Tag Archives: Topps Traded

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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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 9 – Junior Felix

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

In 1989, I was beginning my love affair with the Toronto Blue Jays. To be honest, rather than being drawn to any one player, as John Olerud was not yet with the team, I was most drawn to the team’s uniforms and logo. Now come on, you have to admit that’s one badass logo, and it would be great if they’d go back to it. Anyway, I was excited to find out the Blue Jays had a cool new rookie that seemed to have five-tool stuff; that guy was Junior Felix.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

Side note: I immediately noticed that this photo and the previous photo are obviously from the same at-bat, same photographer and everything. I mean, not only same at-bat, but seconds apart. I did a double-take when I saw it, but noticed that the flex of the arms is slightly different, and the guy in the background has moved a bit. Still, wow. 1989 Baseball’s Best was a tremendous improvement over the 88 series when it came to photography, but this was one of those choices that showed that the series was still a “B” product at best.

1989 Fleer Update

Junior rose through the Blue Jays system pretty quickly, becoming known for his quick wrists, which produced a lot of power despite his scrawny size, and his speed on the basepaths. I get the impression he wasn’t expected to make the team in 1989, but had a scorching Spring Training, wrapping up with a .314 batting average. The team was forced to send him down at the end of Spring Training, but recalled him at the beginning of May when Manny Lee went on the DL. He debuted on May 5th and became the 53rd player to hit a home run in his major league at-bat, a solo homer off of Kirk McCaskill.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

And hey, he did have a lot of speed…but unfortunately no clue on how to harness it. While he stole 18 bases in his rookie year, a rather good total, he was also caught an atrocious 12 times. At that point, his stolen bases are a net loss, and after that rookie year and his second year, his SB totals dropped like a rock. I’m guessing that once the Angels acquired him and saw what a lousy base stealer he was, they stopped running him.

1989 Topps Traded

Overall, though, he didn’t have a terrible rookie campaign, especially for a 21-year-old at the major league level.  He hit .258/.315/.395 (the OBP was particularly worrying), with 9 homers, 14 doubles, and a great 8 triples. That right there is where his speed really should have shone. And hey, a 105 OPS+ for a rookie outfielder isn’t bad. His defense wasn’t very great, though, which would be another problem. Oh, and he got to the postseason for the first and only time that year, as the Blue Jays played the A’s in the ALCS. He went 3-for-11 in the series, with a double, nary a walk, and two strikeouts. In retrospect, it’s clear that he had glaring flaws in his game, and they would become more and more exploitable as time went on.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

I didn’t care about all of that stuff at the time, though. Felix was another player revealed to me via the Upper Deck High Numbers, and I was excited the more I read about him. I had learned about why it was important to buy in on players who make the majors at a young age, as they have more of a chance of making the Hall of Fame, so I thought he had a shot for sure, and when he hit even better in 1990, I was ecstatic. Then came the trade to the Angels in the 1990 offseason, and I was confused. Were Devon White and Willie Fraser really worth a budding superstar in the making?

Whoops. Yeah, they were. Or at least Devon White was. He would help the team win back-to-back championships, while Felix fell off significantly in California between 1991 and 92 (to be fair, he was stricken with a calf injury for most of 91), then landed with the Marlins in their inaugural season. I’ll let this stuff go for a bit, though, because I’m sure we’ll see more of Junior in future iterations of these projects. Suffice it to say, his career would not live up to the expectations.

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The 1989 Project Day 8 – Omar Vizquel

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

The first thing to note is that this is clearly not Vizquel. Hell, the uniform even says “Coles” on the back. Obviously, it’s Darnell Coles, and someone at Donruss dropped the ball. So it was that when I saw Vizquel’s 89 Upper Deck after seeing this card, I was confused, as I hadn’t noticed the Coles writing on the jersey. I wish there had been a corrected version, but…well, it wasn’t going to happen.

Anyway, Omar signed with the Mariners at age 17, in 1984, and actually took his time rising through the minor leagues, suffering some real off-years as he ascended. Early on, it looked like he might have some power, though, as he hit five home runs at low A Bellingham in 1985, when he also hit .225/.270/.353. By 1988, at age 21, he had risen to AAA Calgary, where he hit .224/.259/.327, but was highly regarded for his amazing glove. As such, he earned an invite to Spring Training in 89.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

Vizquel ended up making the team when shortstop Rey Quinones went AWOL for the first week or so of Spring Training while refusing to negotiate his contract. Vizquel ended up winning the shortstop position and Quinones would be dealt to the Pirates in April. It helped that the 22-year-old Vizquel had a nice, sharp Spring Training with both the stick and the glove.

