Updated: Jun 25
Following an amazing 1981, I was beyond pumped to see what cards would hit shelves in 1982. Obviously there was no Hobby News Daily back then to give me the scoop, but I did know through a friend’s subscription to Baseball Hobby News to once again expect three sets. I also knew myself well enough to know I’d be pursuing all three.
As it was a foregone conclusion that each set would include all of the game’s top stars, the real question was what else they would include. Error cards, particularly the 1981 Fleer “C” Nettles, grabbed most of the headlines in 1981, but collectors my age were also enamored with the extra cards of star players in both Fleer and Donruss.
Topps definitely delivered by bringing back its “In Action” subset from a decade earlier. Topps also returned to the past (most recently 1974) by designating separate cards for all-stars rather than simply adding an all-star banner or emblem to the player’s base card. In many cases this meant three cards of the most popular players, and in some cases even more!
Fleer also doubled up on star power, not only with additional solo cards of superstar players but various combination player cards, the most legendary being its Carlton/Fisk card.
It was Donruss, however, that made the greatest impression on this young collector. The Diamond King had entered the Hobby.
These remarkable cards had it all: a cool name, a star-studded checklist, and absolutely glorious artwork. This “Perez,” whose signature the cards featured, had not only promoted our cardboard heroes from the pack to the gallery but had in the process elevated each of us to art collector. Where I was once Gilligan, I was now Mr. Howell.
The signature design that would hold for a decade–a large portrait with small inset action shot, all under a “Diamond Kings” banner–essentially merged into one the two innovations Topps had introduced separately: “In Action” and “All-Star.” Recognizing we would need to know more about these exquisite cards, Donruss obliged with an unnumbered checklist and an invitation: “Treasure them, they are yours to enjoy.”
Donruss also let us know from the onset that “in the years ahead [artist Dick Perez] will create portraits of other Diamond Kings” and gave us hope that someday all of our “favorites will someday be crowned.”
More than four decades later, I can say Donruss definitely lived up to the promise, in my case following up the 1982 coronations of Steve Garvey and Dave Parker with those of Fernando Valenzuela (1983), Pedro Guerrero (1984), Dwight Gooden (1986), Kirk Gibson (1986), and Orel Hershiser (1986).
Though the Diamond Kings branding was not used, Donruss and Dick Perez also added exquisitely paintings of the all-time greats to our collections in 1983 with the Hall of Fame Heroes set and 1984 with Champions. Notably, the 1983 set marked the first time Negro Leagues legends Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell could be pulled from a pack of cards, at least in this country.
Even today, the Diamond Kings name lives on, no longer a subset but an entire product line from Panini, but what of the original artist, Dick Perez? Dick is not only still with us but in fact the subject of an upcoming baseball film, “The Diamond King,” the brainchild of award-winning filmmaker Marq Evans. Even more great news for collectors is that the film’s Kickstarter rewards include an all-new, limited edition, 22-card set that Dick created specifically for the film. Individual sets are available at the $100 supporter level, with discounted pricing applied at higher levels of support.
2023 Dick Perez “Diamond Immortals” checklist
Grover Cleveland Alexander
Mike Trout (Diamond Destiny)
Aaron Judge (Diamond Destiny)
Shohei Ohtani (Diamond Destiny)
Julio Rodríguez (Diamond Destiny)
These sets are available exclusively at thediamondkingmovie.com while supplies last and only through June 3, 2023, at 1:59 AM CT. At less than $5 per serial numbered card, they present tremendous value to collectors and resellers alike, but even more importantly they help make the upcoming Dick Perez biopic a reality.