1992 Topps 91 Debut
Tony Scruggs was part of the Rangers’ late 80s/early 90s minor league outfield trifecta – playing in the same outfield as Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez. Scruggs was seen as the speedster with a good glove, who might eventually develop into a 20/20 type guy. Tony’s early minor league numbers were very encouraging: .337 with a .512 SLG at two levels in 1987. Unfortunately, his numbers would plummet as he climbed the ladder; .282 with a .429 SLG in 1988, and .245 with a .342 in 1989. While Sosa and Gonzalez were being heralded, Scruggs was slowly falling out of favor. He only played five games in the majors, in 1991, and ended up with a -100 OPS. Wow. Poor guy. He stuck around in the minors until 1993, but soon was gone. He was an actor for a bit, but no idea what he’s up to these days.
The card itself is pretty ugly, though. Typical spring training shot, covered in sweat, looking all hopeful. Sad, really.
I remember Henry Rodriguez being a fairly heralded Dodgers prospect back in the day; I know I was excited to see what he would do. In 1990, he had hit 28 home runs with a .291 average and .541 slugging at AA. Kind of odd, then, that he fell off in AAA in the PCL in 1991, slugging only .410. I think that kept him out of the majors until 1992, when he came up and had a 66 OPS+ in 53 games. In fact, he never really did much with the Dodgers at all. Of course, he was eventually dealt to the Expos for Joey Eischen and Roberto Kelly, the latter of whom I don’t remember on the Expos or the Dodgers. Rodriguez finally started living up to his potential in Montreal, and I have covered him on my Natstown blog.
I realize this is a fairly weak shot for a Gold Leaf card, but I give it a pass due to some first-base action, which doesn’t get enough play on cards in my opinion (former first baseman talking here). Funny that they list Rodriguez as an OF and show him as a 1B. Only three gold leaf cards to go!
1984 Topps Traded
Wow, I had no idea Jose Rijo was 16 when he began his professional career. Utter madness. He actually pitched pretty well as a 16-year old in the GCL in 1981, going 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA. Not stellar, but he was basically a kid. He really hit his stride as an 18-year old, going 18-7 with a 1.88 ERA across A and AA. I guess with how the Yankees were doing in the early 80s I’m not surprised he got the call in 1984, though he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, settling for an 80 ERA+. I guess he was seen as the Yankees’ answer to Doc Gooden that year? Either way, we know which one had the greater skills, though Rijo was a pretty good pitcher. As a matter of fact, I have to admit he was one of my favorite pitchers of the early 90s.
Unfortunately, he ruined that reputation with the Esmailyn Gonzalez scandal and the skimming scandal. From Wikipedia:
Rijo used to work as a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Starting in February 2009, he took a leave of absence from his position after it was discovered that one of Rijo’s scouting finds, Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez was actually named Carlos David Alvarez Lugo and was four years older than the Nationals believed when they signed him. On February 25, Rijo was dismissed from the Nationals’ organization and his Dominican baseball academy closed down.
As for the card itself, what can you say? 1984 Topps is not one of my favorite designs, but I do like the picture. And man does Rijo look young and thin!
Was this card a fluke? I never, in my life, understood how Mike Huff slipped into this set. Did they decide they needed an Indian? First of all, Huff’s rookie cards were abundant in 1990, when he was a Dodger, and he wasn’t that highly rated a prospect then. I mean, just look at his minor league numbers. I’m guessing his .318 average with Albequerque in 1989 fooled some people, but come on, he was playing in the PCL. It’s not that hard. I think he may also have had some speed, but I don’t have his SB numbers in front of me. Still…no power, not much of a bat. Was he a good fielder? I’m guessing yes, as he’s shown here with his glove. But I was never high on him and looked down on his cards.
Still, this is one of my favorite shots in the set. I love how it takes one of those old chestnuts of baseball cards and turns it into something a little more vibrant. When I look at it, I can smell the grass, feel the hopefulness of a spring game. It’s just a cool little shot.
1992 Upper Deck Minors
Wow, was the hype ever strong with this one. Those who were around back then may remember stories of Kelly crushing baseballs so hard in college that he left imprints on the ball. Because of his power, his speed, and the fact that he had starred at Arizona State, he was often compared to Barry Bonds. Here’s a shot of him from his Arizona State days:
Unfortunately, he couldn’t live up to the hype as a pro, which really disappointed me, because I was excited as hell for him to become a major leaguer. After a so-so first year in Durham, he hit 25 home runs at AA Greenville, but that came with an unfortunate .229/.323/.444 line. Not to mention 162 Ks in 133 games. His isoD is probably explained by his power, rather than any special eye. He finally made the majors in 1994, and managed a 104 OPS+ in 30 games. They gave him a more complete shot the next year, and he failed miserably, putting together a 49 OPS+ and an anemic .190/.258/.314 line. He was traded to Cincinnati that offseason for Chad Fox and Ray “Burger” King, his stock completely worthless. His only full year in the majors after that was with the new Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1998, where he had a 79 OPS+. He tried a comback in 2003 and 2004 for the Royals, but remained in their minors before retiring. Sad story.
