Well, here we go again, folks. I think I’m more prepared for this, though, as I learned a lot from the 88 project.
There was no bigger-deal rookie in 1989 than Jerome Walton, bar none. It’s a testament to how weak that class was, however, that a guy who hit .293/.335/.385 was the ROY. But it was 89, and WGN was still king for us guys…so the Cubs were still as hot as when Mark Grace made his debut the previous year. Which meant Walton cardboard was scorching hot as far as we were concerned. Never mind that I thought Dwight Smith was the better player, I needed Walton cards.
Walton made his major league debut on April 4th after a torrid Spring Training, especially on defense, where he earned rave reviews. He also hit .284 that spring and stole seven bases, living up to the Cubs’ hopes for him.
I think what really won “Juice” the ROY, though, was his hitting streak. From July 21st to July 31st of that year, he hit in 30 straight games (a Cubs record), and it was a big deal. Capital letters Big Deal. It was written about quite a bit, and of course there were always questions of whether he could match DiMaggio (as if). The streak ended as these cards started hitting the market, and he was red-hot. We all had to have his cards.
July 13th was arguably the high point of Jerome’s 1989 season. He went 4 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI. Of course, he also stole four bases on June 18th, and drove in three runs on July 7th, so he had some high-water marks that year. Marks he would never again live up to, but we were eating it up.
The rest of Walton’s career is depressing. He started falling off in 1990, and only hit .219/.275/.330 in 1991. The Cubs let him go after a .127/.273/.164 1992, and he bounced around the league, managing a decent year with the Reds in 1995, when he hit .290/.368/.525, but fell off another cliff after that. He landed with Tampa Bay in 1998 for his final season, and it was just as odd a sight as you might think:
His last team was actually the Yankees, though, as he tried out for the team in 1999 Spring Training, but got cut:
This was the crown jewel of the Jerome Walton experience in 1989. Believe it or not, there was a time when this was a $20 card. I had it entombed in plastic like my Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card, and figured it was a solid long-term investment. These days it’s a quarter. Sad coda to the whole affair. But there were better long-term rookies in 1989.