All posts by Corky

1986 Topps #250 – Dwight Gooden


The Card

The 1986 Topps set was the beginning of my youthful addiction to baseball cards. I remember being 11 years old and riding my bike to the 7-11 and buying Rack Packs off the shelf. The best part of the Rack Packs were that you could see the front and back card in the pack in all three “packs”. I remember sitting in the aisle at the 7-11 looking through all of the packs, trying to find one with an above average player.

Looking back at the 1986 card now, I think to myself just how much profit Topps must have made back in the day. The card stock is absolutely horrible. You can actually rub the card apart just by placing a little pressure to the face of the card with your thumb, it literally wants to fall apart. If there is a PSA 10 1986 Topps card, I would love to see it.

The fun thing about the 1986 set, though, was the massive block lettering at the top. Topps didn’t care if the team name was Reds, Mets, Cardinals, or White Sox. They were going to attempt to jam it to the width of the card.

The front of the card shows Gooden in full pitching motion, just off-centered, almost like you would be a right-handed hitter facing the Doctor. Looking at the card now, I wonder if he is actually on a mound or just tossing warm up in the outfield. He doesn’t seem to be overly concerned or straining with what he is doing here.

It has been 25 years since I found my first Gooden card, sitting four packs back deep on the rack and on the back of the third rack pack. I hadn’t even seen the card before. I just saw the name Dwight Gooden #250 on the back. I didn’t open that pack, nor did I see my first Gooden “front” to the card, until roughly two months later when I found him in another pack. I had that pack for many years until I traded the pack with a buddy for a box of 1989 Upper Deck.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the back of the 1986 Topps card. I love the design, but again the card stock was just so bad that I had a hard time reading it. They would flake, fade, or have a massive gum stain that would make it very hard to enjoy. The “Talkin’ Baseball” section always had something completely useless for the player and it took up roughly a third of the back. Who cares that Jesse Gonder was the first Mets player to get two sacrifice hits in a game in 1963? Not me.

The Player

Most people have heard the story of Gooden. And, I don’t think we need to hear again that substance abuse derailed what could have been a truly amazing career.

The Triple-A team where I grew up was the Minor League franchise for the Mets. I followed them closely. I was a Mets fan and Gooden was one of the faces of the franchise.

I will tell you being a Mets fan all of my life, he is my second favorite Mets player behind Mookie Wilson. He dominated from 1984 to 1989 reaching 100 wins at the age of 24. He would go on to win another 57 games in a Mets uniform over the next five seasons all before the age of 30. Then the wheels fell off and we know most of the rest of the story.

He bounced around four more franchises from 1996-2000 before pitching his last big league game at 35.

Since retiring, he’s had all sorts of legal trouble. DWI, punching his girlfriend, hit-and-run, and violating his probation.

I follow him on Twitter, and he seems to be at least soberish. Not really sure what he is up to other than posing with Jim Brown.

1991 Score #763 – Rodney McCray


The Card

As wonderful as the 1988 Score set was, by 1991, they were the trash of baseball cards. They were really cheap, their cards didn’t have much value, and the design was really basic. The drop case “R” looks really poor, and I am not 100% sure what they were trying to do there.

What I didn’t remember was just how big the 1991 Score set was. McCray’s card was #763. Most sets from Donruss and Fleer in that time frame were in the 660 card size. Only Topps and Upper Deck really went to the 800 card sets. Score decided in 1991 to bump that size to 900.

I always thought McCray looked confused on the front of the card, like he was trying to gather what was going on in front of him before he made a decision on what to do next. On the back of the card, McCray looks to be a likable player. There is a slight hesitation in his smile that makes me think that right before the photo the front office told him he was being sent back down to AAA next season.

The Player

McCray was drafted four times starting in 1982. He finally signed with the San Diego Padres in 1984. The issue for McCray is that he couldn’t really hit. He was excellent at getting on base, though, and was fast enough to steal some bases in the minors. His defense was excellent by all accounts and he had a very strong arm.

