A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 1

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein were an aesthetic triumph. The team logo was featured in the upper left corner, while the player’s name (written in cartoonish font) took up the lower right portion. And bordering it all was a tasteful wood paneling, bringing to mind furnished basements and the questionably-designed exteriors of Reagan-era station wagons.

With the exception of the indomitable Jamie Moyer (aiming for a 2012 comeback at the age of 49!), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

VOLUME 1: Players Now Coaching in an AL East Organization

Card #113 Neil Allen

Vintage Duds

Then: Right-handed starter/long reliever, Chicago White Sox

Possessing some of the waviest hair of any ’80s moundsman, Allen pitched for the Mets (’79-’83) and the Cardinals (’83-’85) before ending up on the White Sox in ’86. He enjoyed a fine season that year, highlighted by a two-hit shutout against the Yankees on July 20 in which he did not record a single strikeout or walk (per Baseball Reference). But Allen hit rock bottom with the Sox in ’87 (0-8, 5.93), and his final hurrah was three games with Cleveland in 1989.

Now: Pitching coach, Durham Bulls (Triple-A affiliate of the the Tampa Bay Rays)

Allen coached in the Blue Jays and Yankee systems before being hired by Tampa Bay prior to the 2005 campaign. 2011 was his first season in Durham, where he oversaw the lightning ascent of uber-prospect Matt Moore. I was unable to locate a current photo, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that he has the waviest hair of any Triple-A pitching coach.

Card #175 — Bob Stanley

Then: Right-handed reliever, Boston Red Sox

Stanley was a remarkably durable reliever (and sometimes starter) for the Red Sox, and over the course of 13 seasons (’77-’89) he compiled a 115-97 record and 3.64 ERA. But, sadly, the defining moment of his career came during Game Six of the ’86 World Series. Stanley uncorked a wild pitch (past current Lowell Spinners hitting coach Rich Gedman) that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run, and Mookie Wilson soon followed with a ground ball through the legs of Bill Buckner. Stanley’s entire ’87 season was an epic hangover from this moment: 4-15, 5.01 ERA.

Now: Pitching coach, Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays)

Stanley broke into the coaching ranks in 1997, but 2011 was his first within the Blue Jays’ organization. He had been out of baseball the prior two seasons due to “personal issues.” We’ve all got ‘em.

Card #237 — Jim Morrison (Manager, Charlotte Stone Crabs)

Photo: clawdigest.com

Then:Third baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates

Morrison, who probably never had to deal with inebriated fans yelling tired Doors references at him, was certainly a late bloomer. In 1986, at the age of 33, he set career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (88) while manning third base for the Pirates. But this late-career renaissance was short-lived, as after batting .188 in ’88 he was out of the game.

Now: Manager, Charlotte Stone Crabs (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)

After breaking in as a coach with the GCL Phillies in 2000, Morrison worked his way to the managerial ranks in 2005 and since 2009 has managed the Charlotte Stone Crabs. In fact, he is the only skipper that the fledgling franchise has ever known. It is not known whether he refers to his bench players as “reserve claws,” or if he only uses them in a pinch.

Card #289 — Bob Kipper (Pitching Coach, Portland Sea Dogs)

Then: Left-handed starter, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kipper turned 23 in 1987, a campaign in which he went 5-9 with a 5.94 ERA over 24 appearances with the Pirates (where he was a teammate of the aforementioned Jim Morrison). He spent the next four seasons with the Bucs, before finishing up his Major League career as a member of the 1992 Twins.

Now:Pitching coach, Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Although he never pitched for Boston during his career, Kipper has nonetheless become a coaching fixture within the Red Sox organization. He has logged time with Beantown-affiliated Augusta, Greenville, Lancaster, and Portland, and spent the 2002 season in Fenway as the Sox’s bullpen coach.

Card #464 — Butch Wynegar (Hitting Coach, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees)

Then: Catcher, New York Yankees

Wynegar burst on the scene in 1976, appearing in 146 games behind the plate for the Twins at the tender age of 20. He went on to spend 1982-86 with the Yankees before winding down his career with the Angels in 1987-88. Throughout his time in the bigs Wynegar showed tremendous plate discipline, accumulating 626 walks against just 428 strikeouts.

Now: Hitting coach, Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Wynegar has spent the better part of the last two decades in a managerial or coaching role, including a stint as the Brewers hitting coach in 2003. Since 2007 he has imparted his batting wisdom upon those  suiting up for the polysyllabic mouthful that is the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Card #708 — Scott McGregor

Then: Left-handed starter, Baltimore Orioles

McGregor spent 13 seasons with the Orioles, highlighted by a 20-win campaign in 1980 and an 18-7 mark with the 1983 World Championship club. But 1987 marked the end of the line for the veteran, as he went 2-7 with a 6.64 ERA over 26 appearances (his final game in the Major Leagues was April 27, 1988 — the 20th of 23 straight losses to start the Orioles’ wobegone season).

Now: Pitching coach, Aberdeen IronBirds (Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles)

The back of the 1987 card notes that McGregor is “active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Organization,” and it is noted on Wikipedia (and elsewhere) that he later became an ordained minister. But while not saving souls he’s nurturing Orioles pitching prospects — McGregor has spent the last four seasons as Aberdeen’s pitching coach, and has also logged time with Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie.

Card #740 Rich Gedman

Then:Catcher, Boston Red Sox

A native of Worcester, MA, Gedman went on to play for the Red Sox throughout the entire decade of the ’80s. His peak years were 1984-86, as these were the only seasons in which he played over 100 games, accumulated over 100 hits, and reached double digit figures in home runs. Ignominious as it may be, Gedman is forever etched in baseball lore. During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, he was behind the plate when current Las Vegas 51s pitching coach Bob Stanley (see above) uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in the 10th inning.