1989 Fleer Update

Manager Jim Lefebvre thought that Vizquel would eventually become a great hitter. Vizquel provided a really interesting quote at the time, though: “I think shortstops in modern baseball need to hit at least .250 or .260. There are a lot of good hitters among shortstops in the big leagues. I got off to a slow start, but I think I can hit .250 or .260.” His career average so far? .273. Very nice, Omar! 1989 didn’t provide much of a hint of that, though.

Oh, and he didn’t hit his first homer until July. His only one of the year. But then again, Omar was never a big home run hitter.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

So for someone whose forte was the glove, why is this the only card that depicts him with the glove? I don’t get it at all. Of course, this is not my favorite card of Omar from 1989; that honor would go to the Upper Deck High Numbers card, which to me just seems to encapsulate a Spring game. I do appreciate the puffy Mariners hat in this shot. Those things always seemed to make the wearer’s head expand, amusing the hell out of me. It inspired me to pick up my own version, which I wore pretty religiously in my games during the summer of 89.

1989 Topps Traded

Omar stayed with Seattle through 1993, when they traded him to Cleveland for Felix Fermin and Reggie Jefferson, a trade that would live in infamy for Seattle fans, even though A-Rod was in the wings.  For his career with the Mariners, Omar hit .252/.309/.303, but he had one hell of a glove. Total Zone (TZ which is designed to emulate advanced fielding metrics with only PBP data) was 62 during that era.  If you’re not familiar with the scale, that’s REALLY good. Vizquel’s reputation with his glove was definitely earned. I’m sure I’ll talk more about Omar’s career sometime in the future, as I have a great deal of respect for him and what he’s accomplished on the field. For now, I’ll just say that I understand why the M’s moved him, but I understand fans missing him, too.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

This is the card I was talking about. It just perfectly captures, for me, what playing baseball on a nice Spring day is all about. I think that’s why I liked it so much; I could relate. The memory of standing like that for the national anthem is still very strong in my mind. It makes me long for my playing days. That’s what I think the best cards evoke: personal experience tied to what you’re seeing. 1989 Upper Deck had some crap photography, that’s for sure, but this one is an example of what I liked about it. My only complaint is that the angle is slightly unfortunate for numerous reasons. A shot from his side would have been better, but eh, it’s really nitpicking. Classic.

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The 1989 Project Day 7 – Eddie Murray

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

This was a travesty. No, hell, this is a travesty. Eddie Murray was supposed to be like Cal Ripken and spend his entire career as an Oriole. Young O’s fans were devastated when this trade went down. I had thought that time, appreciation of Eddie’s career, and becoming a Nationals fan would soften the blow of contemplating Eddie as anything other than Oriole, but it’s still just as maddening as the day Mike Mussina went to the Yankees. Now, let me clarify, I don’t blame the Dodgers or hate them the way I hated the Yankees for the Mussina thing. If you had a shot to get a surefire Hall of Famer, wouldn’t you take it? Not to mention that Eddie wanted out of Baltimore, so the Orioles kind of didn’t have a choice.

1989 Donruss Traded

It’s interesting to look back at the potential packages that were batted around at the time as compared to what he was actually dealt for. He was actually dealt for Juan Bell (ugh), Ken Howell, and Brian Holton, but other names in the package included Mike Devereaux and Tim Leary. Of course, the O’s would eventually get Devereaux anyway at the end of 1989 Spring Training, but that’s a story for another day. Murray seemed happy with the deal too; LA is his hometown, and of course he was going to play for the then-Champions.

1989 Fleer Update

Eddie’s first year in LA, however, was not up to the par he had established during the rest of his career. He hit .247/.342/.401 with 20 home runs and 88 RBI. He especially started off lousy, hitting .210/.246/.323 with 2 homers in the first 16 games. He broke out on April 25th, going 3-4 with 2 doubles, at which point he started hitting again. Unfortunately, for the month of June, he hit .200/.326/.273 with 1 home run, and continued to bounce back and forth. Extremely streaky, which wasn’t really Eddie’s forte. But hey, he did hit a grand slam!

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

But all these numbers don’t really cover what Eddie meant to a lot of us. When you combined him with Cal Ripken, you kind of got this immovable iconography of Orioles fandom; the guys had led the team to a World Series victory, after all, in the years when the Orioles actually meant something. Even in the years when I didn’t know a whole lot about baseball, I knew about Eddie Murray. Even before I collected baseball cards, an Eddie Murray card meant something. I remember when one of my friends got the Eddie Murray rookie card…he might as well have scored an ounce of pure gold. Amazing stuff. I’m just sad I never got to see him play with the Orioles.

