Monday, March 4, 2019

Blasting Off - The 1991 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" following the 1991 season and featured in the 1992 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2018, specifically all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy.

Outfield - Luis Gonzalez
Houston (N.L.) 1990 - '95, 1997; Chicago (N.L.) 1995 - '96; Detroit (A.L.) 1998; Arizona (N.L.) 1999 - 2006; Los Angeles (N.L.) 2007; Florida (N.L.) 2008

Luis Gonzalez was the first Arizona Diamondback to have his number retired, having been an integral part of the team´s 2001 championship team. Gonzalez famously hit the game 7, series clinching bloop single off of Mariano Rivera to propel the team to victory. He was known for slightly harder hit balls for much of his Diamondbacks tenure, hitting 224 of his 354 career homers. In his first full MLB season in 1991, Gonzalez had 120 hits, including 28 doubles, 9 triples, and 10 home runs. He was born in Tampa, Florida playing on the same high school team as Tino Martinez, and for an American Legion team (post 248) that had notable alumni such as Tony LaRussa, Gary Sheffield, and Lou Pinella. He would get a homecoming of sorts in his final MLB season, playing for the Marlins. His years in Arizona were by far his best, making all 5 All-Star appearances and his lone Silver Slugger award as a Diamondback. His 2001 season was one for the ages, hitting a whopping 57 homers and driving in 142 runs while scoring 128 runs of his own. His 57 homers still relegated him to 3rd place in the NL, behind Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, who had 73 that year. Sheesh. Gonzalez did win the HR Derby in 2001 during the All-Star festivities, and of course the World Series victory would more than make up for not winning the HR crown during the regular season. He was also a doubles machine - his 596 career doubles rank 18th All-Time. 

Luis´ Rookie Cards are in all the 1991 sets, including card #48T in the 1991 Topps Traded Set.

Second Base - Chuck Knoblauch
Minnesota (A.L.) 1991 - '97; New York (A.L.) 1998 - '01; Kansas City (A.L.) 2002

Knoblauch was the 1991 AL Rookie of the Year, and helped the Twins win their second World Series Title. He joined a veteran team filled with Hall of Fame talent as well as savvy role players that provided leadership and guidance that would show Chuck the ropes early on. As a rookie he hit .281 with 159 hits and 25 stolen bases. 

As Knoblauch gained confidence and experience, his game improved in all facets - by his final season in MN, he was hitting for power and average to go with blazing speed and solid defense. 1996 was probably his best season. He hit .341 with 140 runs scored, 35 doubles, a league leading 14 triples, 13 homers and 45 stolen bases. All 4 of his All-Star nods came as a member of the Twins, but the team had fallen on hard times after the retirements of Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett. Knoblauch was forced to be the team´s clubhouse leader, a role to which he was not well suited. Instead of teaching the young players how to win, he chastised them for losing, and was more than willing to heap the blame and point fingers everywhere else. Certainly, he had the numbers again in 1997, 62 stolen bases, 10 triples and his only Gold Glove. But it was clear that the losing was wearing on him. The Twins, for their part, were not going to pay him once he became a free agent, so they looked to trade him to New York, a situation that would work out (at least at first) for all parties involved. The Twins got Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman, the Yankees got a tremendous second baseman to pair with their young superstar Derek Jeter at Short. Knoblauch would win 3 more championships in New York, and hit well - notably hitting .375 in his first Series with the Yanks against the San Diego Padres. He went through a very tough case of the Yips in 2000, first moving him to DH, then to left field. For his career, he stole over 400 bases, drove in over 600, scored 1,132 runs, and amassed over 1,800 hits.

Chuck´s Rookie Card is in the 1990 Bowman set, Card # 415. 

Catcher - Iván Rodríguez
Texas (A.L.) 1991 - '02, 2009; Florida (N.L.) 2003; Detroit (A.L.) 2004 - '08; New York (A.L.) 2008; Houston (N.L.) 2009; Washington (N.L.) 2010 -'11
Elected to Hall of Fame by BBWAA in 2017

13 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star Games, 1999 AL MVP, 2003 World Series Champion with the Marlins - Iván has seen it all. In the late 80s and early 90s, catching prospects were like rock stars. Benito Santiago, Sandy Alomar, Jr, heck, even Tom Pagnozzi were lauded as future stars. Iván surpassed them all, both with his rifle for an arm, and his bat, which developed over the course of his career into a middle of the lineup threat. As a Rookie in 1991, Rodríguez knew he had to wait to make his debut - playing 50 games in AA with Tulsa. He ended up skipping AAA entirely, however, and made his MLB debut on June 20th. He went 1-4 with a pair of RBI, but the hitting was just considered to be gravy. The Rangers were enamored with his defense behind the plate. In his rookie year, he threw out 34 baserunners in just 88 games. By his second season, Iván was the league´s best at throwing out runners. He would lead the league in caught stealing pct 9 times, to the point where teams just stopped trying to run on him. For his career, he threw out 661 runners for a 46% caught stealing rate. He was also incredibly durable, leading the league in games caught 5 times, and he is currently the All-Time leader in games caught with 2,427. His 1999 MVP season combined his stellar defense with a powerful bat. He had 35 homers and drove in 113 runs-- he also had a career high 25 stolen bases of his own. He rarely walked - in fact he had fewer walks (24) than steals in 1999! Despite the low walk rate, he was adept and making solid contact, with over 2,800 career hits. His years in Texas prepared him to become a leader in the clubhouse, and his demeanor and experience proved to be the missing piece for a piecemeal group of players in South Florida in 2003. In the NLDS, it was his dramatic play at the plate, holding on to the throw and the ball through a bone crunching collision with J.T. Snow (6´2¨ 200 lbs), to record the final out of that series. 

