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.

1989 Donruss #40 – Ron Jones


The Card

The 1989 Donruss cards were so cheap and so plentiful and so worthless that I grew to hate them.

Cards from the 80’s were all about bold, bright colors, but the late 80’s added gradients. Donruss incorporated one across the top and bottom of their 1989 cards. It looks OK, I guess, but there was the common problem of vertical off-centering. It was very obvious when a card was miscut. Another quality control issue were the black bars on either side. Sometimes they had a matte finish, sometimes they were glossy. And the cards were also pathetically thin. The slightest bit of humidity would make the cards curl. They looked and felt cheap.

And Donruss (named for founders Donald and Russell Weiner) had a pretty crappy record when it came to selecting Rated Rookies. They got a few right, but Alex Sanchez? Eric Gunderson? Paul Marak? Steve Chitren? Terry Bross? How did they pick these guys?

Jones was stocky and muscular. Never saw him play, but just by looking at the pictures, I imagined that he could hit the shit out of the ball.

The Player

Jones was born and raised in the small town of Seguin, Texas, just east of San Antonio. As a kid, he played tailback for the Texas Youth Football Association Seguin Steelers.

In 1982, the 18-year-old Jones was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 14th round, but he refused to sign. The following year, Montreal selected the outfielder from Wharton Junior College with the 42nd overall pick. Once again, Jones refused to sign. The Phillies wound up signing him as an undrafted free agent in 1984.

Jones was not exceptional in the minor leagues but showed a lot of power when he was called up in 1988. I, of course, extrapolated the numbers and expected him to be the next Babe Ruth.

He started 1989 with the Phillies. Only 12 games into the season, Jones ran full-tilt into the unpadded fence at Shea Stadium and busted up his right leg. He was lost for the year. Jones was asked if he had learned anything from four months as a spectator:

I’ve learned I don’t want to go through this again.

Only 24 games into the 1990 season, Jones’ other knee blew out, this time at Veteran’s Stadium against the Astros. On a line drive by Houston’s Franklin Stubbs, Jones broke back and then came charging in when his left knee buckled and he collapsed to the ground. Jones had surgery to repair a torn patella tendon and torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.

This injury, for all intents and purposes, ended his career. He fought back and played in 28 games in 1991, but his legs just couldn’t hold up.

Jones played Mexican League and Independent League ball for another nine years and hit very well, but he never got a chance to play in the majors again. He quit the game after the 2000 season.

Upon retirement, Jones began working as a hitting instructor and coach for high school youths, eventually forming the Big League Batting Academy in Tomball, Texas with former major leaguer Charlie Hayes. Jones also coached the Houston Sox, a 13-18 year-old major division team in the Houston-area select baseball league.

In 2006, the 41-year-old Jones was found dead in his apartment from an apparent “brain bleed”. I was really sorry to learn that.

1990 Upper Deck #74 – Dean Palmer


The Card

Palmer’s holding a Bratt bat over his shoulders, and he’s shown in profile. It’s kind of cool. Not the action shot you’d want for an up and coming star, but it works. His uniform is nice and clean.

The card design of 1990 Upper Deck is pretty plain, though. Just not much to it. The back has a misspelling (“perminant” instead of “permanent”). Did they not have spellcheck (or editors) in 1990?

I probably have more of this card than any other in my collection. I had read in a magazine that Palmer had more long-term potential than Scott Coolbaugh for Rangers at third base. So I stockpiled the cards for cheap. They were right, Palmer WAS better than Coolbaugh, but not good enough to return on my investment. The cards are as worthless now as they were back then.

The Player

Palmer began playing in the Rangers organization in 1986 at age 17. He was immediately nothing special.

In 1989, he made his major league debut and sucked hard, but he’d become a decent hitter a few years later. In 1995, he swung so hard that he ripped his biceps tendon off the bone. An injury facilitated by steroids, I’d guess.

One day in the 90’s, he showed up to the field at Florida State, where my buddy was groundskeeper. With a metal bat, my buddy says he was hitting balls about 600 feet into a parking garage next to the field.

He bounced from Texas to Kansas City to Detroit. With a series of nagging neck and shoulder injuries, Palmer retired following the 2003 baseball season. He attempted a comeback with the Tigers in 2005 spring training, but failed to make the team.

Palmer now is the assistant coach at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee.

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.