Tag Archives: 1989

I Was a Teenage Prospector: Andy Benes

Benes Topps

1989 Topps

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…

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The 1989 Project Day 15: Bill Spiers

1989 Donruss The Rookies

Now we get into a player that I contemplated collecting back in 1989. Bill Spiers wasn’t exactly a giant hit in our neighborhood, but I liked him, and I thought he had a solid future in the majors. I briefly flirted with the idea of collecting his cards, but decided to pass after all, as I had no real connection the Brewers outside of liking Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.

Bill was the Brewers’ 1987 first-round pick from Clemson University. He had hit 17 home runs as a shortstop there, hitting .325 with a reputation for slick fielding, as well as serving as the team’s punter, averaging 39.2 yards a punt. He was expected to anchor the kicking team for Clemson in 1987, but when he accepted the Brewers’ offer, the football team had to scramble for a solution.

Here’s a shot of Bill from his time with the Clemson team, scoring against Wake Forest:

I also found a picture from his time with the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaskan League:

1989 Fleer Update

Bill started with rookie league Helena in 1987, hitting .409/.480/.455 in 6 games there before getting moved up to A-level Beloit, where he hit .298/.344/.380 in 64 games. It was a damned good start for a shortstop, especially one with a good defensive reputation. He was already getting a bit of a reputation as a fiery player, though.

In 1988, he got some time with the team in Spring Training before being sent down to high-A Stockton, where he hit .269/.353/.377 in 84 games. The Brewers advanced him again, this time to AA El Paso, where he spent the rest of the season hitting .280/.344/.387.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

Spiers was invited back for Spring Training in 1989 and made the team in a surprising decision, splitting time with Gary Sheffield before Sheffield was moved over to third despite his protests. Spiers’ first game was April 7th, at home against the Tigers, where he had no hits; his first major league hit would have to wait until April 10th, when he started against the Rangers in Arlington. He wouldn’t get a hit again until April 17th. He came into the game hitting .063/.158/.063, but went 2 for 2 that day with his first homer, a grand slam off of Brad Arnsberg to put the game out of reach in the top of the 9th. Unfortunately, he would only get one more hit in April, going .154/.258/.269 for the month.

May would be a little kinder, though. He only played in one game between April 30th and May 6th, getting no hit, but he broke out again on the 6th, going 2-for-3 with a run, bringing his line up to .194/.297/.290. Between then and the end of the month, he would go .288/.373/.346 with 3 doubles and 4 stolen bases.

1989 Topps Traded

June was a disaster, though. He hit just .200/.259/.200 before he was sent down to AAA Denver, where he would hit .362/.423/.574 with 2 homers in 14 games before being called back up.  He made his return to the majors as a defensive replacement on July 16th, then a late-inning replacement again on the 17th, getting a hit there and earning a start on July 18th. He went 1-for-4 in that game, and began to steadily hit, his numbers increasing throughout the month. He hit .341/.333/.341 with two homers in July, boosting his numbers to .262/.317/.302. This was about the time I started to notice him, as I recall.

He got steady play throughout August, but failed to match his torrid pace from July, hitting .180/.232/.213, falling to .231/.286/.269.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

But the Brewers stuck with him, and he improved his game in September, hitting .308/.327/.477 for the month, ending at .255/.298/.333. Obviously, the OBP was a concern, but overall the Brewers were happy with his glove, especially. At this point I would have declared his career at a crossroads; plenty of players had arrived at this point and never gone anywhere in the past, but he was only 23 and had time to improve. He hit worse in 1990 and returned to AAA again for a bit, then rebounded in 1991, finally showing the offensive promise he had shown in the minors. Then he got injured in 92, missing almost all of the season and moving off of SS permanently, as his range was much reduced. He stuck around in the majors until 2001, though, spending time between AAA and the majors with the Mets and the Astros. His final career line was .271/.341/.370 with 37 home runs and 97 stolen bases. Certainly not what was predicted for him, but I can’t hate on him for a career like that.

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The 1989 Project Day 13 – Rob Murphy

1989 Donruss Baseball's best

Rob had been a solid Reds player up to this point, identified with the team in most card sets, even making some team leaders cards after an amazing 1987 rookie campaign in which he threw a 0.72 ERA in 50.1 IP as a reliever. Of course, he was already 27, so that was kind of his peak, but he had a 2.56 ERA to go with 209 strikeouts in 230 IP for the years he had with the Reds.

1989 Donruss Traded

On 12/13/88, the Reds dealt Murphy and Nick Esasky (who will be featured in the 1990 project) to the Red Sox for Todd Benzinger, Jeff Sellers, and Luis Vaszquez. Apparently, this was a consolation trade for the Red Sox, who had tried to send Mike Greenwell to the Mets in exchange for Ron Darling. The Reds seemed to be reluctant to deal Murphy, but he was a key part of getting rid of Esasky, who had gotten into Pete Rose’s doghouse. Murphy, however, seemed to be happy about getting out from under John Franco’s shadow, as he had been Franco’s setup man.

