January 18, 2006

Of Gant and Van Slyke and All That's Forgotten

In the late 1980s, the Atlanta Braves were the worst team to watch on TV. Hapless is the most accurate word; a roster consisting of Dale Murphy and not really much else. I forget when Darrell Evans was on the Braves…he kind of looked like Warwick Davis, didn’t he? Or am I just imagining that they were separated at birth? Anyway, by the time 1988 rolled around, getting an Atlanta Brave in your pack of 1987 Donruss (when you were 8 years old and trying to rationalize paying almost $1.00 per pack…and you could just forget about collecting the ├╝ber-cool blue Fleer) was just about the most disappointing thing you could get, except maybe a double puzzle piece from the Clemente puzzle…or a Padre Diamond King that wasn’t Tony Gwynn.

So by the time 1988 rolled around, the Braves were still hopeless, but their cards were getting better. Tom Glavine, from Billerica, Massachusetts (pronounced Birr-rica, explain THAT one), just down the Pike from me, looked like he was maybe 14 years old, and speaking of separated at birth, Glavine kind of looked like one of those stress squeeze toys where the red eyes pop out, didn’t he? If you squint real hard, you can make it out…he also kind of looked like Mr. Bill, the claymation guy on SNL who was always getting killed…just like the Braves.

They had Glavine, they had Steve Avery in his immortal 1989 Topps card, the card you would trade your George Brett double for (right up there with the Jim Abbott draft pick card from the same set and the Bo Jackson football/baseball 1990 Score special card), and Ron Gant, the guy whom Kent Hrbek picked up off first base in the 1991 World Series and got called out. I swear, speaking of separated at birth (I’m serious about this one too) and the 1991 World Series, Jack Morris kind of looked like The Edge from U2 (in his later handlebar mustache years).

Ron Gant was awesome. It seems people forget that today. A lot of guys who were totally awesome but not necessarily Hall of Fame caliber just seem to fade away (Terry Pendleton and Andy Van Slyke are two names that come to mind) when really they should be carried around on the shoulders of offensive linemen like Vince Lombardi or the Big Tuna, because a) that would be interesting to watch and b) because Pendleton and Van Slyke are probably not going to make the Hall and people won’t remember them as solid All-Star players. They’ll remember them for being fantastic for only a few seasons, and think that they could’ve been fantastic for many years. In reality, Pendleton sucked when he was on the Cardinals. And Van Slyke wasn’t appreciated very much when he was on the Cardinals either (I think Pendleton was on the World Series team from 1987, along with the incomparable Jack Clark and Joe Magrane. Didn’t Clark declare bankruptcy a few years ago? And what happened to Joe Magrane? He faded about as fast as Jim Deshaies, didn’t he?).

Right around Opening Day 1987 (on my birthday no less), Van Slyke was traded along with Spanky LaValliere and Mike Dunne (who I could’ve sworn was going to be a big-time pitcher on those contending Pirate teams of the early 1990s) to the Pirates for Tony Pena. Looking back on it, it’s still a great trade. The Cardinals got a starting catcher, but the Pirates got a starting catcher, an up-and-coming pitcher and a deadweight outfielder who never hit over .270 and never hit more than 15 home runs. What a steal.

Ron Gant had a fantastic career cut short by injuries. Even when he resurfaced with the Phillies and Reds, you knew he was still dangerous at the plate. Van Slyke was unstoppable on those Bonds/Bonilla/Drabek/Leyland teams and Pendleton was great in 1991 in his own right (I think he won the batting title with a ridiculously low average just over .300 or something).

There are literally billions of baseball cards made in the early 1990s, when card companies figured out just how many of us were collecting and then overcompensated by about 2 billion cards. You’d think more little boys who grew up into offensive linemen would remember just how great Andy Van Slyke and Ron Gant were and would track the two of them down and carry them around a few days a week. It would make someone like me feel better about the world.


Brian said...

Thank you for giving AVS the credit he deserves. I grew up in Pittsburgh and worked for the Pirates during the early 90's. Slyke was my favorite player.

birdDC said...

Gone...Not Forgotten
I work on the House side of Capitol Hill in DC. While delivering mail one day I happened into Rep. Sherwood Boehlert's office, who represents Utica, NY and the surrounding towns. Well, Mr. Andy Van Slyke is from his district and is represented in Rep. Boehlert's office by a near-life sized wall portrait in the front office. No joke. Rep. Boehlert has a bunch of Utica area players represented including, I think, Mark Lemke.

William said...

I met the great Ron Gant 2-3 times when he was on the Phillies and Padres, and he was a really nice guy. He's a very underrated star from the 1990s.