By IAN WILSON
In a pre-internet world, baseball cards served as a fantasy baseball type of resource that connected fans with players.
They provided stats, factoids, interesting graphic designs and photos that ranged from fantastic to hilarious. On occasion, the packs of cardboard collectibles even provided mouth-scraping gum that was capable of losing flavour faster than a card in bike spokes could drop its value.
Of course, baseball cards are still around – they’re even available in mobile app form – but the popularity of the memorabilia is nowhere near what it was in the sports card boom of the 1990s and before that era.
Here at Alberta Dugout Stories, we love our collectibles, so we’ve decided to unveil a baseball card-themed All-Star Team!
Here are the ground rules:
- Selections must be players who suited up for an Alberta-based team at some point.
- Teams will include the following roster: Catcher, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, DH, bench player, starting pitcher, relief pitcher, closer, and three outfielders.
- Two teams will be selected by Alberta Dugout Stories contributors. One team will be selected by Ian Wilson and another will be chosen by Joe McFarland.
- All Star cards will be selected entirely at the discretion of Joe and Ian. Factors will include photo quality (both good and bad); image hilarity; impressiveness of hair, both facial and flow; head-scratching traits or general oddness of the card; and rarity. Player ability and performance will NOT impact eligibility.
- Followers are encouraged to dispute our checklists and offer up their own nominations, which may or may not receive honourable mention status.
Alright, let’s crack some packs! Here are Ian Wilson’s All-Stars:
With a career spanning 17 Major League Baseball (MLB) seasons and nine different big-league ball clubs, Pat Borders has quite the extensive catalogue of cards to choose from. There’s an outstanding 1993 Donruss McDonald’s card depicting a collision at home plate between Borders and slugger Mark McGwire in the 1992 playoffs. There are also plenty of other cards that illustrate plays at the plate, some that capture the, “Oh crud!” moment when Borders realizes the runner has arrived safely at home. It also appears that he has a massive wad of chewing tobacco going in 90% of his cards.
Ultimately, this 1993 Upper Deck card could not be denied. The photo depicts a tough-as-nails guy who plays a position that literally beats you up at times. Borders – who started his career playing third base as a Medicine Hat Blue Jay in 1982 – was in his prime when this picture was taken, having recently won World Series Most Valuable Player honours.
The image of a wincing and bloodied Borders says a lot, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. First off, what hit your head? Baseball or bat? Are you bleeding from your head, or your chin, or both? Presumably, the trainer is holding the towel to your noggin, but who is tugging on your right arm? Who are you eyeballing? The thug with the bat who tapped your dome, streaker, or hot dog vendor?
Nothing excites baseball fans quite as much as a weather report on game day!
That’s why Fleer’s 1998 “Promising Forecast” subset deserves some attention. Like a rain delay meeting a scorecard, this is a can’t miss combination. Don’t believe us? Have a look at this … well, whatever this is … of first baseman Derrek Lee:
Is that a warm front moving in or are you just happy to see me? Note the chinook arch of Lee’s elegant swing on this card.
In fairness, by 1998 the junk era of collecting had passed and sports card companies had exhausted a number of solid original ideas in their quest to print as many different sets for collectors as possible.
For his part, Lee was a veteran of 15 MLB seasons who hit 331 career home runs. He played 89 games for the Calgary Cannons in 1999, where he hit 19 long balls and produced 73 RBI.
But, what the foul tip is going on here? It doesn’t take a meteorologist to forecast cloudy skies on this one. Lee’s name is barely legible on the front of the card, which is probably fine with him because then he doesn’t need to be associated with this hot tie-dye mess of a baseball card. Poor Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky didn’t get off so easily – their state outlines are clearly recognizable in the background.
Sadly, A.J. Hinch – the former manager of the Houston Astros and a former Edmonton Trapper – was also caught up in this weather system. He had card No. 8 in this 20-card set.
Sometime between actor Bill Duke’s badass, disposable razor-snapping portrayal of Mac in the classic 1987 action flick Predator and Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s innovative use of the S-word as corrupt senator Clay Davis on the TV series The Wire, Mark McLemore channeled both performances into a pose for this 1994 Score baseball card:
You can almost hear Whitlock Jr.’s trademark, “sheeeeeeeeee-it” when you cast your eyes on this image of McLemore, who played 19 MLB seasons. His minor-league time included 222 games over four campaigns with the Edmonton Trappers between 1986 and 1990.