1989 Fleer Update

Murphy would not, however, be a closer in Boston; he was slotted into the same setup role as in Cincinnati. But it didn’t matter. He had a 2.74 ERA in 1989 with the Red Sox, striking out 107 in 105 IP. A 151 ERA+. He won the Red Sox Fireman of the Year and set a Red Sox record for 74 appearances by a left-handed pitcher. One hell of a year for a middle reliever, in other words.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

The manufacturers sure jumped on him changing teams, though; he was one of the guys was standard for the traded sets that year, as you can see, and I was completely nonplussed. Come on, he was a setup guy, and for a 13-year-old, a middle reliever means almost nothing. There were lots of Red Sox prospects that I felt would have made better candidates at the time, but now that I see Murphy’s career in retrospect, I understand.  Yeah, he was a middle reliever, but he was an amazing setup man. Relievers are overvalued these days, but given the state of relief back then, Murphy was probably pretty undervalued.

1989 Topps Traded

Unfortunately, Murphy’s 1989 success would be short-lived; 1990 would be an absolute disaster. He had a 6.32 ERA, his HR/9 ballooned from .6/9IP to 1.6/9IP, and his BB/9 skyrocketed, too. I can only surmise that it was a bout of bad luck OR his velocity was falling off, as he still struck out 54 in 47 IP and would rebound for the next few years. The Red Sox had had enough, though, and gave up on him in 1991, trading him to the Mariners for Mike Gardiner. He rebounded nicely in Seattle in 1991, his HR/9 dropping back down to a 0.8 rate, he had a 3.00 ERA, but I guess the problem was his velocity dropping off, as his strikeout rate sustained its drop and would do so for the rest of his career. Makes sense for a flame-throwing reliever, honestly.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

His career would last until 1995. From 1992 to 1995, he went 13-13 with a 4.90 ERA, 3 saves, 115 K in 174.2 IP, and had a 1.391 WHIP, good for a 79 ERA+. According to Wikipedia, though, his post-baseball career has been pretty interesting:

horse racing and thoroughbred training expert, Murphy has devised his own method for handicapping and breeding. Rob’s company, M375 Thoroughbreds, Inc., has bred, raised, and raced such successful horses as Platinum Tiara, Swing and Miss, Diamond Studs, Strike Three, and Golden Spikes.

Good for him! Always good to hear players making a life for themselves after the game.

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Card of the Day: 1989 Star Columbus Mudcats Manny Acta Auto

Manny has one of the best autographs of a manager out there. Love the touch with the number on the card. I miss the guy.

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The 1989 Project Day 12 – Scott Scudder

 

1989 Fleer update

 

Scott Scudder was not a particularly impressive minor league pitcher for the Reds after being drafted in the 1st round of the 1986 draft and signing on July 4th of that year. He had, however, been a highly-coveted high-school pitcher out of Texas, scoring a 14-0 record with a 0.74 ERA and 147 strikeouts as a Senior. The Reds sent him to the rookie-league Billings Mustangs that year, and he put up a pedestrian 1-3 line with a 4.79 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 52 innings to go with a 1.50 WHIP. He spent two years at Single-A Cedar Rapids, going 14-15 before getting bumped up to AA Chattanooga at the back end of 1988. He wasn’t showing much to the organization, and yet they were shooting him through the system. He hit AAA Nashville in 1989, going 6-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 12 games, striking out 64 in 80 IP with a 1.26 WHIP. Combine that with a strong Spring Training that impressed manager Pete Rose, and I guess the Reds thought he had finally put it together, because they recalled him and he pitched in his first game on June 6th in San Francisco. He gave up a homer to Kevin Mitchell in the early going, but he ended up lasting six innings, giving up three runs on three hits with FIVE walks and five strikeouts. Yikes.

 

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

 

He went on to be 4-9 with a 4.49 ERA and almost as many walks (61) as strikeouts (66). Seriously, his BB/9 was 5.5, and his SO/9 was 5.9. That’s not really going to get the job done, and presaged his future role as a AAAA pitcher. He would spend only one year entirely in the majors, 1991, when he started and relieved, still unable to bring that walk rate down. In the 91 offseason, the Reds traded him, Joe Turek, and Jack Armstrong to the Indians for Greg Swindell. He played two partial years with the Indians, going 6-11 with a 5.42 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 113 innings. That walk rate still sucked, as he had a 4.7 BB/9 and a 1.752 WHIP. He became a free agent in the 1993 offseason and signed with the Pirates, but never made the team, spending 1994 in their minor league system before landing with the Reds in 1995. And then his career was done, never living up to the promise of his hype.

Scudder was never a particularly popular player in our hometown, but then we were a long way from Cincinnati and never really saw their games.  Still, it seemed like he would pan out to be more than he ended up being. I’m going to go ahead and blame being rushed to the majors. I don’t know why the Reds did that when they had a fairly good rotation that would take them to the World Series Championship the next year.

