This weekend, in what has become a self-compensatory tradition, I went to my local sports cards merchandiser and purchased a large box of baseball cards. Sadly, I learned that this particular box contained special types of baseball cards called “football cards” and “basketball cards”, some bearing titles like “Beam Team” and “X-Cite” and “Sky Pilots”. Needless to say, I gave these cards the attention they deserved, stacking them neatly on the curb outside a Seven-Eleven while waiting at a red light.
Reaching home, I took a seat on the couch, threw on the soundtrack to the 1980s version of Metropolis, and prepared myself for a healthy dose of Opening Day nostalgia. Instead, my cards slapped me in the face with the force of a hundred Bob Hamelins. Among my prize were such Debbie Downers as these:
Many of the cards were from 1995, which asked the awkward question: “How do you take a sport that was ruined by greedy owners and overpaid players, canceled its World Series and mailed a sealed package of feces to every season ticket holder in the country, and sell that sport via cardboard squares to children?” Topps used its Cyberstats series to make things even more uncomfortable, using space-age computers with CD-Rom Drives and Modems to extrapolate a full season from the game’s greatest stars. Frank Thomas has perhaps the most depressing fabricated line: .353/.487/.729, good for 53 home runs and 161 walks. It would have been the crown jewel in a long and valuable career. Bagwell could have used that 50-HR season, too, I’m guessing.
Then there’s the 1995 Topps Dave Magadan, which helpfully reminds me that he was the last batter to face Nolan Ryan, who walked off the mound mid-at-bat. (Magadan walked – shocker.) That helped me remember that Ryan’s 143-year career ended with a torn elbow ligament in the Kingdome, and led him to declare his final performance “a sad moment”. Thanks, Topps! I’d almost forgotten that! Please remind me all the other embarrassing and/or tragic stuff from my childhood that I might have forgotten, if you find a way.
1995 was a time of prospects. Prospects are exciting! That’s why Topps had to stuff four of them onto the same card in little boxes, as if they’re being attacked by hundreds of little motorcycles from Tron. This particular card was particularly depressing: since Topps chose a prospect from each level, the bottom two players, Carey Paige and Rob Welch, never made the major leagues. That gave them a tie for the highest WAR on the card, beating out Brian Sackinsky (-0.1 WAR in 4.2 IP) and Greg Hansell (-0.4 WAR in 137.2 IP). But in 1995, they all looked so hopeful.
But probably the saddest card in the box belonged to beloved Cubs pitcher and professional eccentric Turk Wendell. His additional info, quoted verbatim: “Turk was scheduled three times to appear on the Letter-man [sic] show, but all 3 were canceled.” According to imdb, Turk never made it.
Happy Opening Day, all you cheerful people.
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