1998 Donruss Crusade
In the '90s, Donruss had some of the classier inserts around. Upper Deck pioneered the AutoGamers, Pinnacle corned the market on Dufex, Fleer was known for sheer quantity of inserts, Pacific went overboard on die cuts and Topps... Well, Topps inserts sucked. Donruss inserts had class. The Danes call it "Quality". Donruss led the way with Diamond Kings, Elite, Spirit of the Game. They could also do cheesy and gimmicky with the best of them, but in general they were a bit more highbrow than the rest.
In 1998, Donruss did two things: they released the apex of of '90s inserts and they dropped dead. Well. not exactly dropped dead, the company that gobbled them up (Pinnacle) went bankrupt and the company that picked up the scraps (Playoff) missed out on the baseball license, so for all intents and purposes Donruss was dead in the baseball market until 2001, when they produced one of the most ridiculous card sets ever. I digress, however.
In 1998 Donruss released a pretty solid stable of products including Donruss, Leaf, Elite and Signture Series. Of course all 5 of the competing brands (I never fully accepted that Pinnacle and Donruss were the same thing - you still had to choose between a pack of Leaf and a pack of Pinnacle in the card aisle) also had similar decent lineups of base, mid-level, high end and WTF products. In order to stand out from the crowd you have to have some kind of draw or gimmick to catch people's attention. To prop up their low-end products, Donruss tried Crusade.
Basically Crusade was a shiny Chrome Refractor looking card with bold colors and an eye-popping font for the name that had some kind of Midieval Times theme going on. There is no way to describe in words how fantastic these things look, you just have to see them in person. Like any Donruss gimmick worth its salt it was also horribly confusing, fractured and low-numbered.
There were three different versions of the base Crusade card. The most common Green card shown here that is numbered to 250. A better looking Purple parallel was numbered to 100 each. The scarcest and best looking Crusade card was colored Red and numbered to only 25 cards. Thanks to later shenanigans by the next incarnation of Donruss and Topps with their Moments and Milestones set, you can find cards numbered to 25 in the "please take these crappy cards free and get this junk out of my store" box at your local card shop. Back in 1998 a card numbered to 250 was an underwear-ruining experience.
The cards were pretty scarce to begin with, add to this that the set is 100 cards in size and you have a real beast of a set if you want to try to collect it. Oh, but wait there's more... This insert set was fractured amongst four different sets. 40 cards could be found in 1998 Donruss, 30 more in Leaf, and the last 30 were found in Donruss Update. Then Donruss tacked on 30 more Crusade cards of up-and -comers like Jaret Wright and Bobby Estallella in their Leaf Rookies and Stars set. In all, you have 130 cards spread over four sets. Oh but wait there's more... The first 100 cards are skip numbered across the two Donruss sets and Leaf. If you want the Ken Griffey Jr. card, you can buy 1000 cases of Leaf, you ain't gonna get him. If you want A-Rod, don't buy any Donruss. So in summary, 130 cards, numbered to 375 cards each across the parallels, spread out over 4 sets, in a seemingly random manner. Yeah, good luck with that one.
BUT DAMN, IT'S PURDY.
Even this Helton here which is horribly flawed by a refractor seam going right through the middle (which looks like a design element in the scan, but it's not) looks utterly fantastic. Sure, it's a ridiculous set that is almost a prototype for all the the excessive parallels and nonsensical gimmickry that emerged in the 2000's but sometimes you have to distance yourself from the marketing absurdity and just enjoy the beauty of the design.