March 24, 2006

The Perfect Pack Transforms Itself into More of a Legend and Less of a Myth

Gather ’round, for I have seen it. Sometime in the fall of 1988, in Bannockburn, Illinois, a pack left the Donruss packaging plant in a box that was destined not to see the light of day for almost twenty years. And while thousands of children and teens and some older guys (longing to relive the joy of finding a Lowell Palmer card in their pack of 1970 Topps when they were a kid) soldiered forward opening pack after pack of the worthless and generally disappointing fare from Donruss that year, receiving nothing for their devotion except fifteen Mike Bieleckis and enough Candy Maldonados to seriously consider opening a savings account and not buying any more cards, this pack—the closest I’ve come to a Perfect Pack—sat harmlessly in a warehouse or perhaps the basement of Mr. Mint’s lesser-known adversary Mr. Excellent (and I really wish there had been a Mr. Excellent; I would’ve paid to get a Polaroid of him and me at a card show autographed in sharpie).

I really didn’t think I’d get this good a pack. Hell, even the puzzle piece is worthwhile (though not the whites of Spahn’s eyes, which I think is the piece de resistance of this puzzle). Now I’ll shut up about how great The Pack is and tell you (lovingly) about each card.

6 Pack Analysis: 1989 Donruss
Pack 5

Bryan Harvey There was a time when Bryan Harvey was the shit. I think that time lasted roughly 25 minutes. No really, there was a time when being a rookie and getting nearly 20 saves in a season was, if not outright sensational, then at least front-page news (even if the front page was the only page, the newspaper was a crudely mimeographed sheet you printed in your basement, and the name of the paper was The Official Bryan Harvey Fan Club Newsletter).
Jeff Russell While Bryan Harvey was a big deal for a little while, Jeff Russell was a big deal for a longer while. He was a great closer, no doubt about it. Also, if you pictured him without facial hair, he looked a lot like Howie Mandel (and, as a sidebar digression, why hasn’t NBC had Mandel blow up a rubber glove with his nose yet on Deal or No Deal? I’m serious. It would make the show about twenty thousand times more enjoyable). But really, the big news here is the photo. Minus a little fat around the cheeks and swap out the Rangers jersey for a white unitard and you’ve got Freddie Mercury. I can even picture Jeff Russell pitching this way, gesticulating wildly after each pitch, strutting around the mound after striking out a batter, and pointing to Brian May at first, (who the Rangers would get in a three-way trade in 1988 that would send Pete O’Brien to the Pirates and a young John Smiley and a curly black wig to England to join Queen half-way through recording a farewell album).
Ryne Sandberg What can you say about him that hasn’t already been said: he was the 2B of the Eighties, and another ‘loser’ the Phillies got rid of in favor of the future Hall of Famer Ivan DeJesus. Man, who was running the Phils in the Eighties, anyway? Presumably it was someone who knew nothing about baseball. Or it could just as easily have been the work of a fictional character, like Mayor McCheese. Yes, that’s who I’m going to refer to whenever I talk about a bonehead move by the Philadelphia front office.
Barry Lyons Okay, now if this was truly a Perfect Pack, Barry Lyons would be Roberto Alomar or even Sandy Alomar, Jr. But, instead, it’s Barry Lyons: Mets back-up catcher extraordinaire.
Mike Moore What makes a baseball player successful in the eyes of those who follow the game? Is it consistent greatness or do you just need to have a flash-in-the-pan brilliance about you that convinces others to see something that may or may not really be there? Take Mike Moore for example. The guy had one good year, where he won 17 games. Every other year (up until this card was printed) he was a lousy pitcher on a perennially lousy second-division team. So why do I think of him as a good player? Is it because I think he looks like a Punch and Judy puppet? Or is it the Chris Bosio Theory, that he’s considered a success but wasn’t ever really one? I’m full of questions today.
Mike Flanagan By this time Flanagan wasn’t very good. But that’s all right. He had already proved he would always be viewed as a successful major league pitcher. A definite plus to an already halfway-decent pack.
Steve Lombardozzi His inclusion doesn’t hurt the overall rating of the pack because of his name (and because he was a World Series hero, but mostly because of his name). I understand how shallow that sounds, but it isn’t every day that you get a card of Lombardozzi. Especially growing up in Massachusetts, where the Boston Globe sportswriters like to beat it over your head when a player makes the majors who happens to be from a town in the state. Lombardozzi’s from Malden, and if you’ve never been to Malden then you haven’t lived. Actually, the last part of that’s not really true.
Carlton Fisk Diamond King Yes, I actually got a Diamond King. Remember the year that Donruss pulled them from the regular set and made them a special insert? Jeez, they were hard enough to get, let alone as an insert…Gotta love the DK of Fisk. I think he may be one of the only players to be a DK in more than one year while he was on the same team. Nolan Ryan was a King in 1982 with the Astros, then King of Kings in 1990 when he was on the Rangers. And I think Tony Gwynn was a King twice with the Padres.
Fred McGriff He was, inexplicably, one of my favorite players. I think it originally had to do with the fact that he was one of the most underrated players of his generation, he usually got the accolades but never the national press that followed others, and he played in relative obscurity for most of his career (except for the parts with the Braves). Because of all these things, he was always included in the great subsets and insert sets that took over in the mid to late 1990s, and his cards were always cheap. He may be the first Hall of Famer with a rookie card valued at less than $8.
Kirby Puckett I think I may have started to cry when I found out he died. When I was a kid I thought he probably wore eye black all the time (even when he wasn’t playing baseball), because it made him look tougher. Really, everyone should wear eye black all the time, because, hell, it does make you look tougher.
Ozzie Guillen It’s amazing, but at one time in the late Eighties, there were at least four Ozzies playing in the major leagues: Ozzie Smith, Ozzie Guillen, Ozzie Virgil and Ozzie Canseco. That is incredible. I don’t think there’s anyone with that name playing today.
Wally Joyner Did you know that Wally Joyner has acted in not one but two Mormon-themed movies? It’s true. In fact, his role in the first film was a recurring role in the second one. What did he play, you ask? Wally was an angel. I know, I know, those kooky Mormons. Next thing you know they’ll have Shawn Bradley play a talking tree (like that creepy tree from the old Fun Fruits commercials, only really pale and 7’6” tall).
Ray Hayward I can’t tell you who this guy is or what he accomplished on the field, but I can tell you that he was traded from the Cubs with another nobody for a nobody apparently worth two nobodies. And all of it happened on St. Patrick’s Day, 1988, a day when many nobodies got drunk for no other reason than they were alive and they liked to drink. At least Ray Hayward had a reason to get wasted.
Rick Sutcliffe I like Rick Sutcliffe. Did you know that the Cubs gave up Joe Carter and Mel Hall for him and Ron Hassey? It’s like they were convinced that Sutcliffe had a couple more seasons in him and Hassey had another perfect game in that gigantic brain of his. Of course, they were right on both accounts, though Hassey’s second perfect game would come when he was with the Expos.
Kevin McReynolds Oh my God, I got Kevin McReynolds. I think his cards completed the holy triptych of Over-Hyped Met Rookies (Gregg Jeffries and Kevin Elster were the other two), though, now that I think about it, wasn’t he an Over-Hyped Padre Rookie? Along with the worthless-upon-impact #1 Draft Pick card of Shawn Abner from the 1985 set. Either way, I got excited when I got a card of him and I don’t think he was really that good to begin with. Isn’t it funny how card value and actual, statistical performance never seem to quite match?

