In The Cards: 1994 Calgary Cannons

By IAN WILSON

It’s a funny thing.

This series is called In The Cards, which would lead you to believe that the main stories of a particular season are reflected in the cardboard collectibles on display.

We have seen instances, however, where some important players are not included in team sets. On occasion, the omissions can be glaring. There can be a number of reasons for players not making the cut on the minor-league baseball card front. For example, the player just isn’t with the team yet … or they missed picture day due to injury. A lot of it can depend on what stage of the season the photographer shows up to snap pictures of the squad.

One case in point is this 28-card set of the 1994 Calgary Cannons from Fleer ProCards. It’s a nice, clean looking collection with clear and colourful posed photos of the pitchers and batters. The pinstripes on the back also match the pinstripes of the players on the front.

A few things are missing, though.

This particular year marked the arrival of one of the best players in franchise history. Alex Rodriguez, the first overall selection in the 1993 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft, does not have a card in this set. It’s somewhat understandable, given the frequent-flyer miles the infielder racked up that season. The man who would eventually be nicknamed “A-Rod” spent half the year in Single-A with the Appleton Foxes. Rodriguez also played Double-A baseball with the Jacksonville Suns and made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in July, making it into 17 games before he was sent to Triple-A to close out the campaign with the Cannons.

It was never a given that Rodriguez would come to the Stampede City, as Calgary Herald reporter Gyle Konotopetz observed in an April 20th article in 1994.

“Calgary fans have had the luxury of seeing gems such as Danny Tartabull, Edgar Martinez and Harold Reynolds, but they missed out on the best player to come through Seattle’s system in the past decade – Ken Griffey Jr. leapfrogged to the M’s from Double-A,” wrote Konotopetz.

“Now they could miss out on 18-year-old phenom Alex Rodriguez, a gifted shortstop touted as a future superstar.”

Crisis was averted for Cowtown baseball fans in early August when Rodriguez was demoted to Foothills Stadium for his Pacific Coast League (PCL) assignment. In 32 games with the Cannons, he posted a .311 batting average, six homers and 21 runs batted in (RBI).

Also missing from this set is Darren Bragg, a prospect from Connecticut who arrived with far less hype but ended up being the most valuable player (MVP) on the Cannons that year. The outfielder played 126 games for Calgary and was all over the PCL leader boards. Bragg finished fourth in batting average (.350), second in runs (112) and he was third in hits (175), total bases (271), and on-base percentage (.430). He also swatted 17 long balls, produced 85 RBI and stole 28 bases.

Slider specialist Jeff Nelson appeared in 53 games for Calgary between 1991 and 1994. The righthander, who went on to win four World Series titles with the New York Yankees, picked up eight PCL saves in his final season with the Cannons. He also put up a 2.84 earned run average (ERA) and 30 strikeouts in 18 games and 25.1 innings.

Those are three notable guys who are not in this set.

But what about the rest of the roster? Konotopetz dubbed them “ex-major leaguers, castoffs and prospects who didn’t pan out elsewhere.” Collectively, they put together a 71-72 record and attracted 297,981 fans to the ballpark.