1989 Topps Traded

Ultimately, Eddie would only spend three years in LA. He had a damned great 1990, hitting .330/.414/.520 with 26 home runs and 95 RBI, winning a silver slugger. In all, he hit .278/.359/.440 during his time with LA, knocking 65 home runs. Compare that to his time in Baltimore, when he hit .295/.371/.500, and I guess I can live a little easier with what the Dodgers got from him. And, of course, they got his decline years, even though he was a LONG way from done; he hit .273/.329/.440 in his post-Dodgers years, which we’ll get to if the 1992 Project ever happens.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

The Orioles ended up retiring Eddie Murray’s number, despite a lot of rage about it, especially in 1989; fans felt he had betrayed the team by complaining and wanting out. In the meantime, Randy Milligan took Murray’s spot, and while Murray’s output was missed, we generally liked the Moose. I mean, he hit .268/.394/.458 in 1989. Look at that OBP!

But he was never Eddie. He was missed.

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The 1989 Project Day 5 – Jim Clancy

Donruss Traded

This has to be my least-anticipated entry of the entire project, but who else was I going to choose for the Astros? Barely anyone made the sets that year, but of course, the 1989 Astros weren’t too bad, and they were stuck in between Biggio and Bagwell/Luis Gonzalez’s debuts. And Clancy was a thoroughly pedestrian pickup.

Fleer Update

Clancy signed with the Astros in December 1988. It was a three-year contract worth 3.45 million, or 1.15 million on average (he’d actually make 900,000 in 1989, a respectable sum for that time). He’d had an okay year in 1988 with the Blue Jays, going 11-13 with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Sports writers, being sports writers, asked whether he was being signed to fill the shoes of Nolan Ryan, who had departed to join the Rangers. Clancy brushed it off, of course, as the two pitchers had nothing in common. He did, however, say that he could go out and pitch 200-250 innings a year for the Astros. His IP total in 1989? 147. And that would be his high for the years there.

Score Rookie and Traded

So tell me if this rotation sounds like a recipe for success: Clancy, Mike Scott, Bob Knepper, Bob Forsch, and Jim Deshaies. If you answered no, congrats, and you’re smarter than then-GM Bill Wood. Scott was a 20-game winner, and Deshaies was good, but Knepper went 4-10 with a 5.89 ERA, Clancy went 7-14 with a 5.08 ERA, and Forsch ended up in the pen for the year. But hey, Clancy did lead the team in Intentional walks. And his first outing with the Astros was a good one – he had 8 strikeouts in 8 innings against the Padres, including two each against Roberto Alomar, Jack Clark, and Garry Templeton. Astros fans had reason to be optimistic, but it was all downhill from there.

Topps Traded

Clancy stuck around for 89, 90, and part of 91, getting dealt at the 91 trade deadline ahead of free agency. He seemed happy to have been dealt – he knew it was coming, and he knew people in Atlanta. Not to mention he’d been something of a bust for the Astros. He was traded for Matt Turner and Earl Sanders, neither of which would suit up in Houston, so the whole Clancy thing was an overall bust. Clancy finished out 1991 as a reliever for Atlanta, and his career was done.

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The 1989 Project Day 4 – Rickey Henderson

Today we look at the 1989 Project’s first Hall of Famer, a living legend who re-emerged onto the national stage in 1989: Rickey Henderson.

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best


Rickey spent the mid-80s in something of a baseball ghetto: the New York Yankees. If you weren’t around at the time, it’s hard to understand just how bad the Yankees were back then, and they were definitely not national media darlings. You know what was? The Oakland A’s, and getting dealt back to them pushed him back into the public eye. The Yankees shipped him off to Oakland for a relatively meager package of Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia. I can’t recall the exact details of why the Yankees shipped him off for so comparatively little, but I suspect it’s a combination of his .247/.392/.349 line and the fact that he was due for free agency and a big payday. Again, it’s odd to think of the Yankees holding off on a potential free agent, but their spending habits were different, and they had quite a few solid outfield prospects, such as Bernie Williams, Gerald Williams, Deion Sanders, and possibly Hensley Meulens once he was moved off of third, so I suspect that made the decision a little easier.

1989 Fleer Update


Rickey took off when he got to in Oakland, hitting .294/.425/.438 for the rest of the year. He also stole 52 bases and was caught only 6 times. Seriously, six times. That’s insanely good. For the year, he led the majors with 77 steals and was only caught 14 times. He’s the all-time stolen base leader, but I still think it’s possible to underestimate just how damned good he was. He was also an effective hitter with a 2-1 count in 1989 – he hit .379/.373/.776 in that position. It’s obvious that players hit better when they’re ahead in the count, but his stats dropped on a 3-1 count. He was also known for his lead-off homers, and he managed five of those in 1989. Especially interesting was that he hit so well against staff aces; .313/.405/.477 in 1989. It’s the hallmark of a great hitter; anyone can knock around the fourth or fifth starter, but it takes a Rickey Henderson to consistently hit the aces.

