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.

Trevor Hoffman 2011 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 16, 2017

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I am going to compare Trevor Hoffman to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Seriously.

Follow me.

Look, Trevor Hoffman is going to be in the Hall of Fame. The 7 time All Star and one time All Time Saves leader got 74% of the Cooperstown vote last year. It was his second time on the ballot and there is no doubt that he will get the handful of votes to get over the hump.

And when that inevitably is announced next January, Trevor Hoffman will indeed be a Hall of Famer. He will always have that title. Hoffman will be at the ceremonies and get the standing ovations when he is introduced.

I will not protest, nor be angry. It isn’t as if he was a bad pitcher. I just wouldn’t have voted for him if I had the vote.

I would be one of the 26%. Now remember there is a HUGE gray area between “Hall of Famer” and “Worthless player who should be cut.” And anyone who got in clearly had a fine career that at least 3/4 of the contemporary voters felt was worthy of inclusion.

Now there are some Hall of Famers who I would not necessarily have voted for. Don Sutton comes to mind. As does Bill Mazeroski. Bruce Sutter does too. But they are all in the Hall of Fame. And while I don’t agree with the vote, I am not about to get my torch and pitchfork and storm Cooperstown.

I don’t think Trevor Hoffman belongs in the Hall of Fame. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was a reliever. I love that Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Rich Gossage are in and Mariano Rivera is not far behind.

But a reliever is a specialist and needs to be looked at differently than a starting pitcher. A Hall of Fame reliever needs to be the person who comes into the big game and shuts down the opposition. Sure Gossage and Rivera had a few post season meltdowns, but the also had their highlights.

Hoffman was the first pitcher to get to 600 saves. But he also did so when the role of the closer was reduced to 1 inning where they had to preserve a 3 run lead. A pitcher with an 18.00 ERA could, theoretically pile up the saves.

Hoffman often had solid seasons with ERAs in the low 2’s and the 1’s. Yes, he was an effective reliever.

He also had many many MANY high profile disaster losses. Let me put it this way. He played for the small market San Diego Padres for the bulk of his career, which means he was not guaranteed the post season chances of a Rivera or Eckersley who made many Octobers or the nomadic Fingers and Gossage.

In his 12 postseason games, he saved 4 games, blew 2 saves and lost a pair.

A small sample size to be sure but he came up small in some of the biggest moments in Padres history.

He lost the elimination game in the 1996 Division Series, blew a save in Game 1 of the 1998 NLCS and blew the save and lost the critical Game 3 of the 1998 World Series.

And those games do not include the blown save for a Wild Clinching game in 2007 and later a blown save in the one game 2007 playoff game. Twice in 5 days, the Padres handed the ball to Hoffman for a chance to make the playoffs. Both times he blew the lead.

Does that mean he was bad? Of course not. But if we are going to say he was one of the elite players, shouldn’t a specialist whose job it is to close out close games have a more reliable record in the big close games?

The pitcher he most resembles according to Baseball Reference is Lee Smith. He also had a wonderful career and briefly held the All Time Saves record.

What hurt HIS chances? The fact that in the few post seasons he did pitch in, he lost multiple times.

How is Hoffman different? I would argue that Billy Wagner had as impressive career as Hoffman and his vote total hasn’t cracked 11% yet.

But Hoffman will get in.

So what does this have to do with Gwyneth Paltrow?

She is an Academy Award winner. That title will follow her for all time. “Oscar Winner Gwyneth Paltrow joins the cast of…” this and that for all time.

She won for Shakespeare in Love which came out in 1998, the same year Hoffman served up Scott Brosius’ homer in the World Series.

Should she have won? I don’t think so. Cate Blanchett was much much better in Elizabeth. That is also the only time Paltrow has ever been nominated. So if they gave it to Blanchett that year, Paltrow would not have the title “Oscar Winner.”

Now the Academy has made it up to the brilliant Blanchett, who has won not one but two Oscars since then. But Paltrow still has her statue.

Do I think she deserves it?

No.

Would I have voted for her?

No.

Does it upset me?

Eh, no. She is obviously an actress with talent and has worked for a while. So I am not going to get mad. I just shrug and say “Well, I wouldn’t have voted for her but congrats to her.”

That’s the reaction I will have for Trevor Hoffman. He will be in Cooperstown. I will call him “Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman” and do so with no snark.

He earned it, even if I don’t agree with it.

 

Joe Carter 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 18, 2017

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If you read a blog like this one, chances are you know who Joe Carter is. Seeing him in a San Diego Padres uniform might be a bit odd, but his legacy in baseball history is secure.

Whether you think he was an elite player or someone whose value was inflated by people’s love for RBIs, Joe Carter will always have a clip shown every October because he hit one of the most dramatic home runs in the history of baseball.

His 3 run homer with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series was just the second season ending homer in history. It was also the second “come from behind walk off” homer in World Series history. Kirk Gibson had the first.

