A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 3
For the first installments of this series, click HERE and HERE. Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and feel free to comment freely on this one as well (your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, etc).
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? They have proven to themselves to have a Phil Niekro-esque endurance.
With the exception of the indomitable Jamie Moyer (who signed with the Rockies on January 18!), 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 3: Players Now Coaching In An AL Central Organization
Card #176 Steve Buechele
Then: Third baseman/second baseman, Texas Rangers
Like a man drinking premium soda, Buechele had above-average pop. He was a steady presence in the Rangers line-up from his July ’85 debut through 1991 and then went on to the Pirates and Cubs before ending his career back in Arlington. The final game of Buechele’s career was July 29, 1995, when he went 0-for-4 against Tim Wakefield (who pitched a complete game as Boston cruised to a 7-1 victory).
Now: Manager, Frisco RoughRiders (Double-A affiliate, Texas Rangers)
2012 marks Buechele’s third season at the helm in Frisco, and his fourth overall as a manager in the Rangers’ system (he spent 2009 in bucolic Bakersfield). His pitching coach is a man by the name of Jeff Andrews, not to be confused with this glorious baseball name.
Card #192 Cory Snyder
Then: Outfielder/Shortstop Cleveland Indians
As denoted by that impressive piece of gold-plated hardware in the lower right-hand corner, Snyder was named to Topps’ “All-Star Rookie Team.” He received this coveted honor after hitting 24 homers and driving in 69 runs over 103 games, numbers which set the stage for his career-high 33-homer season in ’87. Snyder ended up playing five seasons for the Indians, and then played for four teams over the next four years before reaching the end of the line in ’94.
(apropos of not-quite-nothing: I used to have a VHS baseball blooper video which included a segment on Snyder’s inability to hit Roger Clemens. And, indeed, Snyder struck out in his first nine at-bats against the Rocket)
Now: Hitting coach, Jackson Generals (Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners)
Snyder spent two seasons managing in the Golden Baseball League, in 2010 guiding the Hawaii-based Na Koa Ikaika Maui. 2011 was not only his first season in Jackson, it marked the first time he had held a coaching position anywhere in affiliated ball. He’s no longer an Outsnyder, in other words.
Card #249 Jim Pankovits
Then: Second Baseman/Outfielder, Houston Astros
When Pankovits made his Major League debut with the Astros on May 17, 1984, he was certainly no spring chicken. He was a man! By that point, the 28-year-old was in his ninth professional season and had already logged time with an abundance of Houston’s alliterative affiliates (Covington, Cocoa, Columbus, and Charleston, not to mention five seasons in the PCL with Tucson and Hawaii). But once he made it to the bigs, Pankovits found a way to stay. He spent 1984 through 1988 in a reserve role with the Astros, fully aware that in the Majors they were less likely to mess up his name.
Now: Manager, Jackson Generals (Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners)
“Planouits” has been managing or coaching for over two decades, beginning with some truly awful New Britain squads in the early ’90s. 2011 was his first season in Jackson, and he has now accomplished the rare feat of managing a squad in all three Double-A circuits (Eastern, Southern, Texas).
Card #297 Don Schulze
Then: Right-handed starter, Cleveland Indians
Schulze was one of those on-the-fringe Major League starters, playing in 76 games for five teams over the course of six seasons. He never appeared in more than 20 games in a season, never cracked the 100-inning mark, and never compiled a winning record. Not surprisingly he logged a lot of time in the Triple-A ranks, suiting up within diverse locales such as Iowa, Maine, Tidewater, Buffalo, Toledo, Columbus, and Rochester.
Now: Pitching Coach, Midland RockHounds (Double-A affiliate, Oakland A’s)
Since 2006, Schulze has been methodically working his way through the A’s Minor League system. He coached in the Arizona League in 2006, Kane County in 2007-08, Stockton in 2009-10 and is now tutoring hurlers wearing the uniform of the Midland RockHounds.
Card #349 — Storm Davis
Then: Right-handed starter, Baltimore Orioles
Storm Davis is, unquestionably, in the top one-percentile when it comes to the topic of “awesome baseball names.” But how did he get this name? The back of Davis’ 1987 card provides the answer: “Storm’s nickname was derived from a character in a book his mother was reading while pregnant.” (Yes, just a nickname unfortunately. His given name is “George Earl”).
Anyhow, Storm was a Baltimore Oriole starter for five seasons (1982-86) before becoming something of a journeyman. He went on to play in San Diego, Oakland (twice), Kansas City, and Detroit, and even made a return to Baltimore for the 1992 campaign (by this time he was a reliever). Davis was a member of two World Championship teams — the ’83 Orioles and ’89 A’s (for whom he won a career-high 19 games).
