Excuse me for skipping Gregg Olson and rearranging my schedule a tad; you see, my scans of Olson cards didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, so I have to rework them; the best-laid plans and all that. In the meantime, I’m moving on to Jim Abbott.
I was aware of Abbott well before he became a traded/update star. He was already a media darling: a big hit with Team USA and a man with an inspirational story that I won’t rehash here. It all gave him something of a built-in mystique. An aura, if you will.
This made my 13-year-old self very amped for any Abbott cards, and I was hardly the only one. He was a hobby darling in 1989.
Jim followed the Winfield career plan, jumping straight from college to the AL West, making his major league debut April 8th, 1989 against the blue-puffy-hatted Mariners. He suffered the indignity of a 7-0 loss, and even though he got knocked around, he didn’t surrender a home run. Not a very auspicious debut, but then again his 1989 wasn’t amazing, either. Almost exactly league average, in fact.
His rookie performance didn’t matter that much in 1989, and I don’t think it does now, either. He would go on to bigger years (1991 and 1992 come to mind, not to mention his no-hitter with the Yankees), but his impact on the game outside of stats cannot be underestimated. I’m definitely not a big “intangibles” guy; I think team chemistry is overrated and don’t believe people win because they want it bad enough, but Abbott hits the sweet spot of an emotional contribution outside of the numbers. He was and is an inspirational figure, and I think any of his rookie cards and/or autographed cards are worth the trouble to acquire. He’s been on my shortlist of wanted autos for quite some time, in fact.
1989 was not a complete disaster, however. Jim had a couple of nine-strikeout games, one on April 29th against the Jays and one on August 6th against his future employers, the Brewers. The August 6th game was a complete game shutout, with Greg Brock bearing the dubious distinction of whiffing three times. Jim struggled with his control, though; he had one five-walk game and a handful of four-walk games, though oddly he was 3-3 across these en route to a 12-12 record. He also had a 3.7 BB rate to a 5.7 K rate, a lot higher than I would have thought. He would have a few years better than that, but he seemed to hover right around that ratio for most of his career.
What an oddity this card was; I thought I was the only one who found it odd, but upon further reflection, it was a new concept. Abbott already had an 88 Topps Traded and a regular Topps card in the 1989 set, but draft pick cards were a relatively new concept at the time, and so I think they included him as this was the first shot of him in his Angels uniform. Something like the difference between a “first card” and a “rookie card” these days. Either way, I considered this an “inferior” card. Odd how we categorize things.
This card, on the other hand, was an impact card. It was a gimmick, and it wasn’t UD’s first triple exposure card (see Nolan Ryan’s 89 UD), but it sure made a splash. I saw this for the first time at the basement club that I’ve mentioned previously. Some lucky kids had found high numbers packs and were ready to distribute the wealth in exchange for Gregg Jefferies rookie cards. It was a magical night, and I soon had this in hand. I treasured it, and still have it to this day, even if it’s now bent (this is a different copy).
So yes, Jim Abbott: important to my formative years in the hobby. In fact, many of the players of the 1989 Project are, and it will be a great trip down memory lane.