One can easily imagine the conversation that preceded this photo:
Photographer: “Hey Mark, got time for a picture for a baseball card?”
Photographer: “Do you need a bat or a ball or a prop or anything?”
Photographer: “Do you want to take your sunglasses off?”
Photographer: “Alright, what do you want to do?”
McLemore: “Check this … got it? Good.”
This may seem like a simple and unspectacular choice, but there is an elegance to this card of third baseman Dale Sveum that should be celebrated.
One year before he played for the Vancouver Canadians and a decade before he stepped out of the home dugout at Foothills Stadium as a pin-striped Calgary Cannon, Dale Sveum played his only season of Double-A baseball for the El Paso Diablos of the Texas League.
We are very thankful that Sveum did play there, because it resulted in this beauty of a baseball card.
First off, great team name: El Paso Diablos. Second, fantastic duster from Sveum, a look he sported for his entire playing career. It was only when he entered the coaching and managerial ranks that he shaved off the soup strainer.
Third is the uniform and the ball cap – glorious stripes that extend from head to toe.
You put it all together and you get a timeless look that would suit any era. Sveum leaves the impression that he would’ve been comfortable on the old-timey diamonds a century ago, or on AstroTurf in the 1970s. Before he even made the major leagues, this card announced to the world that Dale Sveum was – and always would be – a baseball player.
A player who seems to have as many baseball cards as he does MLB games played is Omar Vizquel, who appeared in 2,968 contests over 24 big league seasons.
Suitably, many of the cards show a high-flying shortstop turning double plays or making dazzling defensive reads.
But the oddness of this card of Vizquel – a Calgary Cannon for 94 games between 1988 and 1992 – handed him a spot on this list.
It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly is going on in this 1997 Fleer Ultra card.
We know that the Venezuelan infielder was an outstanding defender, because he has 11 Gold Glove Awards to prove it. Did they just forget to put the glove on this one? Who had to assemble this strange and somewhat creepy trophy? Where did they get the hand from? Was their a mannequin in Cleveland left deformed by this horrible award?
Once again, there are just so many questions left unanswered.
You better eat your Wheaties if you’re going to compete against left fielder Cliff Floyd.
That said, I’m not sure what Floyd had for breakfast before posing for this Michael Jordan-inspired 1992 Bowman rookie card:
We all wanted to be like Mike back then. Alas, there is plenty of bull in this picture. The purple shorts, the massive tree in the background obscuring the poor imitation, and the high likelihood that Floyd didn’t actually complete the dunk make this card a swing and a miss.
When he did stick to baseball, Floyd put together a pretty impressive career, smashing 233 home runs over 17 MLB seasons. During his six-year run with the Florida Marlins, the 6-foot-4 slugger suited up for the Cannons for nine games in 1999 and collected three long balls for Calgary in that span.
Thankfully, former Edmonton Trapper Devon White gets us back on track with a card that will make you smile for all the right reasons.
Similar to Sveum’s cardboard cut, it’s the simplicity that makes this 1988 O-Pee-Chee base card a winner:
Devo – as he was known – is displaying a relaxed, hanging with the fellas pose during batting practice in this photo and the card design compliments his chill posture. The look in his eyes is part baseball fan, admiring the pre-game work of another slugger, and part analyst. It would be interesting to know how White, who played 192 games for the Trappers between 1985 and 1990, performed when he got his hacks in that day.
Add in the iconic “All-Star Rookie” trophy image that Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards displayed at the time and this card gets top marks.
Rounding out the stellar outfield is none other than Hall-of-Famer Andre Dawson. As good as “The Hawk” was, this selection was based more on the familiar look of the wood-grained 1987 Topps set and the nostalgic feels Dawson gives us when he’s wearing that Montreal Expos uniform.
It’s a great photo of the former Lethbridge Expos star, who is looking out in the distance, perhaps watching a baseball disappear into the bleachers.
While he is still an Expo in this picture, 1987 was the first year he spent with another MLB organization – that being the Chicago Cubs. Indeed, that was a fine campaign for Dawson, who smacked 49 long balls and racked up a career-high 137 RBI on his way to a National League (NL) MVP title.
