A Quarter Century After the Cardboard, Volume 6

This is the sixth — and final — edition of this Brobdingnagian blog series! 

For the previous five installments, click HERE and HERE and HERE, and HERE, and, oh, also: HERE. Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and, please, comment freely on this one as well! (Your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, why some random blogger is devoting so much time to this, etc). Let’s go, one last time:

25 years ago last 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? These are the immortal images of mortal men, and shall never be forgotten.

With the exception of the indefatigable Jamie Moyer (born during the Kennedy administration), 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 is finally, mercifully, the last in a series of blog posts that 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 6: Players Now Coaching In An NL West Organization

Card #197 Mark Bailey

Then: Catcher, Houston Astros

Bailey burst onto the big league scene in 1984 at the age of 22, appearing in 108 games for the Astros. He received even more playing time in ’85, hitting .265 and getting on base at a laudatory .389 clip. But that was the beginning of a long, slow end. Bailey played 100 games (total) over the next three seasons, and from that point forward his big league career was limited to very brief stints with the Giants in 1990 and 1992.  His final at-bat in the Majors came on August 4, 1992, when he struck out looking against current Visalia Rawhide pitching coach Doug Drabek (card #297, see below)

Bailey: on the left

Now: Hitting coach, Tri-City ValleyCats

Upon wrapping up his long and winding playing career, Bailey returned to the employ of the Astros. After a couple of Minor League coaching stints, he wound up coaching in Houston from 2002-09. But in 2010 he returned to the Minors, working with the Double-A Hooks of Corpus Christi before moving on to his current Tri-Cities (NY) location.

Card #233 Russ Morman

The wristbands make the man

Then: First baseman, Chicago White Sox

Rookie card alert! The above slice of thin-cut cardboard came into existence due to the fact that Morman had played 49 games in 1986 (hitting .252). This wasn’t enough to get him on a job on the 1987 squad, however, as he spent that campaign Triple-A Hawaii. In fact, those 49 games in 1986 were a Major League high, but nonetheless Morman logged time with the Sox in 1988-89 and  Royals in 1990-91. After two more years played exclusively in the Minors, he re-surfaced with the Marlins in 1994 and went on to play (sparingly) all the way through the club’s 1997 World Championship season.

Now: Hitting coach, Fresno Grizzlies

That dimly-lit fellow on the far right is good ol’ indefatigable Russ, whose seemingly never-ending baseball journey has taken him to Fresno. Prior to that he worked with the Flying Squirrels of Richmond, perhaps the most ridiculously-named team for whom he’s ever had to wear a uniform. But who really does know?

Card #292 Franklin Stubbs

Then: First baseman/Outfielder Los Angeles Dodgers

An extremely small percentage of the American populace has managed to enjoy two seasons of 2o+ home runs in the Major Leagues, but count Franklin Stubbs among this distinguished minority. He accomplished the feat in 1986 with the Dodgers and, again, in 1990 with the Astros. ’91 and ’92 were spent in Milwaukee, and Stubbs then played ’93 in the Minors and ’94 in the Mexico before landing on the roster of the 1995 Tigers. He appeared in 62 games for this Motor City franchise, and that was to be the end of the line.

Now: Hitting coach, Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A affiliate, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Stubbs transitioned to coaching shortly after his playing career ended, starting out within the Atlanta Braves system. But in 2010 he returned to the same Dodgers organization that drafted him (in the first round) back in ’82. He spent that season in Inland Empire before moving on to his current situation in Chattanooga. Sometimes fans ask him to sign their tickets, as his signature on a ducat immediately transforms them into “Stubbs.”

Card #297 Doug Drabek

Then: Right-handed pitcher, New York Yankees

Rookie card alert! This particular slab was issued after Drabek went 7-8 over 27 appearances with the ’86 Yanks, but that was to be the extent of his time in pinstripes. Drabek was traded to Pittsburgh after the season, and it was in the Steel City that he really made a name for himself. He anchored the Bucs’ rotation from 1987-’92, highlighted by a Cy Young-winning campaign in 1990 (22-6, 2.76 ERA), and went from there to the Astros, White Sox, and Orioles. Drabek totaled 155 wins in all, but oddly enough his only All-Star appearance came as a member of the 1994 Houston Astros.

Now: Pitching coach, Visalia Rawhide (Class A Advanced affiliate, Arizona Diamondbacks)

Struggling Rawhide hurlers know that a dose of Drabek is good for what Visalia. 2012 marks his second season with the club, and thus far the team has resisted the temptation to produce a “Teach Me How To, Dougie” parody video. Prior to arriving in Visalia, Drabek plied his trade in Yakima with a Bears club that tried its best to disassociate itself from the bad news so endemic to franchises operating under such a moniker.

Card #540 Terry Kennedy

Then: Catcher, San Diego Padres

To be sure, Kennedy was one of the better catchers of the 1980s. A four-time All-Star, he had solid power (double-digit home run totals from 1982-87) and twice drove in over 95 runs in a season. And, on a personal level, I recall thinking that he looked quite a bit like Popeye. (A Google search for “Terry Kennedy Popeye” turns up nothing relevant, however, so I must be alone in this.)