Now: Hitting coach, Lowell Spinners (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Gedman spent 2005-2010 managing his hometown Worcester Tornadoes, and in 2011 returned to the Red Sox organization as hitting coach for the Class A Advanced Lowell Spinners. His son, Matt, a third baseman, appeared in 23 games for that very same squad.

—-

Clearly, this is going to take a while. Stay tuned next week for Volume 2: Players Now Coaching in AL Central Organizations!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

34 Comments

1987 Topps is one of my favorite sets to get signed

I was eight years old as well that year. I got my packs from the local deli or wherever else I could find them. I always gave the gum to my sister.
Speaking of Buckner, he’s now the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks, Short Season A level affiliate for the Cuba.

Awesome idea for the blog, Ben. The minute I saw the green wax wrapper I knew which set you’d be writing about. I was 7 when it was released and it is the first one I ever truly collected. From guys with stats that filled up the entire backside of their cards (Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver) to “Future Stars” like Tim Pyznarski and Pat Dodson this remains a seminal set for a lot of collectors. My favorites as a kid were the Team Leaders cards and the managers.

As an aside, I have roughly 600 (I haven’t counted in a while) of the cards in this set autographed – including the 132-card ‘Traded’ series. Many I’ve picked up over the years in person at minor league games and various events while I’ve added most of them by mailing autograph requests to guys, trading with other collectors and finding some deals on eBay. You’re welcome to get together and reminisce over them if you find yourself passing through Cedar Rapids sometime down the road.

Thanks, Todd. I don’t think I ever even completed the set, let alone got them autographed. That’s a pretty impressive feat! I’m always up for reminiscing, hopefully I’ll be able to visit Cedar Rapids sooner than later…

I am going to have to check my closet (about time to do that anyway, to get another year’s worth of collectibles and mementos off the couch), as that was part of a short era in which I was buying complete sets, as well as boxes of wax packs, every year. Obviously I was little older than 7 or 8. To give you a clue about how much older, when I was regularly buying cards by the pack, for the purposes of flipping them and cleaning out my competitors, a pack cost 5 cents.

My first pack of cards was a pack the Topps ’88 cards. For whatever reason, the only card I remember form that pack is a Matt Nokes All-Star Rookie even though I wasn’t a Matt Nokes nor Tigers fan. In fact, I remember the disappointment of not getting a single Red Sox player in that pack. Ahhhhhh…baseball cards.

It’s all about the thrill of the chase…

Great Article. I hope to someday write about the things that contribute to my passion for the game of baseball

Jonathan — you should definitely write about the things within baseball that you are passionate about! Let me know if I can ever be of assistance.

I’m wondering if the “wood paneling” was actually supposed to be indicative of wooden bats. Although, at the time the cards came out I did think “wood paneling.” Good call. :D

Great post, Ben. I eagerly scrolled through the entries in hopes of finding the elusive “gold cup” issued to rookies on the rise. Sadly, it looks like none of that year’s “gold cup” recipients panned out with a career in the minors, although if my 25 year old memory serves me correctly, a certain St Louis Cardinals coach with a reputation for steroid use and asterisks received one that year. .

Patience, my friend. There will be some “gold cup” rookies making an appearance in this series eventually. McGwire didn’t have the cup, but 1987 Topps was his rookie card.

Ohhh the memories…good stuff Ben!

I was a high school senior that year and still collecting cards, though maybe not as rabidly as earlier in the ’80s. I do remember toward the end of that school year trading a Wade Boggs rookie card to a schoolmate for a 4-pack of wine coolers. In hindsight it wasn’t a very good investment on my part.

Wine coolers for a Boggs rookie card? Doesn’t sound like a good deal, but I guess it depends on what flavor of Bartyles and James it was…

While 85 was my first year as a Toppshead, 87 was the first year I (read: my mom) bought a wax box. I used to love sitting on the living room floor opening endless packs while I watched the Braves. Amazing how this subject brought out so many comments!

Yeah, I’m writing this a week later, but I was surprised how nostalgic people are about this set. So I guess what I’ve learned about my blog readership is that they are motivated to comment on posts involving North Carolina or 1987 Topps.

This post might help you a little bit:

http://pcolabluewahoos.blogspot.

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Thanks for a neat story!

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Ben you just scratched the surface on this one so cant wait to read the rest!But I was a Junior in High School in 87′. A Left Handed Junkball Pitcher with a great bat! Then the Arm quit on me and ruined anykind of hope for playing beyond college.But it started me on a Coaching Career that I have enjoyed all these years later!
Funny that you picked that Skinny picture of Bonds to start off the story.(No he didn’t use steroids!)I am going to be in New York the last weekend of January,So if you would like to get together if your in town or have time maybe you can show me a place to get a good slice of pizza while I am there.

Hi Ryan —

I’m not that much of a pizza aficionado, but I can provide a few suggestions (and none of them will make you wear a lobster hat). What’s bringing you to New York?

Pingback: A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 2 « Ben's Biz Blog

I started collecting in 87 and these were the first cards I collected (due to the price and relative rarity of Donruss and Fleer at the time). It was pretty challenging to make a complete set of 792 one pack at a time but that was what kept me coming back to 7-11 to buy more. These were a superior design to the 2 years prior and 10+ years since. I see Topps’ quality control (centering) hasn’t much improved in the last 25 years though.

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very interesting

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