Overall Analysis

It’s not every day that you get two bona fide superstars, a Diamond King worth something in a trade, your favorite player, four good to very good pitchers, and Wally Joyner and Ozzie Guillen all in the same pack. The success rate here is a mighty 73% (11 good to great cards out of a possible 15), so I’m not so far off-base to call this a Perfect Pack. In fact, it’s a very apt title. What would have made this an Über Pack would be the inclusion of at least one Red Sox player, preferably Ellis Burks. If I didn’t already know that Mayor McCheese was running the show down in Philly, I would’ve sworn he was behind the scenes in Boston when the Sox inexplicably dumped Burks to make room for the immortal Bob Zupcic (sidebar note: you know how Baseball Reference lists ten players the player in question is most like? Well, #9 on Zupcic’s list is the great Olympian Jim Thorpe (who was generally a horrible baseball player)).

Fight! Fight! Fight!

After watching the ’Stros roundly beat the tar out of the Cubs that afternoon, Hal Lanier and Jose Cruz decide to celebrate down under Michigan Avenue at the Billy Goat Tavern. Little did they suspect to find Carlton Fisk and Robin Ventura parked at the bar, well into their fifth round, after mistakenly dressing up in their early Twentieth century unis on the wrong day for the White Sox Old Timers Game. Lanier and Cruz take stools towards the end of the counter, but when Fisk notices Lanier across the crowded room, he lumbers over to him and after slinging an arm over Lanier’s and Cruz’s shoulders, loudly calls him ‘Bob,’ and goes on to boom out a story about he and Dewey Evans got to meet him in the dressing room after a well-fought game against the Celtics in the old Boston Garden. When Lanier can finally get a word in, he tells Fisk he’s got the wrong man. Fisk, now belligerent, demands an autograph from Lanier. Lanier refuses. Fisk calls him a name. Cruz stands up. Ventura rouses himself and jumps to back up Fisk. Fisk quickly strips to the waist and, raising his fists, calls Lanier out. Out of nowhere a ring is drawn on the floor in chalk. What follows is tag-team, stripped-to-the-waist, bare-knuckle fisticuffs, 1890s-style.

