All posts by Jeff

1992 Upper Deck #10 – Rob Maurer


The Card

It’s kind of a goofy portrait, with Maurer looking just off-camera with dead eyes and a plastic smile. It’s not the exciting action shot you’d want to see for a rising star. His hat looks very new and stiff, like a fresh purchase from the souvenir shop.

The 1992 Upper Deck set had a nice, simple design, though the drop shadow screams 90’s.

I like the little blurbs they wrote about each player on the back of Star Rookie cards. In the days before the Internet and with little media attention paid to the minor leagues, this was often the only way you could learn about these players.

The Player

A kid from Evansville, Indiana, Maurer was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 6th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft.

Maurer became one of my future stars after quickly making his way up through the Rangers minor league system, doing well at every level. But in brief appearances with the Rangers in 1991 and 1992, he didn’t impress. On top of that, he was a first baseman and blocked at the position by Rafael Palmeiro in his prime.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Knee problems forced him to sit out the 1993 season. He played half a season in the minors in 1994 and did well, but that was it. Bad knees suck.

No idea what he’s up to now. With Google, I found a carpet cleaner, a doctor, a lawyer, and inventor, a painter, and a guitarist named Rob Maurer. But not this guy.

1991 Upper Deck #246 – Frank Thomas


The Card

A giant of a man and a huge hitting prospect, and the best you can get is a shot of him on the bench looking confused? One of the quirky things about this photo is that it looks like he’s giving us the finger. The other quirky thing is a mustachioed, smiling Sammy Sosa in background.

The back shows Thomas’ awkward, ultra weight-shift swing. He hit for power because he was so large, not because his swing was efficient or compact.

The Player

A multi-sport star in high school, Frank wanted desperately to play professional baseball, but he was not drafted in the 1986 amateur draft.

“I was shocked and sad,” he recalled in the Chicago Tribune. “I saw a lot of guys I played against get drafted, and I knew they couldn’t do what I could do. But I’ve had people all my life saying you can’t do this, you can’t do that. It scars you. No matter how well I’ve done. People have misunderstood me for some reason. I was always one of the most competitive kids around.”

Frank went to Auburn to play football and baseball. He was considered for the 1988 Summer Olympics but was cut.

After graduating, the Chicago White Sox selected him with the seventh pick in the first round of the June 1989 Major League Baseball Draft. He tore his way through the minors and took his place as one of the best hitters in the game in 1990 at the age of 22.

Surprising for a guy his size, Frank’s specialty was getting on base. In the first half of his career, he was among the league leaders in walks and OBP every season. His strike-shortened 1994 season would go down as one of the best hitting seasons ever.

Enamored by Frank’s numbers, I started collecting his cards. One day, I wrote him a letter, asking him to sign a card and suggesting that he forget getting on base and spend a season trying to hit as many home runs as he could. I thought he might be capable of breaking the single-season record. I bought a giant Big Hurt poster for my room, but my brother made fun of me, so I took it down.

His decline started in 2001 at the age of 33. A torn triceps knocked him out for most of the season, and when he returned, he was never quite the same. For the rest of his career, Frank struck out more than he walked and hit for a significantly lower average. He played a bit with Oakland and Toronto before hanging them up in 2008 at the age of 40.

His cameo in 1992’s Mr. Baseball was awesome, but Frank never seemed to have a whole lot of personality, and I don’t think he ever became the team leader that everyone wanted him to be. He just kept hitting.

Currently, Frank Thomas serves as CEO and Founder of W2W Records, a label based in Las Vegas. He also distributes Big Hurt Beer, a beverage that combines All-Star Taste with a smooth finish.

1984 Topps #182 – Darryl Strawberry


The Card

It was 1984 when I first started collecting, so this Topps set was special to me. It’s a bit plain-looking by today’s standards, but back in the day, it’s use of color and type was bold and fresh.

This Darryl Strawberry rookie card was the first valuable baseball card I ever owned. I still have it in a plastic case. Today, it’s worth about $1.

The Player

Oh, Darryl.

