Insert Card Craze: Donruss Long Ball Leaders of the 1990s

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The only significant non-base cards in Donruss Baseball products in the early 1990s were the iconic Donruss Elite inserts. However, in 1993 they really leaned into the insert-card craze and released six different insert sets, including the Long Ball Leaders inserts that would become a staple.

1993 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 18
Hall of Famers: 6

The initial Long Ball Leaders set was split between Series 1 and Series 2 of the 1993 Donruss release and found exclusively in 26-card magazine packs.

The Series 1 checklist was headlined by Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire, while Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar was a head-scratching addition to a set focused on home run hitting after he hit just eight homers in 671 plate appearances the previous year.

The Series 2 portion of the set included four Hall of Famers—Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Ryne Sandberg and Larry Walker. Fellow prolific sluggers Gary Sheffield, Cecil Fielder and Juan Gonzalez were also part of the second group.

The oddest inclusion among the 18 players was St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Felix Jose who had a career year in ’92 with a 14-homer, 75-RBI season but still didn’t quite fit the bill as a major home run threat.

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1994 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 10
Hall of Famers: 3

Donruss rebranded as a more premium product in 1994 and the Long Ball Leaders inserts came along for the ride, this time found in Series 2 hobby packs at a 1:12 pull rate.

The focus of the set was on the longest home runs hit during the 1993 season, which was less readily available in formation in the pre-Statcast era.

Cecil Fielder (484 feet), Dean Palmer (477 feet), Andres Galarraga (473 feet), Bo Jackson (472 feet), Ken Griffey Jr. (471 feet), David Justice (467 feet), Mike Piazza (466 feet), Frank Thomas (451 feet), Barry Bonds (449 feet) and Juan Gonzalez (448 feet) make up the 10-card checklist.

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1995 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 8
Hall of Famers: 4

The 1995 Long Ball Leaders insets were a bit of an eye sore with an overabundance of information crammed onto the front of each card.

Along with each player’s picture, the card fronts also included the date, distance, opposing team, opposing pitcher and stadium where the home run was hit. That information is all displayed in a variety of different fonts and font sizes running in every different direction, and much of it is obscured by the player’s photo.

Jose Canseco (480 feet), Mike Piazza (477 feet), Ken Griffey Jr. (462 feet), Fred McGriff (462 feet), Frank Thomas (444 feet), Matt Williams (440 feet), Barry Bonds (430 feet) and Jeff Bagwell (425 feet) made up the abbreviated eight-card checklist, and they were a relatively tough pull at 1:24 Series 1 hobby packs. 

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1996 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 8
Hall of Famers: 3

The 1996 Long Ball Leaders inserts had a much cleaner look than the previous year’s debacle with a black background, silver border and team-colored home run details.

A much tougher pull than in previous years, they were found in just 1:96 retail packs and for the first time had a serial number with a print run of just 5,000.

Barry Bonds (477 feet), Ryan Klesko (468 feet), Mark McGwire (465 feet), Raul Mondesi (463 feet), Cecil Fielder (463 feet), Ken Griffey Jr. (462 feet), Larry Walker (462 feet) and Frank Thomas (461 feet) were the eight featured sluggers in the ’96 set.

The highest book values in the set belong to Griffey ($12), Bonds ($8) and McGwire ($8).

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1997 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 15
Hall of Famers: 4

The Donruss set was released under the Pinnacle Brands umbrella of products for the first time in 1997, and the Long Ball Leaders inserts came along for the ride.

They were once again serial numbered with a print run of 5,000, and again exclusive to Series 1 retail packs, albeit with an expanded 15-card checklist.

The foil design made the card details a bit difficult to read, but was a sharp look nonetheless, and the addition of a ruler in the design to emphasize the focus on home run distance was a nice touch.

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1998 Donruss Long Ball Leaders

Cards: 24
Hall of Famers: 8

The final year of the Long Ball Leaders inserts was 1998 as Pinnacle Brands declared bankruptcy in July and Donruss went by the wayside.

After focusing on the longest home runs of the season in each of the past iterations, the ’98 Long Ball Leaders inserts instead focused each player’s home run total from the previous year relative to Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 homers.

The cards again had a print run of 5,000 and were found only in Series 1 packs, but with the largest checklist to date with 24 cards, eight of which belonged to Hall of Famers.

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The inserts returned in 2001 when the Donruss product line was resurrected.