Now: Pitching coach, Hickory Crawdads
Davis turned 50 last month (Storm of the half-century!), and as the above photo makes clear he’s got some serious salt and pepper facial hair style. The 2011 season marked his first as a coach in the world of professional baseball, and here’s hoping that there’ll be many more to come. (Rumor has it that he’s being pursued by Omaha).
Card #369 — Brian Dayett
Then: Outfielder, Chicago Cubs
Dayett was fortunate to have been included in the 1987 Topps set, as the season before he had appeared in just 24 games for the Cubs. He received what was by far the most playing time he’d ever enjoyed with the ’87 Cubs, however, appearing in 97 games in a pinch-hitting and reserve role. But that was the end of the line for Dayett’s Major League career — following the season, he made his way to Japan in order to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Now: Coach, Spokane Indians (Class A Short Season affiliate, Texas Rangers)
A quarter-century ago, Dayett and Tim Hulett (see below) were making their living playing Major League Baseball in Chicago. Now, the two work together on the coaching staff of the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians. Dayett has been with the club since 2009, and prior to Spokane he logged time in Hickory, Clinton, Lexington, Tri-City and Winston-Salem.
Card #501 — Craig Lefferts
Then: Left-handed reliever, San Diego Padres
As you probably recall, Topps cards of this era denoted league-leading stats by listing them in an italicized font. And while Craig Lefferts pitched in 696 games over 12 seasons, only once were one of his stats italicized. That stat would be the “games” column for the year 1986, when he pitched in 83 contests for the Padres (going 9-8 with a 3.09 ERA). But it wasn’t all downhill from there — Lefferts hung around the bigs through the 1994 season, even enjoying one season as a starter (going 14-12 over 32 starts split between San Diego and Baltimore).
(And, apropos of close-to-nothing, Baseball Reference notes that Lefferts is the last Major League pitcher to have hit a walk-off home run.)
Now: Pitching coach, Stockton Ports (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Oakland A’s)
Since 1999, Lefferts has served as a pitching coach for five different Minor League teams (including, in 1999, the now-defunct Medicine Hat Blue Jays). 2012 marks his second campaign with the Stockton Ports, and I highly suggest that sometime during the season the team stages a “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back” night in his honor.
Card #502 — Dick Schofield
Then: Shortstop, California Angels
Schofield, the son of MLB-er Dick Schofield (Senior, natch) and uncle of Jayson Werth, played for four teams over the course of his 14-season career. But it is the Angels with whom he made his mark, as he suited up for Anaheim from 1983-92 and again in 95-96. A career .230 hitter, Schofield was never much with the bat (the Steve Jeltz of the American League?) but he sure could pick ’em out there at the 6-hole.
Now: Hitting coach, Arizona League Angels (Rookie-level affiliate, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
After a couple of coaching gigs in independent ball, Schofield broke back into the affiliated ranks in 2002 as manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks. In each of the last five seasons, he’s worked with raw Angels talent amidst the sweltering back lots of the Arizona League.
Card #566 Tim Hulett
Then: Third baseman/second baseman, Chicago White Sox
Hulett played in the Majors from 1983-87 and again from 1989-1995, appearing in 720 games overall. And a major chunk of those games (291) came over the course the 1985 and 1986 campaigns. ’86 was particularly memorable, with Hulett suiting up in the South Side of Chicago and bashing a career-high 17 homers while sporting his uniform number on his upper left thigh. His average (.231) and on-base percentage (.260) left something to be desired, but hopefully he didn’t Hulett that bother him.
Now: Manager, Spokane Indians (Class A Short-Season affiliate, Texas Rangers)
Hulett is the longest-tenured manager in Spokane Indians history, and 2012 marks his sixth season with the club. He led the short-season franchise to a championship in 2008, the same season in which his son, Tug, made his Major League debut as a member of the Seattle Mariners en route to being the first Tug in the bigs since McGraw.
Card #591 Spike Owen
Then: Shortstop, Boston Red Sox
The Mariners’ first round draft pick in 1982, Owen made his Major League debut with the club the following year. He was traded midway in the ’86 campaign to Boston (just in time to live in infamy), and later logged time with the Expos, Yankees, and Angels. While not the most fearsome hitter in the world (he retired with a .246 career mark, and never hit more than seven homers in a season), Owen nonetheless ranked second in the National League in intentional walks in 1989. Also during that season, he set a record for “consecutive errorless games at shortstop,” with 61.
Now: Coach, Round Rock Express (Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers)
Owen’s a Texas native who went on to play collegiately at the University of Texas, so it’s likely he feels right at home in his current position as coach for the Round Rock Express. He first coached with the club from 2002-05, and then returned in 2011. He serves as the right-hand man for manager Bobby Jones, although in his playing days he was a switch-hitter.
We’ve now reached the half-way point, and there’s no turning back now. Stay tuned next week for Volume 4: Players now coaching in NL East organizations.