Shawn Abner 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 18, 2017

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Shawn Abner is a character in a tale of high expectations and why they are almost impossible to predict in baseball.

He was born in Ohio but grew up in Pennsylvania. A baseball and football star, he was picked with the first overall pick on the 1984 draft by the Mets.

There was added excitement in this pick because of the sudden turn around for the Mets. They were so dreadful in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But in 1984, they were turning it around. Recent rookie stars like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden highlighted a young core.

And the team that contended and had images of a World Series title dancing in their head suddenly had the chance to insert another superstar.

The first round of the 1984 draft was an odd one. Lots of players with high expectations were picked and did not come threw in their big league career. Cubs pitcher Drew Hall and Reds pitcher Pat Pacillo didn’t contribute much.

6 first rounders never made it to the majors. The ones that did not not have much success on the field or on the mound.

Mark McGwire was in that draft. The A’s swiped him up with the 10th overall pick.

FYI, available in the second round? Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine. Picking one of them would have solved some issues later when the Mets and Braves became rivals. I digress.

The Mets picked Abner and he was solid in 1984 playing in Rookie Ball. In 1985, as the Mets evolved into a true pennant contender, Abner was putting up solid numbers in Single A Lynchburg. He moved up the ladder in 1986. While the parent Mets team, filled with young stars, went on to win the World Series, Abner hit for power and ran for speed in Double A Jackson. The World Champion Mets looked poised to bring the outfielder up in 1987.

The team post World Series looked to have a right handed hitting powerful outfielder in a part of the title defense.

Abner helped fill the role, but not in the way he wanted. The Padres and Mets put together a massive deal. Quiet and dull but effective hitter Kevin McReynolds joined the Mets. Stanley Jefferson, future MVP Kevin Mitchell and Abner were some of the players who went to California.

He would not be on the highest profile team in the land but would cut his teeth in San Diego. Now it was the young Padres squad who would harvest the bounty of the best player in the minors.

In September the future Padres star made his big league debut. In 1988, he was given a chance to start in the majors and he responded with a .181 average and not much power in 89 plate appearances.

In 1989, the results were not much better. He would put in 4 1/2 years with the Padres. There seemed to be some hope in 1990. He was still only 24, his average was a respectable .245 but would not walk nor hit for power. But in 1991, he got off to a horrid start, batting .165 in 125 trips to the plate.

The experiment was over and he was shipped off to the Angels. After a season wit the White Sox, he appeared to be a baseball vagabond. He injured himself in a motorcycle mishap with the 1993 Royals and never played again.

All bets were on Abner becoming a star. He had the skills and was being inserted into a system that was aiming for more titles.

Should the Mets have given Abner a chance? I mean the number one pick should be worth more than trade bait.

We will never know for sure. Perhaps he would have flourished. Maybe the outfield of Abner, Dykstra and Strawberry would have been one of the best ever. Instead the man picked instead of Mark McGwire never got his toehold.

Ahh the burden of expectations.

Julio Machado 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 11, 2017

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The 1989 Mets were a very strange team. I have written about them several times in these baseball card posts. But just a few years removed from the 1986 World Series title and months after their frustrating 1988 NLCS defeat, the Mets decided to remake the team.

The Mets appeared to be moving away from the wild partying hell raising squad and wanted a more predictable bunch.

1989 was the year they purged Wally Backman, Roger McDowell, Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra.

It was also the year that Julio Machado arrived. He was a pitcher who ate iguanas and was later convicted of murder in his home in Venzuela.

I’m not kidding.

He was a teenager in the Phillies organization but did not make much of an impact. In fact before the 1989 season, while still in the minors, he was cut after several uninspiring seasons. The Mets picked up and put him in their farm system. He had the best season of his professional career and by September, was called up to the minors.

His first game was a blow out win against the Cardinals. Frank Viola and Jeff Musselman were the other pitchers that day. Viola was the big midseason pickup and Musselman was what the Mets got in exchange for Mookie Wilson.

And “The Iguana Man” closed out the game.

Reportedly he was called The Iguana Man because he loved the taste of the reptile.  When Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy was told it tastes like chicken, he responded “then he won’t mind if I order the chicken.”

The Mets faded out that September and fell short of the Cubs in the NL East race. Machado pitched to a 3.27 ERA over 10 games.

In 1990, the Mets makeover continued as Davey Johnson was fired and Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter found employment elsewhere. Machado became a mop up man in the bullpen until he was sent packing to Milwaukee in a deal for Charlie O’Brien. He pitched quite well to finish the season in Milwaukee and was an effective pitcher in 1991 for the Brew Crew.

As the team looked forward to competing in 1992, the 26 year old Machado looked like he was going to be a key part of the bullpen. But on December 8, 1991, he was involved in an auto accident in Venezuela.

There he fatally shot a woman… like you do. He then went missing, which isn’t suspicious at all. The Brewers thought they had a middle reliever. Instead they had a fugitive. Needless to say Milwaukee made other plans.

He turned himself in, claimed he shot her in self defense and was sentences to 12 years in prison.

Eventually he was paroled and is a coach in a Venezuelan league the evidently does not have issues with convicted killers.

