Topps’ 1989 cards introduced me to the Draft Pick system. I was absolutely mesmerized when I pulled cards like this. I seem to remember Jim Abbott, Steve Avery, Monty Farriss, Bill Bene, Robin Ventura, and Mark Lewis joining Benes in the cards in this set (oh yes, and Ty Griffin and Willie Ansley – can’t forget those flops). They were in different uniforms – they looked a lot younger than your average star, and there was this sense of promise about them. This was a little before the Gregg Jefferies incident (which I will detail soon, very soon), so I can’t point the finger at that for my fascination with younger players. I really think it was the break in formula in the base set that did it. Seeing those cheap little uniforms fired my imagination.
Once I learned about the draft, I was completely hooked. It was like gambling on the future. How awesome was that?
As for Benes – I don’t know, he may have arguably been the best of the bunch. Avery would have overtaken him if not for overuse, and it’s debatable about his career versus Robin Ventura, but I’d take Benes over Ventura when building a team. And yet I had a lot more Ventura cards. Intriguing…
Juan Guzman was one of the first baseball players that I ever saw up-close-and-personal-like. I guess it was summer of 1994, and a friend had somehow scored AMAZING tickets, right down the first base line, behind the first base dugout at Camden Yards, and like three rows up. I’ve never been so close to a game, and it spoiled me for years afterward. Anyway, I kind of remember Guzman coming over and signing autographs, but I DEFINITELY remember watching him warm up so close to us. I was amazed at how close the mound was to home plate. It seems a whole lot closer when you’ve got some flamethrower out there, let me tell you.
It took a lot of digging, and I thought it had gone down before the year of my high school graduation, but apparently not – July 31st, 1994, was the first time Guzman pitched at Camden. He didn’t exactly pitch a gem, but he got the win against a decent Baltimore lineup. Looking at that lineup, I feel pretty honored to have seen some of those guys: Devon White, Robbie Alomar, Paul Molitor, and John Olerud (my second time seeing my hero in action). Not to mention, of COURSE, Cal Ripken, Harold Baines, and Rafael Palmeiro, who I liked a lot at the time.
I also remember this game as a big deal for the neighborhood rivalry – Ben McDonald versus John Olerud – the ultimate answer to who was better. The victor? Well…Olerud went 2 for 3 with a homerun and a triple. McDonald? 6 ER in 5 innings. Olerud supremacy!
Frank was one of those guys that looked amazing right out of the gate, as soon as he was drafted, and put his cards pretty much out of reach until the scope of the early 90s overproduction became apparent. That’s part of why I treasured this Best card so much, even back then: so many people had Thomas’ 1990 Score and Topps, fewer had the Leaf, but I never saw this card in anyone else’s collection. I can’t remember exactly where I found packs of these cards, but I know that we found about half a box and, owing to the rarity, I convinced my parents to scoop up all the remaining cards.
The packs also contained some future stars such as Bernie Williams, Javy Lopez, and Luis Gonzalez, among others that I thought would be future stars at the time. The cards seem simplistic, but I think they’re actually pretty nice. Full-bleed shots were unheard of at the time, and while the font is a little low-rent and cheesy, it’s about what you would expect for that time. Better minor league cards were coming, and soon, but for now, this offered what I thought was an underrated look at an undiscovered country: the world of minor league baseball, which still fascinates me to this day.
1991 Classic Best
In 1990, I was absolutely obsessed with John Olerud. I had been interested in the guy since learning that he was a legit two-way threat, a batter who could also pitch well (I was enthralled with the Babe Ruth legend at the time). Around that time, I started hearing about recent draftee Ryan Klesko, another two-way threat, though it’s hard to believe these days. Let me tell you, though, that was all I needed to hear, and he was on my want list. Of course, I had some trouble finding Klesko cards, as he wasn’t in any of the major sets. Thankfully, the 1990 minor league sets took off, and next thing you know, I have a bunch of Klesko cards.
