The best player of the last 50 years was active throughout the 1990s and began the decade with three MVP awards inside four years. It follows that I should have found at least some insert cards featuring Barry Bonds during the hobby decade that was defined by them.
I tried in vain to find one of the elusive Elite cards in packs of 1991 Donruss. I did, however, find several Bonds inserts in other products and remember pulling three different cards. Sticking with the Donruss theme, I found a Diamond Kings Bonds in an obliging 1994 foil pack. At the time I didn’t care the set’s highly stylized departure from previous iterations. The artwork looked like one of those paint-by-number kits rather than Dick Perez’s usual work.
Bonds and the rest of the Series 1 Diamond Kings checklist were seeded into packs at a rate of 1:9. Based on known print runs of 10,000 each for Elite cards and an insertion ratio of 1:216, it follows that there are approximately 103,000 copies of this card floating around out there.
1994 Leaf Power Brokers
The same year that I found a Diamond Kings card, I opened some Series 2 packs of Donruss’ sister brand Leaf. Inside I discovered a Barry Bonds Power Brokers insert. This card featured lots of pie charts delving into his home run stats amid shiny fireworks graphics. Cards like this were inserted at a rate of 1:12 packs. Given 1:90 odds of finding Gold Stars cards serial numbered out of 10,000 in the same packaging, I estimate there were approximately 52,500 of this card produced.
Bonds Repeating as MVP Seemed Likely in Early 1995
1995 would be the year in which my pack-pulled Bonds collection topped out. Building on a popular concept introduced the prior year in other sports, Upper Deck created a 100 card set that could be exchanged for even better cards. Each card in the checklist represented a player and an annual award or statistical category. If the player portrayed won the award or led the league at the end of the season collectors could send it into Upper Deck headquarters to receive their prize.
That year I used the $50 in birthday money my grandmother mailed me to pick up a box containing 36 packs of 1995 Upper Deck. It was also began a 27-year period in which I did not buy any boxes of cards. I do not recall where I actually purchased the cards, but do know it was a hobby-only box not available in normal retail channels. Predictor cards were inserted at a rate of 1:30 packs, giving me good odds of finding at least one. Given this insertion rate and small size of the checklist, I calculate that this insert was produced in numbers roughly two thirds the overall production of Bonds’ 1995 Upper Deck base card. Somewhere in that box I found a Bonds card projecting him to take home his fourth MVP inside of five years.
Bonds ended up finishing outside of the top 10 in MVP voting that year, an award that was carried by Barry Larkin in a close race with Dante Bichette. At least I didn’t have to go through the existential dread of deciding between sending it away for a fun new set or keeping an insert card that would soon see its population reduced by collectors redeeming their prizes.
The Predictor card was fun, but I always would have rather pulled an Elite card from 1991 Donruss. This copy came to my collection as a Christmas gift from my wife this past December. Issued in a year between MVP awards, the card has remained one of the better ones in the checklist. There was a dip in popularity when PED suspicions reached their peak, but the card has since returned to its place as the most sought after “regular” Elite card.