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The 1989 Project Day 11 – Derek Lilliquist

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

The Braves picked Derek Lilliquist in the first round of the 1987 draft after he led the University of Georgia to the College World series in Spring of 1987 (in fact, he made his first start of the College World Series that year on my 11th birthday). He was designated to the Gulf Coast Braves, where he pitched 2 games with 13 scoreless innings before being bumped up to Single-A Durham. In 3 games there, he had a 2.88 ERA, a 2-1 record, and 29 Ks in 25 IP.

1989 Donruss the Rookies

The Braves bumped him past AA in 1988, straight to AAA Richmond. He went 10-12 there that year, with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Pretty good, but he probably could have stood to repeat AAA. Atlanta didn’t seem interested in that at all, however, and promoted Derek to the majors in 1989 at age 23.

By the way, as Derek is wearing a batting helmet here, he was pretty good with the bat; his career major league line would be .213/.220/.278 with two home runs, pretty good for a pitcher, especially given that he only had 108 at-bats.

1989 Fleer Update

Lilliquist did earn his spot on the team, though. He had a strong Spring while former #5 starter Charlie Puleo stank. And Derek wasn’t bad in 1989! He won his first outing on April 13th, going 7.1 innings while giving up 3 hits, allowing 1 run, and striking out 5. It was probably his best outing of the year. Derek’s biggest drawback that year was that right-handers hit him well. Incredibly well. To the tune of .308/.343/.439; bad news given the majority of hitters are right-handers. He also showed the kind of difficulties you’d expect of a 23-year-old who wasn’t used to pitching so many innings, losing strength and control as the year went on before getting a bump in September.

1989 Topps Traded

He ended 1989 with an 8-10 record, a 3.97 ERA, 79 K in 165.2 innings, and a 1.425 WHIP. Not great, but not bad. At age 23, it seemed he would improve and perhaps help with the amazing rotation that the Braves were already starting to gather.

Unfortunately, 1990 was no good for the young pitcher. He fell to 2-8 with a 6.28 ERA with the Braves before they demoted him to Richmond, then dealt him to the Padres for Mark Grant on 7/12/90. He picked up with the Padres when they moved him to the bullpen, going 3-3 with a 4.33 ERA, but he ended up spending most of 91 with the Padres’ AAA team in Las Vegas, going 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA down there. Was it overuse? Hard to say. He returned to the Padres for six games and completely sucked. The Padres waived him, and he landed with Cleveland, where he was a much better reliever for a few years.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

All in all, I just have to wonder what happened to Derek. He definitely had promise. Was he rushed too much? I mean, of course he was rushed too much, but did it completely derail him and he wasn’t able to recover? Career he ended up 25-34 with a 4.13 ERA, 17 saves, and a 97 ERA+. All of those seem a lot better than his uneven years would indicate. Seriously, look it up. He may have averaged out to a not-so-bad pitcher, but…yeah.

I don’t have any real connection to Derek, but I do remember at the time I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be much of anything, compared to Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. I can’t remember why – he was just as hyped, and there were lots of people who thought he was a future star. I do feel bad for the way his career went, though. I guess at least he made it and stuck around for eight seasons.

 

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The 1989 Project Day 10 – Todd Zeile

Todd Zeile was a UCLA grad who was chosen by the Cardinals in the second round of the 1986 draft, a catcher at the time. He was instantly a top prospect for the Cardinals. Assigned to Erie in the New York Penn League, he hit .258/.352/.492 with 14 home runs in 70 games, a damned impressive showing for a catcher.

1989 Fleer Update

The Cardinals moved him up slowly through the system, spending a year at each level and utterly dominating. He hit 25 home runs in 1987 at A-level Springfield, hitting .292/.380/.511. In 1988, he moved up to AA Arkansas and slugged 19 home runs with a .272/.388/.491 line. As a catcher. Yeah, the guy was one hell of a prospect – the Cardinals’ top prospect, in fact, by 1989, when he got a chance to join the Cardinals for Spring Training and promptly mashed the hell out of the ball, but the team didn’t want to rush him and smartly sent him back to the minors, AAA Louisville, where he hit another 19 home runs and hit .289/.350/.486, proving he was the real deal. He earned a call-up in August, 1989, and was there to stay.

In 28 games with the Cards in 1989, he hit .256/.326/.354 with one home run, and was on everyone’s radar as a hot rookie to watch for 1990.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

I hadn’t seen the guy until I saw this card at another meeting of our card club, and though I had heard whispers of him being good, I had no idea HOW good until I saw the numbers on the back of the card. I knew I had to have this, and while it took quite some finessing, I finally got it.

Zeile’s 1990, of course, was not very stunning. Sure, he hit 15 home runs, but he got moved to third base, and hit .244/.333/.398, hardly living up to the hype of his minor league numbers. His career was, in fact, pretty much a disappointment. He ended up being a journeyman third baseman, bouncing around from team to team, not great but good, a decent warm body to fill a spot. His career year would be 1997 with the Dodgers, when he hit .268/.365/.459. He retired in 2004, with a .265/.346/.423 career line and 253 career homers.

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