You see, I was a die-hard Orioles fan in 1989, and Gregg was something of a second coming for young Orioles fans at the time (a role Ben McDonald would go on to fill in 1990). I was even privileged enough to see him pitch in person on July 31st, 1990, when he closed the game out against the Blue Jays. It was my first major league game, and Olson’s appearance must have been electrifying, as I don’t remember much about that game other than Olson’s performance and taunting Glenallen Hill about his then-recent spider dream incident. We got his attention, too! But the most vivid memory was that 9th inning, when the entire stadium was on its feet to the last strike. What a performance, and I can point to it at as a moment when I really started to love baseball.
The Otter spent his college days at Auburn, where he pitched in relief. In 1988, the year the Ori0les took him with their first pick, he struck out 113 in 72 innings, leading his team. Like most college relievers, he didn’t spend much time in the minors, toiling in only 16 games between Hagerstown and Charlotte before debuting at the Kingdome on September 2nd, 1988. He struck out two and walked one, but the Orioles weren’t quite ready put him in the closer role.
He started off hot early in 1989 (3 victories and 2 saves in his first 11 appearances), and became entrenched at the back of the bullpen. Of course, this was as Tony LaRussa was only just defining modern closer usage, so Gregg had plenty of outings that stretched past one inning; in fact, he had three games with at least three innings, and eleven two-inning affairs. That’s pretty amazing when you compare it to today’s usage patterns. He even had a couple of four strikeout outings with that sick curveball (you know, the one that would eventually shred his arm). Did you know he surrendered one home run the entire year? Stunning. The guy was unstoppable.
I first became aware of Gregg when I pulled his rookie card from a 1989 Topps pack on a frigid winter night in the alleyway circled right here:
The white building on the left of the photo is, in fact, the store where I bought that pack. Though it was yellow at the time, it’s still standing all these years later; I even visited it a few weeks ago. It has a different name and a new coat of paint, but it’s essentially the same (minus the packs).
The Olson Topps was my first experience with a draft pick card, and as a budding prospector, I thought it possibly the greatest thing ever. Two thoughts sprang to mind: one, were there other draft picks in the set? (There were.) Two, how on Earth could I get this signed? The very idea was like visiting Mars to a kid in a small country town three hours from the closest team, but I wanted it. I tried to get him to sign it at the games I attended over the years, but I never had any luck. I did manage to score a signed version in 2003, appeasing that inner child.
One of the more interesting aspects of the 1989 Project Orioles cards are the uniform variations. If memory serves correctly, the team used the old Orioles uniforms in Spring Training, then changed to the black-capped versions once the season began. This means that it’s extremely easy to tell which pictures were taken in Spring Training. Some of the uniforms also have an EBW patch. The patch was worn in memory of Edwin Bennett Williams, who owned the team from 1930 to his death in August of 1988. We’ll look at that later, though. For now, enjoy The Otter!