Of course, we know how his career turned out: okay, passable, but never a real superstar, which bummed me out. I was convinced that somehow he would be the next great thing. I’m sure the warning signs were there: lack of plate discipline, high strikeout-to-walk ratio, the whole deal, but then…well, it was just as much about the legend of the player as the reality. And Klesko was quite a legend for me in the summers of 90 and 91.
1990 Upper Deck
Dave Hollins was one of those prospects that came out of nowhere for me and did a lot better than by all rights he should have. I only learned about the Rule V Draft in 1990, and Hollins was my entree into this confusing world, and after watching him play some, I scooped up as his cards as soon as I could, which was not soon enough. I believe my first Hollins card came in the 1990 Fleer Update set, but based off of Ken Griffey Jr‘s rookie card, Upper Deck was considered THE rookie card to have (Leaf would steal that crown soon enough).
Hollins is also one of those players whom I would love to see in their original uniform, one of those “almost” cards like the Ryne Sandberg Phillies cards that have popped up over the years. I wouldn’t say I’d give anything to see Hollins in a Padres uniform, but I think it would be pretty cool, especially since the Pads’ uniforms at the time were so great.
Careerwise, Hollins didn’t turn out to be anything special. I mean, sure, he had some great years, but overall he was just above average in OPS+, which means he was below average for a third baseman. Guess I didn’t miss out on much not getting his Leaf card after all.
1990 Donruss The Rookies
I’m covering Marquis Grissom’s 1990 Rookies issue on my other site this morning, and it seemed fitting to look at one of the more obscure prospects from that set on this site today. Knackert was not the best prospect, but what he represents is a branching out. He had an okay if not stellar minor league reputation with the White Sox before getting picked up by the Mets as a Rule V draftee. I guess he failed to make the squad and the Mariners picked him up off waivers, deciding to give him a shot at staying on the roster that year, and what an abysmal year it was. I mean, the guy was 21, but he had a 61 ERA+. My branching-out prospecting brain, however, seized on his age rather than his ability and thought he had staying power. Yeah, he didn’t. He made it to the majors again in 1996, then he was done. I still had a lot to learn.
But what really brings me back on this card is that Mariners cap. I loved that logo, for some reason. I guess it was the yellow on blue…it had such a classic 80s feel, yet I didn’t know what that even meant at the time. All I knew was that I had to have one, being a big uniform and cap sucker. I wore that thing with pride for a few years until it was too worn out to carry on, along with my two Blue Jays hats with that classic, awesome logo that made me a Jays fan for so many years. You know the one.
I felt like I was an oddity for years, until I discovered entire sites
dedicated to the subject. And yet no sites dedicated to Mr. Knackert. But hey, he does have a facebook page, with a picture from his Red Sox year.
1990 Upper Deck
1990 was the first year I followed Spring Training as a baseball fan, and I dug into with both hands, enjoying the younger players that got playing time, hoping that I would get some clues as to future stars. Mickey was the first guy that grabbed my attention. I had never heard of him, but he showed up in ST and started hitting moonshots off of established players. This was well before I understood how Spring Training stats worked, so I thought I had found a diamond in the rough. This articlefrom that year says it all:
“WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – There is rapidly becoming one story in spring training. He is 6 feet tall with bulging muscles. He grew up in Bridgewater, played for Bridgewater-Raynham High School and the Bridgewater Legion. One of his idols was Jim Rice. He adored Carl Yastrzemski and respected the ability of Dwight Evans.
He’s got a made-for-Fenway Park swing. Short, compact and sweet. Some think he will someday rule the Wall. The question now is: Will Mickey Pina supplant Evans as the right fielder, with the veteran’s back flareups too unpredictable for the Sox to count on him?”
Of course, he didn’t make the team in 1990, went back to Pawtucket, and somehow degenerated. His career was gone after that. But that’s not what we’re concerned with here. I was more concerned with not being able to find ANY of his cards in 1990. The first to hit was his 1990 ProCards issue, the first regular minor league set I was able to afford, but this beauty is the one I always remember when I think of that guy. It’s a shame he became another in a long line of Red Sox outfield disappointments, because I thought for sure I had the next Yastrzemski. Instead it was just another Sam Horn.