By the time I met McCray, he was a 28-year-old outfielder on his third franchise. For a brief time in 1992, I was a batboy for the Tidewater Tides (the AAA farm team for the New York Mets). It was a sucky job. Not very fun, and I quit after two weeks. The pay was horrible. You made $12 a game and had to be at the ballpark for eight hours on game day.

That being said, being around the players was fun. The nicest of all of the players was Rodney McCray. He signed probably close to a dozen of these cards for me. He gave me his playing spikes when he was called up the New York Mets. I played in those blue spikes for two years in high school.

Most people will remember McCray for running through the outfield wall in Portland in 1991. ESPN ranked it as the 7th best sport blooper of all-time, and The Best Damn Sports Show Period ranked the incident as their number one Top 50 Devastating Hits in sports history.

I think two things really hurt McCray’s baseball career. The first thing is he couldn’t hit, and in the mid-80’s, general managers and front-offices still looked at batting average over on-base percentage. McCray could get on base, but could never hit for a high average. This resulted in him being 26 before he even made it out of A-ball despite on-base percentages of .371, .354, .414, and .410 at that level.

I think the second thing that really hurt him is he wasn’t a very good base stealer. He stole a lot of bases, but he was also caught an incredible number of times.

Currently, per Wikipedia, it looks that McCray is a base running and outfield instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

1988 Score #645 – Gregg Jefferies


The Card

When looking at the front of the card, I found myself wondering where they took this photo. I knew that Jefferies had played a lot of second base, but he looks to be playing third in the photo. Then something else struck my nerve: the uniform has the “New York” in script. I knew that the Mets wore that uniform in 1987, but they went to the block “New York” in 1988.

I did some more digging and realized that Jefferies didn’t play the field in his call-up in 1987, so this photo must have been taken during a practice or warm-up session. Most of the people look to be standing up in the background. Maybe hunting for autographs?

The thing that I always loved about this card was the fact that Jefferies forearm looked like it was going to explode. He was never a very big guy, but that forearm vein looks like it could pop at any second and he would be left with one arm.

The back of the card shows just how dominant of a Minor League player he was. He was the Minor League Player of the Year in both 1986 and 1987. I love the quote on the back as well:

“He has the quickest bat I’ve ever seen,” claimed Bill Walberg.

In 1988, I was right in the middle of my collecting prime. I was 13 years old, had a job as a paperboy, and had spending money to waste on my hobbies. The 1988 Score set was great because it was printed on a fairly nice card stock but wasn’t as expensive as Donruss or Fleer.

I was a huge Mets fan, Jefferies was the second coming of Ted Williams, and I collected a ton of these cards. I remember going to the card shop in 1988 and seeing them going for $80 behind the case. I thought I was rich.

You can get the card for $0.50 on any card site these days.

The Player

Jefferies the player was one of the most hyped players coming out of the minors leagues. He had a laid back California attitude and that seemed to rub the New York media the wrong way. Combine that attitude with the hyper-egos of that New York Mets roster (Gooden, Hernandez, Strawberry, Carter) and it was a recipe for disaster.

The second issue with Jefferies is he wasn’t a very good fielder. He had played shortstop, third, and second in the minors, but never very well. After spending much of the 1988 season in the minors, the Mets didn’t have a place for him to play and it resulted in the Mets trading the very popular Wally Backman to give Jefferies the starting second baseman spot for the 1989 season.

Jefferies spent the next three years with the Mets trying to live up to the hype and was never able to do so. After leaving New York, he had two great seasons playing first base for the Cardinals in 1993 and 1994. I think one of the things that really hurt his reputation was that the power numbers never came, and even though he stole 196 bases in his 14 year career, he wasn’t particularly fast, either.

He was probably the most naturally gifted hitter that I ever saw in my lifetime. But those naturally given gifts do not always equal production value. I loved watching him in New York, and I wish the fans, media, and teammates had all given him his fair shake with the Mets. We all know that New York is a different beast, though.