Anybody remember Anthony Young? This was the guy that seemed like a more logical choice for Mets Gold Leaf rookie. Young went 15-3 with a 1.65 ERA in the minors in 1990 and looked ready to beat the world in 1991. And he did pretty well, going 2-5 with a 3.10 ERA and 118 OPS+ in 10 games in 1991. He had a rookie learning curve in 1992, going 2-14 with a 4.17 ERA and 83 ERA+ in 1992, but rebounded in 1993. Unfortunately, so much of pitching back then was about WINS so all people saw was his 1-16 record and not the fact that he had a 107 ERA+. Sure, he had some issues, no question, but unfortunately that was it for him in New York.
This is another example of how beautiful those all-blue Spring Training uniforms were for the Mets back then, and the pose is pretty crazy, on top of it. Unfortunately, it loses some points for his face being obscured, but I still think it’s a solid example from the set.
1996 Leaf Signature Series
Butch was a sensation in New York for a hot minute when he went crazy one spring training. Of course, I knew of him before that, but thought he was finally living up to his potential. Uh, no. When he actually faced major league pitching that year, he ended up with a 52 OPS+ and an anemic .189 BA. He did manage to hang around until 2000, which is a lot longer than I thought, and even posted some above-100 OPS+s over the years, but his defense was absolutely abysmal. Was it his weight? Who can say for sure.
Anyway, the Leaf Signature set was a dream for getting autographs of some of the prospects from my early days of collecting, and this was one of the first autographs I picked up from that set. I’m not as crazy about this one as some of the others in the set (which I will be showing over time), but hey, it was a way to get Huskey’s auto.
For the purposes of this post, I will focus only on Gonzalez the rookie and not the guy who came much later, because I have some strong opinions on who he became. Gonzalez the rookie, however, was one of my favorite players of 1991. He was something of an unheralded rookie, and I can see why: sure, he hit 24 home runs in 1990, but that came with a .265 average. Of course, in 1991, he only had a .254 average, but that was paired with a rather impressive (for that average) .320 OBP. IsoD, folks! And a 117 OPS+. In other words, he was just as worthy as I thought he was.
This was another example of the beauty of the Leaf Gold photography. The pose, the colors, the expression…just excellent. Very worth it.
1991 Fleer Ultra
My oh my, Denny Neagle. What a checkered history this guy ended up having. In 1991, though, Neagle was just a top Twins pitching prospect, part of a bounty of pitchers that the Twins were supposed to be graduating at that time. He had won 20 games between two levels in 1990, putting up ridiculous numbers and good-looking peripherals. I had scooped every card of the guy I could, including the then-bizarre Fleer Ultra 91 card.
I’m not sure just what Fleer was trying to achieve with this set. Was it meant to compete with Upper Deck? Because while the stock might have been there, the design was nowhere close, nor was the photography. And, of course, it already looked hilariously outdated compared to sets like Stadium Club. I bought the cards because they had a lot of prospects that I thought might pan out, but I didn’t like the design at all. Of course, Ultra found its stride the next year, but 1991 was an absymal year for the set.
Neagle was actually similar. He took some time to finally hit his stride as a major league pitcher (and you have to wonder if steroids had something to do with that). He only pitched seven games for the Twins, traded to the Pirates with Midre Cummings for John Smiley. I guess the Twins felt they had pitching to spare after that World Series victory. It didn’t quite work out that way, after all.
Here’s another dynamo from the 1990 draft that I thought would make far more of an impact than he did. The overall 8th pick in 1990, Costo was drafted as a shortstop with power potential, but the thinking was that he would eventually move over to third. You can see here that he had already been moved to 1B because of his atrocious fielding. And what did he do with the bat? Well, 1990 looked decent, as he had a .316 average and a .447 SLG at high-A Kinston, then had a .271 average with a .370 SLG at AA Canton-Akron before getting shipped to Cincinnati’s minor league system, where he improved a bit. The power never really did develop, though, and he only got a shot in 1992 and 1993 in Cincinnati, where he had a combined 64 OPS+ before getting sent back down for good.
So this card stands as a testament to what could have been, and of the folly of trying to project baseball players. Being a first baseman when this card came out, I liked it, but now I see it’s not that great a photo, which especially stands out against the excellent photography of the gold rookie set. Ah, Tim. What you could have had.