In The Cards: 1991 Medicine Hat Blue Jays

By JOE McFARLAND

We can’t put our fingers on the reason why, but apparently banana yellow was the “in” colour for baseball cards in 1991.

The sheer mention of yellow baseball cards conjures up many emotions for junk wax collectors, as they think back to the infamous 1991 Fleer set. But they weren’t the only ones to get in on the action.

ProCards created over 4,300 minor league cards that year, all with the same design in mind. The front features a player’s photo on top of a yellow notepad graphic and a green block with the player’s name, position and team. The backs of the cards have more of that yellow, with biographical information, limited statistics and, in the case of the Blue Jays, a sponsor logo for Monarch Cable TV.

Hey The team itself didn’t have the best season on the field or at the turnstiles. They mustered a 24-45 record, finishing last in the Pioneer League’s North Division, just a couple of wins out of being in the league basement. And their attendance mark of 14,722 ranked them last in that department.

A handful of players featured in this card set made it to the big leagues, including 1990 third round pick Felipe Crespo. And while none hit superstar status, a couple inadvertently had a major impact on the parent Blue Jays squad heading into the next couple of seasons.

Here now is a our latest In The Cards feature and some of the stories of the 1991 Medicine Hat Blue Jays.

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“Too bad they don’t have Ned Darley,” St. Catharines Blue Jays general manager Ellen Harrigan-Charles quipped after watching the big league Jays get rocked by the Milwaukee Brewers in a summer 1992 contest. The quote showed up in a Sports Illustrated profile of Harrigan-Charles, who had watched Darley (top right) pitch seven innings and retire 17-straight batters for St. Catharines a few nights earlier in a 4-3 extra innings win. Darley had spent the previous two seasons in Medicine Hat, accumulating a 2-10 record with a 5.11 ERA in 20 appearances. He wasn’t discouraged by those numbers though, continuing to pitch at a variety of levels until 2008.
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Medicine Hat baseball fans can be forgiven if they thought they had their own Ricky Vaughn on the mound in 1991. While he didn’t have the same glasses or hairdo as Charlie Sheen did in “Major League” (which was released two years earlier), the stuff shown by Chris Ermis (middle) on the field was reminiscent. The 21-year-old righthander posted a 1-8 record and a 5.25 ERA in 17 games. He led the team in one nefarious category: wild pitches with 16. It turned out to be his only season of professional baseball, but he wasn’t done with the game. Ermis went back to school at St. Mary’s University to get his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science in 1997. That’s where he began a 24-year run as the Rattlers’ assistant baseball coach. This past January, he was promoted to associate coach.
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At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Ken Robinson (top centre) wasn’t an imposing specimen on the mound. But the stuff that came out of his hand was more than enough for MLB scouts to size him up. The Blue Jays made the righthander from Florida State University their 10th round selection in the 1991 Draft and sent him north of the border to Medicine Hat. In six appearances, Robinson went 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA, which was second among Baby Jays pitchers behind Mike Taylor. He made his debut in Toronto in 1995 and bounced between the majors and minors over the following few seasons. His journey came to an abrupt end during spring training in 1999 when he was killed in a car crash in Arizona just a few days after signing with the Diamondbacks and reporting to their training camp. Teammate John Rosengren was behind the wheel in the wreck and walked away from the crash unharmed. He was later charged with second-degree murder due to being under the influence of alcohol. Key evidence in the case was eventually thrown out and Rosengren returned to baseball, never making it past triple-A.
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It didn’t take long for Angel Sandy Martinez to turn a free agent signing opportunity into something greater. Undrafted in 1991, Martinez was picked up by the Blue Jays, who spent most of the next two seasons in the Gas City. He hit .227 with six home runs and 55 RBIs in 91 games. Martinez kept climbing up the depth charts, even making it into the Baseball America top-100 MLB prospects heading into the 1995 season. He played in 62 games in Toronto that season, kicking off an eight-year big league career. A major highlight for Martinez was being behind the plate for Kerry Wood’s historic 20-strikeout performance for the Chicago Cubs in 1998. He wasn’t done with Alberta either, as he came back in 2000 as a member of the Calgary Cannons, where he hit .300 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 86 games.
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The 1993 Toronto Blue Jays wanted some speed and veteran moxie as they hoped to repeat as World Series champions. They got it in the form of all-time great Rickey Henderson. The Blue Jays acquired him from Oakland for pitching prospect Steve Karsay and outfielder Jose Herrera (bottom right). Herrera spent part of the 1991 season as well as all of 1992 with the Baby Jays in Medicine Hat and he had “future Rickey Henderson” written all over him. He hit .262 and stole 38 bases in 112 games before moving onto Single-A Hagerstown in 1993, right before he was made part of the Henderson deal. Herrera went on to play in 141 games for the Athletics in 1995-1996, hitting .264 with six home runs, 32 RBIs and nine stolen bases. He returned to Alberta in 1997, where he hit. 297 with the PCL’s Edmonton Trappers. Herrera continued playing baseball at a variety of levels through 2011.
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Herrera wasn’t the only player in this set who was involved in a major trade that had a direct impact on the 1993 World Series champions. Outfielder Stoney Briggs (bottom left) had a solid 1991 campaign for the Baby Jays, hitting .297 with eight home runs, 29 RBIs and nine stolen bases. Briggs moved onto Myrtle Beach in 1992 and was considered to have a bright future in the organization. But as the MLB squad retooled for another postseason run, Briggs found himself on the move to San Diego alongside Derek Bell for fellow outfielder Darrin Jackson. Jackson’s time in Toronto didn’t last long, as in June he was sent packing again to the New York Mets in a swap that saw shortstop Tony Fernandez return to the SkyDome. As for Briggs, he wouldn’t get any higher than Triple-A, he is still involved in the game as a coach and mentor through programs like the Breakthrough Series.
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There is nothing that stands out when you look at the final statistics for Jairo Ramos’ time in Alberta, or in North America for that matter. The 20-year-old rightfielder (left) suited up in 35 games for the Baby Jays during the 1991 season. He hit .267 with 10 runs batted in and eight stolen bases. One thing that does stand out on his stat line was strikeouts, as he had just 11 in 127 plate appearances, which tied for tops on the team. He seemingly disappeared from the baseball scene after his lone professional campaign in North America, then resurfaced with Grosseto of the Italian Baseball League in 1998. Ramos put together an all-star career in the IBL, winning a handful of batting titles and joining the 1,000-hit club in 2014. He represented Italy on the world stage several times including the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
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The Major League Baseball draft has had a few different iterations over the years. Starting in 1965, there were originally three separate drafts held in January, June and August. The August draft only lasted a couple of years while the January draft lasted until 1986. The January draft of 1974 is how Joseph Jerome (J.J.) Cannon made his entrance onto the MLB scene. Picked 16th overall by Houston, the outfielder would eventually play in 148 big league game. After retiring in 1983, Cannon became a coach and got his first managerial job in Medicine Hat in 1991. He spent the next decade managing teams in the farm systems of Toronto, Atlanta and Houston. He stayed involved in the game at a community level for years, while a baseball stadium in Hanover, Maryland is named after him.

As always, thanks so much for flipping through these collectibles! We hope you’re enjoying this series and would love to hear about some of your stories and memories of the cards or the players. Leave us a comment below.

We are continuing to work on an online digital archive of Alberta baseball card sets with our In The Cards series. If you have any cards you’d like to share with us, email AlbertaDugoutStories@gmail.com with more information!

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