Thursday, February 26, 2009

#9: Chris George - Star Rookie

Shortly after this photo was taken, Chris Bosio gave Chris George a knuckle sandwich. The reasons for this act of violence were many, but the primary rationale was twofold in nature.

1. Bosio took offense to George's loosey-goosey interpretation of a knuckleball. Bosio, not a knuckler by trade, but an active practitioner of the Hagakure, the book a traditional samurai commentary, saw George showing other pitchers how one might throw a knuckleball if one just had one's nails done. Bosio posited that this brought dishonor upon his chosen trade, so he dropped George in order to prevent any further defamation.

2. Chris Bosio hates all people whose surname and Christian name could both be interpreted as a first name. Late-1980s Brewers/Yankees matchups stunk to high heaven with animosity whenever Tommy John took the mound, and God forbid Jack Clark would be playing during a 1988 Bosio/John duel. Other players whose heads Bosio hunted included Manny Lee, Dion James, Bob Melvin, and Mitch Webster. Oddly enough, "the Bos" also loved to plunk Wade Boggs; rumor had it that Chris' best friend as a child was a boy named Boggs Clemens. Despite his name, that fucker couldn't hit or throw for shit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

#8: Kyle Abbott - Star Rookie

Although Kyle never really lived up to the 18-win expectations Upper Deck had for him, the "Lethal Lefties" part did eventually come to fruition. The upstart United Paramount Network, better known as UPN, aired seven out of the thirteen filmed episodes of Lethal Lefties: The Series, during the winter of 1995. Enjoying a choice time slot between Richard Grieco's Marker and the anthology series The Watcher (starring Sir Mix-a-Lot), Lethal Lefties chronicled the adventures of group of starting pitchers for the Pasadena Halos, who, when pulled from a game for any reason, would join forces to fight crime and solve cases occurring in and around the team's ballpark.

Mark Langston was clearly the breakout star from this group, his performance as "Captain" Ace MacSlider earning him a guest starring role on Sister, Sister as Uncle Ted. Kyle Abbott, Chuck Finley, and Jim Abbott rounded out the starring roster. Ultimately, the program failed, and the six unaired episodes have only been seen through the viewing of scantily bartered bootleg VHS copies that somehow made it out of the UPN vault. No DVD plans are currently in the works.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

#7: Roberto Hernandez - Star Rookie

"I tell you, amigo, the best thing...the very best thing about playing for the White the breathable cotton shirts. These cannot find shirts like these in my homeland of Puerto Rico. I want all the viewers of Diecinueve News to know how thankful I am to be wearing such a lightweight, yet durable fabric. I will do my best to keep my uniform clean, even if it means covering home plate after a passed ball with a man on third. Thank you."


Monday, February 23, 2009

#6: Jeff Juden - Star Rookie

Besides "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line," there are two things you don't want to appear on your baseball card, and your rookie baseball card at that.

First of all, we hear that Juden is "the pride of Salem, MA." Shit like that gets you burned at the stake. Just ask Tituba. (Actually, she wasn't. Better ask Sarah Good or Sarah Osborne.)
At the fucking.
Go get your self a decent shelf encyclopedia, one that weighs in at greater than two bills. Look up "Miller, comma, Arthur." That dude will let you know the truth.

Secondly, there's no way in hell I want the phrase "lack of upper body strength" appearing anywhere on my rookie card. Not even placed within the hologram that can only be read if tilted at just the right angle. That's like a swimmer having this said about him on those swimming cards that are so popular with the kids today: "Not accustomed to chlorine."

Or the cooking cards that Panini distributed in western European countries: "Particularly unskilled with the slotted spoon."

Or those mechanic cards that the government distributes to the poor on odd-numbered Saturdays: "Afraid of wrenches."

Upper Deck just slapped Jeff Juden in the face with that. "Sorry kid. You may be a Star Rookie, but your shit is weak."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

#5: Jim Thome - Star Rookie

After much hand-wringing and twelve rounds of disappointment, members of Camp Thome breathed a collective sigh of relief when Jim, a 1989 graduate of Cleveland Indians High School in Peoria, Illinois, was finally drafted in the 13th by, guess who, the Cleveland Indians. Eschewing the traditional practice of shedding one's letterman's jacket following graduation, Jim was afforded a measure of carryover status as he reported to his first big league organization.

Thome actually spearheaded the campaign for C.I.H.S. to continue using the Chief Wahoo mascot and emblems, running afoul of representatives of the Kickapoo tribe requesting removal of the demeaning and racially insensitive caricature. Last-minute under-the-table dealings and intensive negotiations prevented the Indians from being changed to the Songbirds.

