Fulmer), Donruss landed those plus the picks from round 2, 3, and 15 (everyone with a big bonus; 5th round draft pick Jack Leathersich was later featured in 2011 Playoff Contenders). Also in the mix is Chris Schwinden, who had a “rookie card” in 2012 Topps later in January. That’s a pretty good mix of Mets prospects for one product. On the downside, only the Nimmo and Fulmer cards are autographed on the card itself; the other four are all sticker autographs.
In addition to the basic autograph cards, this set has a few parallels and variants. All of the basic cards are available in at least 7 different parallel versions: green and red ink parallels and die-cut variants with one of five different colored backgrounds. On top of that, Nimmo and Verrett have Elite Series autographs and Evans has a Yearbook autograph, which counts for, um, something? Evans didn’t even get another photograph. That’s a total of over 50 different Mets autographs in this product, with print runs ranging from 1 to 890. Despite most print runs being lower than Bowman Chrome’s refractors though (the parallels top off at just 100 copies compared to about 500 for refractors), the EEE parallel autos aren’t in high demand. The lack of team names and logos plus the bland sameness of all of the variations makes all of this repetition seem unnecessary. It’s bad enough with Bowman Chrome having endless parallels, getting it here too is a waste. Sure, most of these guys will never amount to anything, but there’s no reason for so many variations if even the rarest have trouble topping $30.
On top of the parallels, most of the featured Mets prospects appeared on some of the many two, three, or four player combo autograph cards. Except for the Verrett/Evans card, these all included players from other franchises. While nice filler, these aren’t really anything special in the days of sticker autographs. Why not have a draft cap mix ‘n match make your own multi-player auto card? Pick up to eight players, but don’t go over your alotted $5 million bonus pool! We need some outright absurdity to counteract this mind-numbing boredom.
With mostly sticker autographs, bland card designs, and unrecognizable team uniforms, this set isn’t about to win any beauty pageants. If you’re into draft picks and prospects though, this set has more to offer than the eponymous Bowman set. The road to legitimacy will continue to be a long one for Panini/Donruss.