So who wins? Will Hal Lanier have to sign a basketball for Carlton Fisk? Will Jose Cruz get to try out those roundhouse leg sweeps he’s been practicing out in his garage late at night? Does Robin Ventura even know where he is?

You tell me.


poop poopson said...

Ahhh, Barry Lyons. Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he signed at EVERY card show. He was followed by Greg Hibbard; then, Matt Lawton, but by the time Lawton became a "name," card shows had subsized.

Brad Manuel said...

I'm pretty sure Gregg Jeffries supposed to be the best player ever in 1989. There was a theory from my neighbors (twins who were two years older than me and INSANELY cool) that if you looked on the bottom of the 1989 Topps box and it was a certain card, you went down four packs on the lower left of the box and that pack was guaranteed to have a Jeffries. They had like eight of them, all lined up in one plastic sheet, and I didn't have any, so I had to believe them. I finally found the box and got the magic pack and ... no Jeffries. One major reason why I want to get a box of '89 Topps is so I can finally pull a Jeffries. Does that make me weird?

beth delise said...

Lombardozzi was never a good player, never mind great. He does leesen the pack a great deal!

poop poopson said...

Talking about the Jefferies theory, how about 1992 Donruss Diamond Kings --- Upper Left --- 4th pack from the bottom.

tonythegreat said...

Any tandem that includes Robin Ventura will instantly lose any fight. Although people named "Robin" usually make good sidekicks, we all remember Ventura's head being punched in by a 67-year-old Nolan Ryan. Also, Ventura always looked, to me, to be constipated. I think that would also hinder him in a fight.

Lance Richardson said...

McReynoldsa was a very good player for several years. Good defense, very good hitter, and an excellent baserunner for a guy who wasn't fast.

A very good argument could be made that he deserved the NL MVP in 1988. He certainly was a better player than the guy who won the award, Kirk Gibson.

His problem was that it never looked like he was really trying out there. He was sort of a white Garry Templeton, always nonchalant-looking. At least he never flipped-off a stadium full of fans.

Anonymous said...

RE Howie Mandel: He claims that he "blew out a sinus" doing the rubber-glove-over-the-head bit, so he stopped doing it. (In his almost - seamless crossover cameo on Las Vegas, he explained as such to the assistant who escorted him from the Deal or No Deal set to fly him to Vegas.)

RE Malden: I grew up in the next town over (Saugus); Malden wasn't so bad, and it was where you went if you wanted to go bowling and / or get good pizza.

Apologies for veering off the topic. I appreciate your blog, and I've set it up on My Yahoo! so I know when you've posted. (And yes, I'm another guy originally sent here courtesy of Bill Simmons' now - retired Intern.)

Ben said...

I think that Lowell Palmer card is the coolest card I've seen in quite a while.

The Rev said...

I lived in Malden for two years on Valley St. I enjoyed many a night at the Dockside and at Veez. I especially enjoyed visiting Saugus and going to the Kowloon.

And in reference to my Phillies... in the early 80's, Bill giles, the majority owner, was conviced he could run a baseball team. After all, he was Warren Giles' son. Dallas Green, former 80 Phils manager, became the Cubs GM in 82. And the players he took from the Phillies who played for him included...

Ryne Sandberg
Larry Bowa
Bob Dernier
Keith Moreland
Warren Brusstar
Dickie Noles
Dick Ruthven

Ryne Sandberg was the throw in player in that Ivan DeJesus trade. The story is Larry Bowa talked Bill Giles into including him in that trade. Great, huh?

Then, to top it off, Green also grabs Gary Matthews for the 1984 division title, the year after he gets NLCS MVP for the Phillies in 1983.

The way Dallas Green used Bill Giles in the early 80's, Mayor McCheese would have been an upgrade for the Phillies.

ryan said...

lowell palmer = young kent tekulve

SK said...

If I was set to bat against Lowell Palmer I'd ask the manager to take me out of the game. Lord knows I don't want to go to bat against a blind guy.