On an unrelated note, Thome struggled for his first few weeks of A-ball, having repeatedly been called out for being in violation of Rule 1.10 (a), specifically, "The bat shall be...not more than 42 inches in length." Thome was reluctant to change, but eventually got used to the practice of bringing one bat, not two, to the plate.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

#4: Dave Fleming - Star Rookie

As urban legend would have it, rookie Dave Fleming was the rookie perpetrator of an act of reverse clubhouse hazing against the club's breakout superstar, Ken Griffey, Jr. Junior, who became even more prone to injury in the latter years of his career, had just hit the Comiskey Park showers following a dramatic 11-inning, 10-8 victory in which he went 3 for 6 and hit the go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the 11th. On that late September evening, Fleming, who has always claimed he was just "messing around," emptied an entire case of shaving cream on the path from Griffey's shower stall all the way to his locker. Griffey made an estimated 80% of the journey without incident, but faltered before reaching his destination. Griffey ended up tearing the medial collateral ligament in both knees, keeping him out of the lineup for the Mariners' 1992 and 1993 seasons. Experts estimate that had the injury not occurred, Griffey might have surpassed the unfathomable 900 home run mark, a record even the great Sadaharu Oh did not dream possible.

Friday, February 20, 2009

#3: Brian Jordan - Star Rookie

Brian Jordan was a two-sport "star," playing for three seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons (the evidence of which is hanging around his neck) before embarking upon a 15-season Major League career.

Now, while you may think first of Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders when you hear the term "two-sport star," I've gone and complied a list of other athletes who participated in more than their primary sport. While the level of dedication to each secondary sport ranges from casual dabbling to outright World's Champion, you may raise an eyebrow at one or two of these names.

Chuck Connors - Star of The Rifleman, played for the Boston Celtics as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.

Ivan Lendl - Had a tennis career just a Wimbledon title shy of a career Grand Slam; broke world land speed record aboard the Blue Flame at Bonnevile Salt Flats, Utah, in 1970.

Dick Tidrow - Journeyman setup pitcher, 1972-1984; first person to pilot a low-altitude hot-air balloon down the entirety of the Ganges River, 1988.

Chuck Cecil - 1992 Pro Bowl safety; pioneer of the Northern Shake table tennis grip introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Johnnie LeMaster - Light-hitting infielder, 1975-1987; caber toss.

Mario Andretti - 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner; illegal underground Muy Thai champion, proponent of the cobra punch, aka, the Superman punch.

Bill Cartwright - Three-time NBA champion; set up croquet course at 2003 Chicago Bulls front office picnic, came in third.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

#2: Royce Clayton - Star Rookie

"I'm gonna do it, Dad...I'm gonna do it all...for you."
Royce blinked repeatedly to clear his eyes of any tears, unsure if anyone had followed him to the cemetery. He drew the string on his hooded sweatshirt even tighter in order to battle the stiff fall breeze. Invigorated, Royce nimbly turned the dials on his combination bike lock, the type with the metal chain inside of a scratch-resistant rubber casing, finding the one number he couldn't possibly forget. " it."

The asphalt drive leading out of the cemetery passed by in a whirr as Royce Clayton, teenage superstar, pedaled furiously to outrun the ghost of his best friend...his coach...his father. An empty maintenance truck bore the only witness to the young man's solemn vow, an oath that he shouted from the very depths of his lungs.
"I'm gonna play for every fucking team in Major League Baseball! Every last motherfucking team! And I'll win the World Series in the twilight of my career as a result of the late-season 40-man roster! As God as my witness, I'll do it all for you, dad, every last team all for youuuuuuuuu!!!"

Only the trees heard his cries.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

#1: Star Rookie Checklist

After injecting a jolt of pure adrenaline into the card industry four years previous, Upper Deck released a set in 1992 that showed that it had grown up. The mix of photography ranged from goofy to sublime and included everything in between. This blog has been designed as a chronicle of a largely forgotten set. My intent is to capture the essence of each card in this set (low numbers only, as this was the only portion of the set I collected as a youth), one card at a time. Updates will be daily (as time allows), but will never be rushed. Commentary will aim to be poignant, yet hilarious. Walk with me as I spend the next two year (or more) explaining 1992 Upper Deck.

#1 Star Rookie Checklist (Featuring Ryan Klesko and Jim Thome)

Upper Deck was all over this from the word "Go." Their first correct decision came when they swapped out the old Star Rookie logo as the front of card #1 for an actual photo.
Secondly, they absolutely nailed the selection of poster boys for young, raw talent. Arguably the more successful of the two, Thome has been chosen as an All-Star for three different teams. Klesko, while trailing Thome in individual accolades, played an integral part for the 1995 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves.

Other prospects were more heralded by the hobby (read Beckett) at the time of this set's release, but UD stuck to their guns and instead of going to prom with the prettiest girl (Todd Van Poppel), they mustered up the courage to ask out the girl voted Most Likely to Succeed, the hot one who played soccer, understood the poetry of John Donne, and could hold her own in a conversation with the history teacher about the Algerian independence movement. Nice work, gentlemen.