Let’s get to know those guys a little better …

The closing duties for the Cannons were primarily handled by a trio pitchers. Jeff Nelson was the most prominent of the three. Jeff Darwin (top right) led the club in saves, with 11. The Texan, who pitched for the Edmonton Trappers in 1993, logged 70.2 innings over 42 games. He had 54 Ks and a 3.44 ERA. The 13th-round draft pick appeared in 38 games for the Mariners and Chicago White Sox. His older brother, Danny Darwin, had a pitching career that spanned 21 MLB seasons … Tony Phillips (middle right) was tops on the Cannons in games played. The righty hurler appeared in 55 games and took the mound for 98 innings. In that time, Phillips went 6-3 with six saves and 51 strikeouts. He is another player who suited up for both the Cannons and the Trappers. His final campaign playing pro baseball was in Edmonton. After that, the 19th rounder served as a pitching coach at the Single-A level in the San Diego Padres organization.
Roger Salkeld (bottom centre) was another highly-touted prospect in the Mariner organization. A third-overall pick in the 1989 MLB Draft, the Californian had three different tours of duty with the Cannons (1991, 1994 and 1999). The righty, who battled injuries throughout his career, took the mound in 44 contests for Calgary, 13 of them in 1994. He split time with the Mariners that year, but the results were middling. With the Cannons that season, he went 3-7 with 54 strikeouts and a 6.15 ERA in 67.1 innings pitched. The Mariners were ready to move on from Salkeld in 1995 and they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for Tim Belcher. He kept pitching in pro baseball through the 2000 season. Following his playing career, Salkeld entered the business world and became the president of Skaggs Concrete Sawing.
Minnesota-born Clint Zavaras (top right) was a journeyman starting pitcher who became acquainted with Calgary over a number of years. The 6-foot-1 hill topper first played for the Cannons in 1989, when he went 6-9 with 89 Ks and a 6.04 ERA in his 110.1 Triple-A innings. He made his MLB debut with the Mariners that year – on June 3rd he squared off against Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers. Ryan tossed a one-hitter in the 6-1 Texas victory. Zavaras, who lasted eight innings and surrendered four earned runs in that game, returned to make four starts for Calgary in 1992 and his final pro season was in 1994. That last year included nine starts with the Cannons and a forgettable 9.17 ERA. Zavaras pitched for Greece in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and he is currently a coach at Slammers Baseball program in Colorado … Corner infielder Luis Quinones (bottom right) brought 442 games of MLB experience with him to Foothills Stadium, as well as a World Series ring from the 1990 Cincinnati Reds team. The Puerto Rican was an effective veteran for the Cannons. In 65 games, he batted .305 with six homers and 29 RBI. Quinones went into coaching in 2000. He served as a minor-league hitting coach with the Reds, Padres, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins organizations.
On a homer-happy club that included four players with 20+ long balls and nine sluggers with double-digit dinger totals, Jerry Willard (centre) led the way. The Oxnard, California product finished the 1994 campaign with 23 round trippers, 80 RBI, 86 runs, a .288 batting average and a .423 on-base percentage for the Cannons. It was his best pro season and he was given the team’s “Mr. Hustle” award for his efforts. During his 15-year career, the catcher/first baseman played 346 MLB games. In Game 4 of the 1991 World Series, Willard delivered a pinch hit, walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth inning to secure a 3-2 win for Atlanta over the Minnesota Twins (who would eventually win in seven games). His final half-dozen games in the majors came with the Mariners in 1994. His last MLB hit was a game-winning homer that delivered a 10-7 victory for the M’s. Another bit of trivia regarding Willard involves catching equipment. He suffered an injury to his right shoulder when a foul tip from Julio Franco struck him on May 10th, 1994. A fracture resulted in Willard being unable to throw with any velocity. That led to him playing first base and designated hitter in Calgary. To prevent such injuries, extra padding was added to the catcher’s chest protector on the throwing side. That extra gear is sometimes referred to as a “Willard.”
Outfielder Marc Newfield (bottom left) was a “can’t miss prospect” with the Cannons, according to Konotopetz. Coming off a 1993 campaign that saw him split time between Double-A and the Mariners, the 21-year-old delivered a terrific season for Calgary fans in 1994. Through 107 games and 430 at bats, the sixth overall pick had 19 home runs, 44 doubles, 89 runs, 83 RBI, a .349 batting average and a .413 on-base percentage. He was named a PCL All-Star by season’s end. Unable to replicate his minor-league success in Seattle, Newfield was dealt with Ron Villone to the Padres for pitchers Andy Benes and Greg Keagle in 1995. The Californian was traded yet again the following season – this time as part of a five-player swap between the Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers that sent slugger Greg Vaughn to San Diego. Newfield finished his MLB tenure, which included 355 games, with the Brewers and continued to play pro in the minors through 1999. The last two teams he suited up for were the Double-A Trenton Thunder and the Vancouver Canadians of the PCL.
Infielder Dale Sveum (top centre) joined the Cannons as a 30-year-old in 1994 and was one of the offensive leaders on the team. In 102 games, the former first rounder produced 22 homers, 78 RBI and 71 runs. Despite his success, Sveum was contemplating the end of his playing career at season’s end. “It’s time,” he told the Calgary Herald. “If I could come back with a team that had as much fun as this team, I would but that’s very rare.” Sveum mused about cashing in to play in Japan or getting into managing. As it turned out, the Californian had plenty more in the tank. He played two more full seasons with the Cannons and landed on his feet with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees in the years after that. His last season was in 1999 and by that point, the switch hitter had 862 MLB contests under his belt. A two-decade coaching career followed. It included gigs as a manager, base coach, hitting coach and bench coach with various MLB teams. In 2012, when Sveum was the manager of the Chicago Cubs, he was accidentally shot in the ear on a quail hunting trip by his pal Robin Yount … It was a breakthrough year for Quinn Mack (top right) in 1994. The outfielder was in his second season in Calgary when he got the long-awaited call to the majors. In his June 16th MLB debut with the Mariners, Mack went 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles. He ended up playing just five games for Seattle, but his minor-league baseball career continued through 1996. In the late 1990s, Mack – who is the younger brother of MLB outfielder Shane Mack – worked as the hitting coach of the Helena Brewers in the Pioneer League.
Bobby Cuellar (top right), who pitched in four games for the Texas Rangers in 1977, was a baseball lifer. Between 1983 and 1996, the Texan worked as a pitching coach from the Single-A level to the majors in the Mariner organization. He took jobs with the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins after that, including a pitching coach stint with the Edmonton Trappers in 2002. More recently, Cuellar worked in the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a player or coach who gave more to the Calgary Cannons than Dave Brundage (top left). The Salem, Oregon product was both an outfielder and a pitcher for the team and he was on the club’s all-time leader list for games played, at bats, hits, runs, triples, walks, total bases and strikeouts. He was supposed to be a full-time coach for the Cannons in 1994, but he was activated as both an outfielder and a reliever. In his six at bats, he picked up one hit and a pair of runs. On the mound, Brundage didn’t look out of place. He went 1-4 with three saves, a 2.96 ERA and 15 Ks in 24.1 innings. “I’ve thrown my last pitch,” Brundage told the Herald. “Living on the bubble is no fun. I can’t go through life wondering if my uniform will be hanging in my locker.” Brundage never played in the majors. Since 1995, the former fourth rounder has worked as a manager, with the exception of a three-year window when he was the hitting coach for the PCL’s Tacoma Rainiers. He is currently the manager of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.

Thanks for checking out our latest series of Alberta baseball cards. Let us know what you think about the players and cards in the comments below or on social media.

We are in the process of developing an online digital archive of Alberta baseball card sets with this In The Cards series. If you have baseball cards youโ€™d like to donate โ€“ or lend โ€“ to our cause, please contact us with more information.

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