Born and raised in the rough neighborhoods of Los Angeles, Strawberry was drafted first overall in the 1980 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Mets. Darryl’s older brother Michael Strawberry was also selected in that draft, going to the Dodgers in the 31st round. Michael hit one professional home run before leaving baseball in 1981.

Darryl was a phenom, hitting for mind-popping power in the mostly powerless mid-80’s. His effortless leg kick and looping swing was a thing of beauty. I was at the April 4, 1988 game where he hit the roof of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

But he was plagued by discipline and maturity issues for his entire career. The wheels came off after being traded to the Dodgers. Starting in 1992, at the age of 30, personal problems, cocaine use, and colon cancer severely limited his playing time. He crushed the ball for the Yankees in 1999 at age 37, but that was his last hurrah.

Strawberry makes baseball-related appearances from time to time and dabbled in restaurant ownership. He has been advocating his newfound discovery of religion on television and donates large sums to charity. He seems to be leading a clean life now, but who really knows.

1991 Studio #126 – Jeff Kunkel


The Card

Studio was a premium issue from Donruss. Except for the burgundy borders, I really liked the concept. The photos were simple, artistic, black and white studio shots. But what I liked most about the photos was that they showed personality, something that was always lacking on the field and in media interviews. We needed something like this.

This shot of Kunkel is one of the best in the set.

The Player

The son of an umpire, Kunkel was a good amateur multi-sport athlete. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1st round (3rd pick) of the 1983 amateur draft.

Kunkel was a mediocre hitter in the minors and an awful hitter in the majors. He was only an a average fielder, but he probably kept his job because of the shortage of quality middle infielders in the 80’s.

“The manager,” Kunkel said in 1984, “said I would play every day no matter what. But then, I was just filling in. Baseball had always been so easy for me and it became a struggle. My frustration would build up and carry over. I don’t think I was handled right and it put me in a shell.”

He was out of baseball by 1994 at the age of 32.

These days, Kunkel offers affordable coaching lessons, presumably in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

1991 Upper Deck Final Edition #56F – Keith Mitchell


The Card

A pretty boring couple of photos. On the front, Keith stands there contemplating his future with the Braves. On the back, he cheeses it up.

I liked 1991 Upper Deck’s design. They rebounded from their blah 1990 approach and returned to their former glory, adding a bit of the flair that made the 1989 set so popular. The 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition set used the same design and was chock full of exciting rookies that I had spent a lot of time researching. I told all my friends to get the set for $12, claiming it would be the best baseball card investment they’d ever make. Today, you can get the set on eBay for $8.

The Player

Keith was drafted by the Braves in the 4th round of the 1987 amateur draft.

I noticed him in 1991 as I was searching for rookies who were going to be the next big star. I noticed that he had progressed rapidly through the minors and produced at every level, hitting for average, power, and drawing a lot of walks without striking out too much. His numbers suggested that he knew how to hit. I also noticed that he was very young when he got to the majors, something Bill James had suggested in one of his books was perhaps the number one indicator of future success. Keith joined the Braves at age 21 and put up great numbers in limited playing time. On top of all that, Keith was was a cousin of Kevin Mitchell, who was coming off a few monster years with the San Francisco Giants. Keith was destined to be a star.

For some reason, Keith was never given a full shot in the majors. Granted, the 1991 Atlanta Braves had a strong outfield of Lonnie Smith, Ron Gant, and Dave Justice. But in 1992, the Braves went with Otis Nixon in center field. Nixon was exciting to watch on the basepaths, but was he really a better option than Keith Mitchell? Perhaps Keith never got a shot because he wasn’t a particularly good fielder.

So Mitchell was stuck in AAA, languishing there and putting up pretty good numbers for seven years. He was briefly called up by Seattle, Cincinnati, and Boston but never stuck. Running out of options, he played in Mexico and Korea for parts of the 2000 season. In 2002, Keith had a monster half-season for Sonoma County in the Independent League, but it would get him nowhere. He played parts of 2003 with three different minor league teams before retiring.

In 2005, Mitchell was named the hitting coach of the Swing of the Quad Cities, a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. He managed for a couple of years and is a hitting coach in the Cardinals organization today. Glad to see he stuck with baseball.