Now: Manager, Tucson Padres

Kennedy’s managerial career dates all the way back to 1993, and it has since encompassed stops at nearly all levels of play as well as the independent leagues (including, most improbably, a San Diego Surf Dawgs club that featured 46-year-old Rickey Henderson on the roster). But since 2009 Kennedy has been on the payroll ledgers of the same San Diego organization that employed him from 1981-86. 2012 marks his second campaign with the Tucson Padres, which is also the second season in which that particular Pacific Coast League entity has been in operation. Therefore, it stands to reason that Kennedy has managed the club in each and every moment of its short existence.

Card #579 Rick Burleson

Then:Infielder/Designated Hitter, California Angels

Burleson hails from Lynwood, the same California town that later spawned none other than Weird Al Yankovic. Burleson is eight years older than Mr. Yankovic, however, and was already on the downside of his career by the time the master parodist  released his eponymous debut in 1983. But Burleson was a force to be reckoned with before injuries took their toll, appearing in 114 games as a Red Sox rookie in 1974 and then playing on a near-daily basis in each of the next seven seasons. But he only played 51 total games between 1982-84, then spent the entire 1985 campaign on the disabled list. The above baseball card was to be his last – Burleson signed with the Orioles as a free agent in 1987, but was released during the All-Star break and never appeared in the Majors again.

Now: Hitting coach, Reno Aces (Triple-A affiliate, Arizona Diamondbacks)

I’m not sure if anyone actually calls Burleson “Reno Rick,” but it sure is a cool-sounding nickname. And he’s earned it, too, as Burleson is the only hitting coach that Reno batsmen have ever known. He and manager Brett Butler (see below) have been with the club since its inaugural 2009 campaign, but prior to landing in the Biggest Little City Burleson meticulously pieced together a lengthy coaching and managerial resume that dates back to the early days of the G.H.W. Bush administration.

Card #675 Ed Romero

Then: Infielder, Boston Red Sox

It could be argued that Ed Romero was the Luis Aguayo of the American League — i.e. a good field, little hit reserve infielder whose career neatly encompassed the decade of the 1980s. When the above card was produced, Ed was coming off of his second (and final) 100-game campaign. He accumulated 233 at-bats for the Sox, hitting an anemic .210 but, as the card shows, ably moving to his left whenever the situation called for it.

Now: Manager, Gulf Coast League Astros (Rookie-level affiliate, Houston Astros)

Romero’s first managerial gig dates all the way back to 1992, when he piloted that year’s incarnation of the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians. He has also enjoyed stints as “Minor League infield coordinator” with three different organizations, including the Astros franchise that currently keeps him on the payroll. 2011 was Romero’s first as a manager within the sweltering back lots of the Florida-based Gulf Coast League.

Card #723 Brett Butler

Then: Centerfielder, Cleveland Indians

Butler enjoyed a long and fruitful Major League career, possessing a pleasingly alliterative ballplayer name all the while. The skinny speedster made his debut with the Braves in 1981 and went on to play for the Indians, Giants, Mets and Dodgers before finishing his career in 1997. He led the league in triples four times (including 1994-95, at the ages of 37 and 38), at-bats twice, runs twice, hits once, and walks once. And, while Butler never led the league in steals, he did manage to pace the senior circuit in caught stealing on three occasions.

It is also worth noting that Butler missed nearly the entire 1996 campaign due to cancer treatments, but enjoyed a strong comeback season in 1997 at the age of 40.

Butler, ready to serve

Now: Manager, Reno Aces

Butler has been employed by the the Diamondbacks’ organization since 2005, coaching in the big leagues that year and then going on to manage Lancaster and Mobile before coming to Reno in the Aces’ inaugural season of 2009. 2012, then, marks his fourth season with the club. This is the longest stint he’s had on any one team since he suited up for the Dodgers from 1991-95.

Card #787 Alejandro Pena

Then: Right-handed starter/reliever, Los Angeles Dodgers

Would you believe that Alejandro Pena once won a National League ERA title? It’s true — in 1984 he pitched a career-high 199 1/3 innings over a career-high 28 starts, compiling a circuit-pacing ERA of 2.48. That was just about the end of Pena’s career as a starter, however — after an injury-riddled 1985 he transitioned to a relief role, and by the advent of the ’90s he was one of America’s pre-eminent peripatetic denizens of the bullpen. Pena spent 1990 with the Mets, and then went to the Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, Marlins, back to the Braves and then, finally, back to the Marlins.

Now: Pitching coach, Dominican Summer League Dodgers (Rookie-level affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers)

Despite devoting 10 days of my life to scouring micro-fiche of Dominican newspapers, I have been unable to ascertain how Pena spent his days after his playing career ended. Until 2010, that is, when the heretofore cold trail suddenly becomes sizzling. Pena worked as a pitching coach for the DSL Dodgers that season, did it again in 2011, and, presumably, will be back for more in 2012.

And that, as they say, is that! Thanks so much for sticking with me through this seemingly never-ending saga — I nearly bit off more than I could chew, but more than a month of meticulous mastication I’m happy to report that the end result was a successful swallow.

And with that, one of the worst sentences I have ever written, this series concludes.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

4 Comments

Your not going to do the Traded Set ? It still counts !!

That’s a valid point, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Approximately 11,000 words over six blog posts is enough for me! But if anyone wants to write a “Traded” epilogue to this series I’d love to read it.

I used to hate getting Ed Romero cards. It seemed like I was a magnet for all of his cards, including his Score, Donruss, Bowman, and Upper Deck editions.

That’s funny — I think my personal Romero was Bruce Benedict. That dude haunted all of my wax packs.

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