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The Donruss puzzle


This is shaping up to be "Complete Set Week" on Night Owl Cards.

Today, I'm noting the completion of the 1981 Donruss set. I mentioned last week that I completed it with this Carl Yastrzemski card. It didn't take long after I announced a year or two ago that I was going to attempt to finish the first Donruss baseball set before I actually completed it. It's not exactly a mid-1960s set with high numbers.

I've addressed what makes 1981 Donruss great on a couple of different posts, so I'll keep from repeating myself here. What I want to address is something that I knew I would have a clearer picture of once I completed the set and put it a binder.

There is a puzzle to be solved with this set, which is appropriate since Donruss was known for offering puzzle pieces in its packs instead of gum.

The numbering in the set is grouped by team, but not in a logical way, like Fleer did, putting the entire team together in one group of numbers. No, Donruss, in its scattershot format, clumped teammates together in groups of four or five or six. For example, Pirates members Bill Madlock, Dale Berra, Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo, Mike Easler and Chuck Tanner are cards 252 through 257. And Indians Toby Harrah, Duane Kuiper, Len Barker and Victor Cruz are cards 318 through 321.

The vast majority of teams are grouped like this. But there are two exceptions.

The Phillies and the Braves cards are not grouped together. Instead, each Phillie and Brave card is featured by itself, apart from its teammates, and surrounded by other team's players.

This is rather odd. The Phillies make a little bit of sense because they had won the World Series the previous year. Perhaps Donruss wanted to single them out for some reason. But the Braves? They were a .500 team in 1980, significant only in the fact that they didn't finish last, as they had done the previous four years.

But each Phillie and Brave card exhibits a pattern of its own. Many of the Phillies and Braves cards are exactly 11 cards apart. For example, Mike Schmidt (card No. 11), Manny Trillo (22), Steve Carlton (33), Ron Reed (44) and Garry Maddox (55) are Phillies 11 cards apart. Then the numbers take a break from Phillies for a little while until Pete Rose (131), Larry Bowa (142), Dick Ruthven (153), Del Unser (164) and Greg Luzinski (175) show up every 11 cards.

There are probably other patterns in the team-card number figuration that my non-mathematical mind can't figure out. So here is the entire 1981 Donruss team rundown from card #1 (Ozzie Smith) to card #600 (Pat Kelly):

4 Padres
6 Tigers
1 Phillie
6 Pirates
4 Astros
1 Phillie
2 Astros
4 Rangers
4 Blue Jays
1 Phillie
4 Mets
5 White Sox
1 Mariner
1 Phillie
4 Mariners
6 Angels
1 Phillie
5 Dodgers
5 Reds
1 Brave
5 Cardinals
5 Giants
1 Brave
5 Indians
5 Brewers
1 Brave
5 Expos
5 Red Sox
1 Brave
4 Royals
5 Yankees
1 Athletic
1 Yankee
5 Orioles
4 Athletics
4 Padres
6 Tigers
1 Phillie
6 Pirates
4 Astros
1 Phillie
2 Astros
4 Rangers
4 Blue Jays
1 Phillie
4 Mets
5 White Sox
1 Mariner
1 Phillie
4 Mariners
6 Angels
1 Phillie
5 Dodgers
5 Reds
1 Brave
5 Cardinals
5 Giants
1 Brave
5 Indians
5 Brewers
1 Brave
5 Expos
5 Red Sox
1 Brave
5 Royals
5 Yankees
1 Athletic
1 Yankee
5 Orioles
4 Athletics
4 Padres
6 Tigers
1 Phillie
6 Pirates
4 Astros
1 Phillie
2 Astros
4 Rangers
4 Blue Jays
1 Phillie
4 Mets
5 White Sox
1 Mariner
1 Phillie
4 Mariners
6 Angels
1 Phillie
5 Dodgers
5 Reds
1 Brave
5 Cardinals
5 Giants
1 Brave
5 Indians
5 Brewers
1 Brave
5 Expos
5 Red Sox
1 Brave
5 Royals
5 Yankees
1 Athletic
1 Yankee
5 Orioles
4 Athletics
4 Padres
6 Tigers
1 Phillie
6 Pirates
4 Astros
1 Phillie
2 Astros
4 Rangers
4 Blue Jays
1 Phillie
4 Mets
5 White Sox
1 Mariner
1 Phillie
4 Mariners
6 Angels
1 Phillie
5 Dodgers
5 Reds
1 Brave
5 Cardinals
5 Giants
1 Brave
5 Indians
5 Brewers
1 Brave
5 Expos
5 Red Sox
1 Brave
5 Royals
5 Yankees
1 Athletic
1 Yankee
5 Orioles
4 Athletics
1 Phillie
4 Cubs
1 Yankee (pictured as Mariner) - 1
3 Twins
1 Astro (pictured as Ranger)
1 Royal
4 Twins
1 Ranger
1 Athletic
1 Giant
1 Oriole
1 Yankee
1 Mariner
1 Cub
1 White Sox (pictured as Athletic)
1 Royal
1 Cardinal (pictured as Royal)
1 Met
1 Oriole
1 Brewer
1 Ranger
1 Brewer
1 Dodger
1 Red Sox
1 Cub
1 Oriole
1 Cub
1 Mariner
1 Indian
1 Mariner
4 Cubs
1 Brave
1 Met
1 Padre
1 Dodger
1 Twin
1 Brewer
3 Twins
1 Angel (pictured as Twin)
1 Oriole
1 Dodger
1 Cub
1 Cardinal
(Best Hitters card)
1 Expo
1 Cardinal
1 Expo
1 Dodger
1 Angel (pictured as Red Sox)
1 Mariner
1 Red Sox
1 Expo
4 Twins
1 Brave
1 Cub
1 Red (pictured as Cub)
2 Giants (pictured as Cubs)
1 Dodger
2 Cubs
1 Cardinal (pictured as Cub)
2 Cubs
1 Pirate (pictured as Indian)
4 Twins
1 Phillie
2 Blue Jays
1 Yankee
1 Angel
1 Cub
1 Phillie
1 Met
1 White Sox (pictured as Expo)
1 Red Sox
1 Brewer
1 Giant
1 Cardinal
1 Angel
1 Blue Jay
1 Cardinal
1 Brave
1 Athletic (pictured as Yankee)
4 Cubs
1 Phillie
1 Oriole
4 Twins
1 White Sox
1 Brave
1 Phillie
1 Expo
1 Oriole

