Yet another Card from the Traded series. This one was special because there was no Bob Horner card in the original 1988 Topps Series. He wasn’t in the major leagues for 1987 mainly because of collusion.
I remember being so confused by Horner’s original card from 1979. Usually when a rookie had a card, it included all of his minor league statistics. But Bob Horner’s just said “1978 Braves.” It was one single line. I asked my dad about why he just had one line on his card. He told me he went right from college to the Major Leagues. He did not need the minor leagues.
For that reason, my first impression in 1979, the first year I REALLY followed baseball, Horner became a super human figure to me. He didn’t need the minor leagues? He was THAT GOOD?
Horner was a product of Arizona State University’s baseball factory which also gave us, among others, Reggie Jackson and later Barry Bonds.
He was drafted by the Braves number one overall in 1978 and went right to the majors. In his first game, he homered off of future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. So much for minor league seasoning.
He would play 89 games in 1978 for Atlanta, slugging 23 homers and posting an .852 OPS, enough to earn the Rookie of the Year honor.
His big league power was no rookie fluke as he crushed 33 homers the next year, 35 in 1980 and clubbed 32 homers and made the All Star team while helping the Braves clinched the 1982 NL West Division title.
(The year I also asked my dad why Atlanta was in the WEST. He had no answer. There was never an answer for that. It never made sense.)
Injuries derailed his 1984 season but by 1986, he was back to slugging homers out of Fulton County Stadium, hitting 4 in a single game against Montreal. As right handed mashers in the 1980’s went, he was pretty consistent. Maybe not the superhuman player I thought he was in 1978, but damn reliable.
He became a free agent after the 1986 season. Lots of teams needed a right handed power hitter. He could play first or be a DH. He was popular in Atlanta but other light hitting teams could have used a boost.
But the owners were colluding then. Free agents, even those who could clearly help a team, were shunned.
So Horner, still a productive big league player, went to Japan. Usually players from America would go to Japan when their careers had wound down. But with no other takers, Horner cashed a few million dollars to play for the Yakult Swallows. While some big league club needed a right handed masher in their line up, Horner hit 31 homers, batted .327 and posted an OPS of 1.106 in Japan, becoming a fan favorite.
After his one year in Japan, the 30 year old Horner returned to America where the defending National League Champion Cardinals were in a pickle. Their MVP candidate, Jack Clark, was too injured to play in the 1987 World Series and skipped town to join the Yankees. With no quality first baseman on the big league roster to help defend the pennant, St. Louis took a flier on Horner.
Back from Japan, the power was gone as a shoulder injury limited him to 3 homers in 60 games. The Cardinals would finish with a losing record and in fifth place and Pedro Guerrero would finish the season as the every day first baseman.
After a spring training invite to Baltimore in 1989, Horner retired. He had a solid if not great career in the majors. Who knows what would have happened if he signed with a big league club after the 1986 season instead of going to Japan.
His legacy at Arizona State put him in the College Baseball Hall of Fame. In the end, he never did play in the minors.