Score Rookie and Traded


Rickey would become even more of a big deal going into 1990, as he became the first player to break the $3 million-a-year pay threshold in the 1989 offseason. It’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there what a big deal that was, and both the A’s and Henderson took a lot of flack for it. I was pretty amazed at the deal and wasn’t sure any baseball player was worth that amount of money, but in retrospect, he was worth a lot more than that, as he hit .325/.439/.577 in 1990, leading the league in OBP while stealing 65 bases (also league-leading) and hitting 28 homers, 15 of them leading off an inning and 5 leading off a game, helping the A’s make the World Series. He was an absolute beast.

1989 Topps Traded


The most puzzling part of Henderson’s 1989 Project cards is his complete omission from the Upper Deck High Numbers set. As I said, he was a big deal trade, and it’s shocking that UD decided to stay away from him. It’s not as if the trade missed UD’s cut-off; he was traded in June, and Walt Terrell was traded mid-July yet made the team. Very odd decision and I think this may well be a candidate for a future “what-if” custom card. The Donruss Traded omission is also an oddity. How do you include a player like Tom Niedenfuer, who was in no other traded set, and not hit Henderson? Anyway, great player, and I’m strongly considering making him another addition to my list of players that I collect. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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The 1989 Project Day 3 – Gregg Olson

Today we look at the promised 1989 AL Rookie of the Year, Gregg Olson. This is going to be a fun entry, as I have quite a connection to the Otter; even if I never met the guy, he meant a lot to me.

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

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.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

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.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

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.

1989 Topps Traded

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).

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

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!

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The 1989 Project Day 2 – Jim Abbott

Excuse me for skipping Gregg Olson and rearranging my schedule a tad; you see, my scans of Olson cards didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, so I have to rework them; the best-laid plans and all that. In the meantime, I’m moving on to Jim Abbott.

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

I was aware of Abbott well before he became a traded/update star. He was already a media darling: a big hit with Team USA and a man with an inspirational story that I won’t rehash here. It all gave him something of a built-in mystique. An aura, if you will.

This made my 13-year-old self very amped for any Abbott cards, and I was hardly the only one. He was a hobby darling in 1989.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

Jim followed the Winfield career plan, jumping straight from college to the AL West, making his major league debut April 8th, 1989 against the blue-puffy-hatted Mariners. He suffered the indignity of a 7-0 loss, and even though he got knocked around, he didn’t surrender a home run. Not a very auspicious debut, but then again his 1989 wasn’t amazing, either. Almost exactly league average, in fact.

1989 Fleer Update

His rookie performance didn’t matter that much in 1989, and I don’t think it does now, either. He would go on to bigger years (1991 and 1992 come to mind, not to mention his no-hitter with the Yankees), but his impact on the game outside of stats cannot be underestimated. I’m definitely not a big “intangibles” guy; I think team chemistry is overrated and don’t believe people win because they want it bad enough, but Abbott hits the sweet spot of an emotional contribution outside of the numbers. He was and is an inspirational figure, and I think any of his rookie cards and/or autographed cards are worth the trouble to acquire. He’s been on my shortlist of wanted autos for quite some time, in fact.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

1989 was not a complete disaster, however. Jim had a couple of nine-strikeout games, one on April 29th against the Jays and one on August 6th against his future employers, the Brewers. The August 6th game was a complete game shutout, with Greg Brock bearing the dubious distinction of whiffing three times. Jim struggled with his control, though; he had one five-walk game and a handful of four-walk games, though oddly he was 3-3 across these en route to a 12-12 record. He also had a 3.7 BB rate to a 5.7 K rate, a lot higher than I would have thought. He would have a few years better than that, but he seemed to hover right around that ratio for most of his career.

1989 Topps Traded

What an oddity this card was; I thought I was the only one who found it odd, but upon further reflection, it was a new concept. Abbott already had an 88 Topps Traded and a regular Topps card in the 1989 set, but draft pick cards were a relatively new concept at the time, and so I think they included him as this was the first shot of him in his Angels uniform. Something like the difference between a “first card” and a “rookie card” these days. Either way, I considered this an “inferior” card. Odd how we categorize things.

1989 Upper Deck

This card, on the other hand, was an impact card. It was a gimmick, and it wasn’t UD’s first triple exposure card (see Nolan Ryan’s 89 UD), but it sure made a splash. I saw this for the first time at the basement club that I’ve mentioned previously. Some lucky kids had found high numbers packs and were ready to distribute the wealth in exchange for Gregg Jefferies rookie cards. It was a magical night, and I soon had this in hand. I treasured it, and still have it to this day, even if it’s now bent (this is a different copy).

So yes, Jim Abbott: important to my formative years in the hobby. In fact, many of the players of the 1989 Project are, and it will be a great trip down memory lane.

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