The 1988 Project Day 23 – Willie Upshaw

1988 Fleer Update

Willie will always be, for better or worse, the guy who blocked Fred McGriff at first base, but he wasn’t a half-bad first baseman. 1988, however, would be the end of a 10-year career. In 88, he was 30 years old and coming off of a season that had signaled his quick decline. He had dropped from a career-high .887 OPS in 1983 (and a 4.9 WAR, also a career high) all the way down to a .715 OPS in 1987, his lowest since 1981. He had also dropped to a 1.7 WAR by that point. It was clearly time for McGriff to take his spot.

1988 Score Rookies & Traded

Willie was somehow purchased from the Blue Jays by the Indians (is this the term for when someone is just traded for cash?) on March 25th, 1988 to make room for a McGriff/Cecil Fielder platoon. Isn’t that something to think about? Upshaw went on to a .699 ops, the lowest he had since he became a full-time player. In the meantime, Fielder did manage a 721 ops with a 100 OPS+ and 0.0 WAR in 1988, not world-beating, but better than Upshaw. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that McGriff had a 928 ops with a 157 OPS+, and his glove boosted him to a 7.2 WAR. Yeah, the choice was clear.

1988 Topps Traded

So Willie’s major league career came to a rather sad end. He went to Japan after 1988, playing two seasons for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. I haven’t had any luck finding stats for those years, but he returned as a coach and manager; he currently manages the Bridgeport Bluefish.

Out of these three, I have to go with the Score as my favorite. The others are just tired baseball poses, where this one has something dynamic going on. I never really thought much of Willie during his career, probably because he was finishing up as I was getting into collecting, but now I feel for him. His career ended pretty early, at 31.

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