Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

1990 Upper Deck #631 – Drew Hall


The Card

With his goonish Neanderthal face, Drew is in the running for being one of the ugliest players of the last 25 years (Willie McGee, Zane Smith, Gary Gaetti, and Otis Nixon are other contenders). He has lots of goofy cards, but this one takes the cake. Upon discovering his braces, did they ask him to smile as big as he could and not look at the camera?

In the photo on the back, he looks like he wants to kill somebody. Did he just blow a game? Is he going to pull a machete out of that bag and come after the photographer?

After Upper Deck’s big splash in 1989, their 1990 design was minimalist and a little boring, and their cardstock seemed thinner. A small step backward for the upscale card company.

The Player

Drew was a Kentucky boy who played on the 1984 Olympic Team. Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1st round (3rd pick) of the 1984 amateur draft, he was and still is the highest draft pick by a Major League Baseball team in the state of Kentucky.

In the mid-80’s, Drew was a decent pitcher in the minors for the Cubs, but in 1987, he was converted from a reliever to a starter. The best pitchers in the majors were almost always starters in the minors. When you become a reliever in the minors, it generally means that they’re giving up on you.

In the majors, Drew pitched a few innings out of the bullpen for three different teams without much success. Then back to the minors, when he started to figure things out in his late 20’s. But it was too late.

I became familiar with Drew when he joined the Expos for a short while in 1990. But he didn’t last long.

Hall returned to his alma mater, Morehead State University, in 2008 to serve as pitching coach. He now works with Kentucky-area baseball teams.

1992 Topps #156 – Manny Ramirez


The Card

What I like most about this card is Manny’s unusual uniform. It’s certainly not a traditional high school logo with a threatening logo or team name. “Youth Service League” sounds so benign. Turns out that Manny played baseball for New York’s inner city Youth Service League for 5 years while in school.

Topps was the only company to put high school stats on the backs of cards when players had no professional experience. I always thought those numbers were pretty neat.

As with many sets of the time, 1992 Topps was heavy in graphic elements to the point of obscuring the player. Lines, boxes, and colors surround the photo and made it really obvious that your card was off-centered and, therefore, worth less.

Around this time, Topps replaced its traditional stock that looked and felt like recycled cardboard with a firmer, whiter cardstock. Perhaps they took a cue from Upper Deck, the competitor establishing itself as the more upscale brand for collectors.

The Player

Sure, his high school statistics didn’t mean a whole lot, but Manny’s numbers were the best I’d ever seen. Those high school stats led this rookie sabermetrician to believe that Manny would a future star. After glancing at this card and carefully placing it into a rigid plastic sleeve, I was an instant fan.

Manny came up as a promising hitting prospect with the Indians and proceeded to put up steroid-assisted numbers and win steroid-assisted awards with a variety of teams.

He eventually became every bit the hitter I thought he’d be, his gaudy RBI numbers helped somewhat by playing on teams with solid hitters in the lineup around him. He had an extended peak from ages 27 to 30 with the Indians and Red Sox, but he remained one of the league’s best hitters until his late 30’s. Steroids probably prevented what should have been a gradual decline in his abilities. He was on the Mitchell Report in 2003 at age 31 and busted by MLB in 2009 and again in 2011.

Manny got repeatedly busted for steroids, retired and came back multiple times on a whim, alienated his teammates, his fans, and the press. He was also arrested on charges of misdemeanor battery of his wife.

Somehow, for Manny, it was OK taking a giant shit on the game of baseball and everyone around him for his entire career. To the inexplicably tolerant public, his hijinks were endearing. He was simply “Manny Being Manny”. I honestly don’t know how everybody didn’t turn on him and drum him out of the game. In a final act of irrational adoration, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

At age 41, Manny batted .259 with AAA Round Rock, trying desperately to make it back to the majors and make a few more bucks before he lost his abilities for good. He was cut mid-season. Let’s hope he doesn’t try to come back again. We’ve seen enough.