And his joyous free for all dance around the bases has to be one of the greatest and most sincere expressions of pure joy on a baseball diamond in history.

An interesting aspect of his career, that lasted 16 years and saw him named to 5 All Star Teams, was the fact that three times, he was involved in blockbuster and franchise defining trades.

Carter was a star at Wichita State University and was drafted number 2 overall by the Cubs in 1981. He was assigned to the Texas League right away and by 1982, was putting up big numbers. He was crushing the ball in Triple A Iowa when he got a call up with the Cubs in 1983. By 1984, he was continuing to hit Triple A pitching while the parent club was putting together a surprise run for the NL East title.

On June 13, 1984, the Cubs and Indians put together a major trade. Chicago picked up veterans Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Hassey and George Frazier. The Indians got Mel Hall, Don Schulze, Darryl Banks and Carter.

The deal gave the Cubs an ace. Sutcliffe went 16-1 the rest of the way and became an unlikely Cy Young winner in the NL (keeping in mind he spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season in the American League!) Chicago fought with the Mets for most of the season before pulling away and clinching their first post season appearance since 1945.

While the Cubs failed to make the World Series after their meltdown against San Diego, Sutcliffe became a major part of the team. He nearly winning a second Cy Young Award when the Cubs won the 1989 NL East crown.

Meanwhile Carter’s arrival in Cleveland sparked a brief renaissance and hope. Mel Hall became a starter with the team but Carter became the star. He batted .302 with 29 homers and an AL Leading 121 RBI in 1986, and stole 29 bases for good measure in 1986. The Indians posted a winning record and with a super talented lineup, had people believing in Cleveland. Sports Illustrated picked them to win the AL Pennant.

Instead the Indians crashed and burned in 1987. Despite a 32 homer 31 stolen base season from Carter, the Indians lost 101 games.

They had losing records in 1988 and 1989 as well. The team needed a rebuild and Carter, still in his prime but approaching 30, looked like a prime trade chip.

Meanwhile in San Diego, the Padres had an interesting problem. They had the best catching prospect in baseball, Sandy Alomar Jr, in their system. His brother, Roberto, was the starting second baseball for the Padres and they seemed poised to start together for a long time in San Diego. However the Padres also had Benito Santiago, arguably the best catcher in baseball. Plus the Padres had a talented team but looked like they were just a few pieces away from being a legit pennant contender.

After the 1989 season, the Indians and the Padres worked out a swap. Joe Carter would head to the Padres and give the lineup some much needed pop. Sandy Alomar Jr would head to Cleveland. So would infielder Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James.

While James would not factor much into the Indians future, Alomar and Baerga became building blocks. Alomar would become the Rookie of the Year and a fixture in Cleveland as they finally became a playoff team again. Baerga would make 3 All Star teams and be one of the bright stars on the club that went to the 1995 World Series.

The trade was credited with kickstarting the Indians rebuild to contention.

In San Diego, Carter played centerfield in a lineup that included Jack Clark, Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar. Carter homered a bunch and drove in 115. His OPS was an alarmingly low .681, but nobody knew that then. Despite a lot of talent on the team, the Padres could not put a winning product on the field as they stumbled to a 75-87 record.

While that was happening in San Diego, the Toronto Blue Jays could not get over the hump. Despite an organization that scouted and traded with the best of them and a super talented team and academies in the Dominican Republic that gave them access to players that other teams never saw, they couldn’t get past the ALCS.

They lost the ALCS in 1985 and 1989 and saw their teams eliminated on the final day in 1987 and 1990. They were good, but not good enough. The Blue Jays lineup was consistent year in and year out, but maybe there needed to be a shakeup and a change of some faces.

After the 1990 season, the Padres and Blue Jays pulled off a stunning deal. Two Toronto stalwarts, Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, were packaged off to the Padres. Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter landed in Toronto.

The Padres got quality years from McGriff and Fernandez but ultimately dealt them away and other teams got their glory years.

The deal made sense in Toronto where the emerge of John Olerud and Manuel Lee filled in first base and shortstop, making McGriff and Fernandez expendable. Carter would provide power lost from George Bell’s signing with the Cubs and Alomar gave stability to second base, who had a revolving door after Damaso Garcia’s decline.

In the end, it was a culture change in Toronto. Alomar put together the best year’s of his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Blue Jays. And Carter of course put up big hit after big hit, none bigger than the World Series clincher.

The Blue Jays won the Division in 1991 but failed to get past the Twins. In 1992, thanks in part to Alomar’s homer against Dennis Eckersley, the Jays beat the A’s. When they won the World Series in Atlanta, it was Carter who caught the clinching out.

The Blue Jays went from being the perennial “always a bridesmaid never a bride” to winning back to back titles.

A deal involving Joe Carter can be pointed to as one of the big franchise changing moments in Toronto, just like the deals with the Cubs in 1984 and the Indians in 1990.