If you made it through all of that, you could see that the Phillies and Braves aren't the only teams not to be featured in a group. The pattern breaks apart around card No. 496 (which happens to be Mickey Rivers' Rangers night card), and there is very little team grouping the rest of the way. But the Phillies and the Braves are still the only teams to be featured without being grouped.

I also noticed that for most of the Braves cards in the pattern, the Braves card only appears after groups of five for two different teams.

One thing that I did notice way back when I was pulling cards out of packs in 1981 is that the Cubs and the Twins are banished to the back of the set. The first Cub doesn't show up until No. 482 and the first Twin appears at No. 487.

Anyway, this is something I think can be most appreciated by a mathematician or a printing press operator and maybe they have more insight.

As for whether I will ever attempt to complete another Donruss set (now that I have '81 and '84 completed), the answer is probably not. Several of the '80s sets are tempting and when I get frustrated by some vintage set and its hard-to-find cards then maybe I'll take a plunge into '82 or '85 Donruss. But for now, the Donruss complete set itch is scratched.

(EDIT: This link, unearthed by Twitter's very own @robbyt86, explains Donruss' team configuration. Check out the bottom row on the sheet).

Comments

Tony Burbs said…
I think the answer to this mystery is written on the back on the Constitution! Seriously though, what a bizarre way to go about writing up a checklist.
cdorso said…
Interesting. I checked the team checklists at teamsets4u, and there are more patterns among the first 500ish cards until the Cubs and Twins start showing up: http://www.teamsets4u.com/checklist/1980-85/1981donruss.html

The Angels all end in 9-0-1-2-3-4
The A's all end 0-7-8-9-0
The Astros all end 8-9-0-1-3-4 (skipping the 2, which is almost always a Phillie)
the Blue Jays all end 9-0-1-2
The Braves all end 6-7-8-9
The Brewers all end 3-4-5-6-7
The Cardinals all end 7-8-9-0-1
The Dodgers all end 6-7-8-9-0
The Expos all end 9-0-1-2-3
The Giants all end 2-3-4-5-6
The Indians all end 8-9-0-1-2
The Mariners all end 3-5-6-7-8 (skipping the 4, which is again almost always a Phillie)
The Mets all end 4-5-6-7
The Orioles all end 2-3-4-5-6
The Padres all end 1-2-3-4
The Phillies all end 1-2-3-4-5 (but jump by eleven instead of being bunched together, as you noted)
The Pirates all end 2-3-4-5-6-7
The Rangers all end 5-6-7-8
The Red Sox all end 4-5-6-7-8
The Reds all end 1-2-3-4-5
The Royals all end 0-1-2-3-4
The Tigers all end 5-6-7-8-9-0
The White Sox all end 8-9-0-1-2
The Yankees all end 5-6-7-8-9-1 (skipping 0, which is the "extra" 0 in the A's sequence)

Has to be a printing thing, I'd think, but I'd never noticed it before either!
Tony L. said…
My guess is that Donruss forgot the Twins and Cubs existed until about card 450 or so and then said, "oh $hit" and started throwing them in. Same goes for the last 150 cards generally...just guys Donruss forgot about when putting the set together.
steelehere said…
IMO, 1981 Donruss is like a deck of cards that used to be in order by suit and then was shuffled one time. It's appropriate because the entire set felt rushed.

The way they wanted to sequence the cards in 1981 was probably done correctly in 1982 as they copied the model for a decade.

One thing Donrusss did better than Topps and Fleer in 1981 was provide the best tasting piece of gum in their pack.
If Donruss had put as much effort into quality control as they did into their numbering scheme, the 1981s would have been a better set.

(Then again, Fleer had the simplest scheme possible, and their '81 set was filled with errors.)
Here's another "odd" thing with the Braves set.. Why is the mad hungarian #550 the only purple Brave, the others are blue?
Unknown said…
The '81 set is always just baffled me in so many ways. I gave up long ago trying to figure its rhyme or reason. I have a complete set of Donruss from 87-90. Your not missing out on anything there at all. I started those sets in their respective years, buying wax packs or a wax box here and there but didn't finish those sets until last year. Nothing like waiting almost 30 years to complete a set!
Fuji said…
oh man. after reading this post and a few of the comments... my head hurts.

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