Turns out he had plenty of reasons to keep his head held high that year.
DESIGNATED HITTER & BENCH PLAYER
Why welcome only one superstar Calgary Cannon to your lineup when you can invite two of them?
Thanks to this 1990 CMC error card, we get a double-dose of Martinezes … or is it Martini? Anyway, Tino Martinez and Edgar Martinez both get the call. We’ll slot Edgar into his familiar role of DH and Tino can come off the bench in the late innings of a tight ball game to add some pop.
Here’s why this CMC card gets tagged with an error on the play:
Pictured above is Tino Martinez, the 1991 MVP of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). A fan favourite during his time in The Stampede City, Tino played 250 games for the Cannons in 1990 and 1991, producing 35 homers, 179 RBI and 177 runs. When he made it to the bigs, Tino hit 339 home runs over a 16-year MLB career.
Edgar, meanwhile, is named on the front of the card and his stats reside on the back of it. He was another popular Cannon, who suited up in 276 games for Calgary, earning himself a spot in the PCL Hall of Fame. A spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame followed when the long-time Seattle Mariner perfected the designated hitter position.
Our Opening Day starter is yet another Gunner.
Jim Abbott had already made a name for himself when he arrived in Calgary near the end of his pro career in 1998. Then a member of the Chicago White Sox organization, the lefty looked real good for their Triple-A affiliate in southern Alberta. Over 31 innings and five starts for the Cannons, Abbott went 2-2 with a complete game, 20 Ks and a 2.61 ERA.
But, as stated above, performance is not a factor here.
What will always be impressive, however, is this 1992 Upper Deck offering:
OK, on the surface, nothing wrong here. This is a baseball card promoting higher learning and the value of a good education.
But let’s unpack this a bit.
First off, where did Abbott go to university? I can’t quite tell. If only he was wearing a tight-necked sweater, or there was a ballcap on his monitor or a pennant on the wall that gave us a clue.
Second, that computer … top of the line. Takes you right back to the early ’90s.
Also dated, but outstanding, is Abbott’s hair. A feathered mullet – truly exquisite. Somehow, it matches those tan pants that are crammed under the smallest desk at the University of … arggh, if only we knew the school!
Last, but not least, is the expression on Abbott’s face. Not sure if he’s cheesed at the photographer or at his fake school work, but this does not look like a happy camper. Sure, stay in school, or learn to throw a 93 mile-per-hour fastball so you don’t have to.
After Abbott completes his start, we’re making a call to the bullpen for Calgarian Chris Reitsma.
The 1996 first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox served as a starter, middle reliever and closer during his time in the major leagues, which included stints with the Reds, Braves and Mariners. During his 609 MLB innings, Reitsma went 32-46 with a 4.70 ERA and 37 saves. He may have been most effective, however, as a fireman. Reitsma collected 56 career holds, including 31 for Atlanta in 2004.
To clarify, big fan of Reitsma. The 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher had an underrated career and he was crucial in helping fellow Calgarian Mike Soroka achieve success.
But what’s going on with this 2006 Topps Heritage baseball card?
Not buying this bunt stance – needs more crouch – and why is it happening up in the stands of an empty stadium?
It’s also difficult to read the name over those white pants.
Of course, none of this is Reitsma’s fault. It’s a bit of a lazy pose, and the photographer could’ve done better with less (see McLemore above). Ultimately, though, it’s an odd and uninspired baseball card.
Time to dial things up a notch before we shut this rambling story down.
For that, we invite Aussie righty Grant Balfour to the mound.
Look at his screaming face on this 2011 Topps card! If you see that face, and you’re at the plate, then you are now removing your batting gloves and looking for your ball glove. You might be shaking your head. Either way, you’re definitely out.
That’s the intensity we want in our closer.
Balfour, who was 38-for-41 in save opportunities for the Oakland Athletics in 2013, pitched 87.2 frames for the Edmonton Trappers in 2001 and 2002.
In his time in the provincial capital, Balfour was 4-6 with 105 strikeouts and eight saves.
That’s it for this collection of all stars, which includes Hall of Famers, injured players, bad-ass poses, natural stances, oddball situations, an error card and straight fire.
What do you think? Let us know who you’d add to your Cooperstown of baseball cards. And thanks for reading!
Stay tuned for Joe’s selections soon.