 

Keith Hernandez 1990 Topps Traded Series – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 6, 2017

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First and foremost, Keith Hernandez did NOT hang himself. That was Aaron Hernandez. A Canadian newspaper mistakenly called Aaron “Keith” in a headline regarding the suicide of the Patriots player in jail.

In case you are getting your news from this blog, I wanted to make sure you were informed.

Now on to this card.

Yup.

Keith Hernandez finished his career with the Cleveland Indians. It looks strange doesn’t it? Didn’t it seem like he was mainly a Met in his career? Actually he won a Co-MVP as a Cardinal and got his first World Series ring in St. Louis. Maybe he should have been a Cardinal for his whole career.

But if he did stay in St. Louis for his whole career, he would never have appeared on Seinfeld.

“Mex” was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Actually he was not of Mexican descent but actually Spanish on his dad’s side. But Mex is still a cool nickname. He played little league on the Peninsula where one of his teammates was Bob McClure. Those two would meet later in life.

While playing for the College of San Mateo, he was drafted in the 41st round of the 1971 draft. It was one of the great draft success stories ever. 783 players were picked ahead of an eventual league MVP.

Between Single A St. Petersburg and Double A Arkansas, Hernandez was OK but hardly a can’t miss star when he started his minor league career.

But in Triple A Tulsa, his batting average jumped up. He batted .333 in 1973 in his brief Tripla A stint. Then .351 for a full season in 1974 and .330 in half a season in 1975. The Cardinals dealt Joe Torre to the Mets to make room on the roster for Hernandez. By 1976, the 22 year old Hernandez was starting every day. His star was beginning to rise in 1977 when he hit .291 with 15 homers and 91 RBI.

In 1978 he won his first of 11 Gold Gloves at first. Then in 1979, he exploded. He got off to a sluggish start but then in May, batted .356 with an OPS of .970.

Then he got better. He hit .373 in June and his OPS jumped to .994. By comparison, his .333 July with a .908 OPS looked bad but don’t worry. His hit .384 with a .939 OPS in August. Then for good measure, hit .356 with an eye popping 1.009 OPS to finish the season in September.

He led the league in batting and doubles and runs scored and finished with a .930 OPS and 105 RBI and did so with only 11 homers.

Willie Stargell was the emotional leader of the eventual World Champion Pirates that year but he was forced to share his MVP with Hernandez, whose actual stats dwarfed the accomplishments of “Pops.”

Hernandez continued his great hitting, Gold Glove winning defense and league leading run production through the beginning of the 1980’s, where he was named to the All Star Game again.

In 1982, the Cardinals made the World Series and played a star studded if injured Milwaukee Brewers team. In the 7 game series, Hernandez drove in 8 runs. The last two tied Game 7 off of his old Little League teammate Bob McClure. The Cardinals would win the World Series and Hernandez would get his first ring.

But all was not well. Manager Whitey Herzog kind of hated his star first baseman. He felt there was a lack of hustle from him and oh yeah, Hernandez loved cocaine. Lots of people loved cocaine in the 1980’s, but Herzog thought it was a distraction.

As the Cardinals were defending their World Series title, Hernandez was dumped to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey in the middle of the 1983 season. Needless to say, the trade was a bad one. The bad blood between Herzog and Hernandez helped fuel the heated rivalry between St. Louis and the Mets in the mid 1980’s.

Hernandez flourished with the Mets on the field and at the plate and with the fans. He made the All Star team in 1984 and hit above .300 in his first 4 seasons with New York. And the perennial losers in Queens suddenly became contenders.

His name came up in the Pittsburgh Cocaine trials along with many other high profile baseball players.I will say, these cocaine issues seem quaint compared to BALCO.

In the 1986 post season, he hit a critical double that brought the Mets to within 1 run in the top of the 9th and came around to score the tying run in the epic 16 inning clinching marathon game 6 of the NLCS.

Later in the World Series, he got the game tying hit and drove in 3 runs in Game 7 of the World Series as the Mets won and forever cemented their place in the hearts of Met fans. Hernandez was beloved by the fans inspite of, or maybe because of, his party boy image and cockiness. He was beloved by his teammates as well as the fans.

After the World Series, hard partying Hernandez and squeaky clean Gary Carter were named Co Captains of the team, but his best days were behind him.

Knee issues, hamstring problems and the emergence of younger players like Dave Magadan cut down on his numbers. After 1989, he was not given a new contract.

As this card shows, he played his final season with a young Indians team, hoping his veteran leadership would be an inspiration. He was a non factor.

On May 1, 190, Hernandez had his final two hit game in a loss to Toronto. He went hitless on July 24, 1990, his final game.

His post playing career has seen him play off of his good looks and partying reputation and cocky personality as much as his baseball career. He remains a popular Mets broadcaster, does the Just for Men hair color commercials with another former New York party animal Walt Clyde Frazier and of course dated Elaine Benes.

He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after 9 votes, only twice breaking double digits from the votes. Hernandez remains one of the beloved figures in Mets history, a relic of a fast living era of New York in the 1980s, and to the jealousy of George Constanza, a Civil War buff.