Ahhh, Ben McDonald. In 1990, there was a rookie battle afoot: the forces of John Olerud (me, mostly) versus the forces of Ben McDonald (everyone else). It was tough for me to appreciate what the guy was capable of when everyone in town was treating him like the second coming. I thought Olerud was a much more solid prospect: good swing, strong college pitcher, great fielder…oh, and he played in those awesome late 80s/early 90s Blue Jays uniforms. What wasn’t to love? He rapidly became my favorite player while others went down the McDonald path, fueled by the 1990 Upper Deck error.
We know how their careers turned out: Olerud had a much more solid path, while McDonald got injured and flamed out somewhat early in his career. But every time someone mentions McDonald or I see one of his cards, I’m that 13-year old kid again, standing in the backyard catching flak for my choice of player. Still, that didn’t stop me from eventually seeing what was there and at least pursuing one of his autographs as a sort of badge of honor. Today, for me, McDonald is one of those “could have been” stories that intrigue me. What if his body had held up? He posted pretty good ERA+s from 1993 onward, cursed by playing for some lousy teams. I don’t know. It’s an interesting quandary.