Iván´s rookie cards can be found throughout the 1991 sets, including card # 101T of the 1991 Topps Traded Set.

Third Base - Leo Gómez
Baltimore (A.L.) 1990 - '95; Chicago (N.L.) 1996 

As a minor leaguer, Leo Gómez had the look of a future slugging star. He hit for power all the way up the Orioles´ system, including 26 round-trippers in AAA in his final minor league campaign. He was an All-Star in AA and AAA heading in to his 1990 September call-up. His first full season in the big leagues he had decent slugging numbers, hitting 16 homers in 118 games. He struggled to hit for much contact at the big league level, hitting just .233 his rookie season. His career high? .274 in 1994 as a corner infield super sub. Gómez would go on to play in Japan following his MLB career, and over 6 years with the Chunichi Dragons he clubbed 153 homers, including a career best 36 in 1999 teaming with Kosuke Fukudome and Kenshin Kawakami. The team finished 1st in the NPB Central, but fell in the playoffs to the Pacific Champ, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who featured Kenji Johjima as their catcher. Gómez hit a homer in Game 5, but the team would lose the Japan Series 4 games to 1.

Leo´s Rookie Card is in the 1990 Bowman set, Card #262

Shortstop - Andújar Cedeño
Houston (N.L.) 1990 - '94, 1996; San Diego (N.L.) 1995 - ´96; Detroit (A.L.) 1996

Cedeño was the number 2 overall prospect for the Astros in 1991, a decent hitter but a tremendous defensive talent. He showed power in AA in 1990, 19 homers over 132 games, but also had 11 Triples. He only hit .240, which should have been a cause for concern. Remarkably, he raised his average in AAA in 1991 to .303 over 90 games, and would get his first extended taste of the big leagues, getting 61 hits in 67 games. It was good enough to make him the Topps All-Star Rookie selection at shortstop. He would spend 1992 split again between AAA and the Astros- he hit for the cycle in August, and would return for his best MLB season in 1993. Playing 149 games, he recorded career highs in pretty much every offensive category. Like Gómez, Cedeño never really caught fire at the plate at the major league level, and the Astros opted to move on from Andújar to a platoon of Ricky Gutierrez and Orlando Miller. He was traded to the Padres in a mega deal that brought Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, and Derek Bell to the Astros. Cedeño would continue to play in his home country of the Dominican Republic. In 2000, Andújar was killed in a car accident following a game in the capital city of Santo Domingo.

Andújar´s Rookie Card is in the 1990 Bowman set, card #77

Outfield - Ray Lankford
St. Louis (N.L.) 1990 - '01, 2004; San Diego (N.L.) 2001- ´02

Lankford is one of a long list of Cardinals outfielders to combine power and speed. He hit for the cycle in his rookie year, and was poised to become a great player for years to come. He excelled at both baseball and football in high school, and continued to play both sports while attending Modesto Junior College in Southern California. Lankford was inserted into the Cardinals´ lineup to take the place of Willie McGee in 1990, who had just been traded to Oakland in the Felix José deal. Lankford and José would pair together in the St. Louis outfield for several seasons. 1991 would be his first full season, and he would show the NL exactly how complete a player he would be. He led the NL in triples, stole 44 bases, and hit .293 with 9 homers. He would improve those power numbers as well, and in 5 different seasons he hit over 20 homers and stole over 20 bases. That combo would set a Cardinals' record. He would also set the record for most homers all-time at Busch Stadium (Busch Stadium II, replacing Sportsman´s Park), and retired in the top ten in Cardinals´ history in Homers, Runs Scored, Steals, RBI, and walks. He is, astonishingly, the only St. Louis Cardinal to have more than 200 Steals and 200 Homers. Injuries would derail his career in the early 2000s, capping him at just over 1500 career hits.

Ray´s Rookie Card is in the 1990 Bowman Set, Card # 192

First Base - Jeff Bagwell
Houston (N.L.) 1991 - '05; 
Elected to Hall of Fame by BBWAA in 2017.

The 1994 NL MVP probably could have had several more had he not played as a contemporary of Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. Bagwell was also the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year, with a solid campaign hitting .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBI. His MVP season resulted in a league leading 104 runs scored, 39 Homers, 116 RBI, and a very impressive slash line of .368 / .451 / .750 . Remember that 1994 was a strike shortened year, he was projected (by Topps Cyberstats) to finish with 47 homers and 140 RBI had the season not ended prematurely. Who knows if he could have sustained that .750 Slugging percentage, but the season that we did see was tremendous. He would start a run of several seasons of punishing baseballs with regularity. He had 8 seasons of 100 or more RBI, 9 seasons scoring 100 or more runs, and 9 seasons of at least 30 home runs. In 1999 he included a career high in stolen bases to his resume, swiping 31 bags to go with 43 homers and 135 RBI. For his career, Bagwell scored over 1500 runs and drove in over 1500 RBI. He stole 202 bases and ripped 449 homers. There were rumors swirling around Bagwell (and Iván Rodríguez) with regards to steroids, which may have delayed Bagwell´s induction in to the Hall of Fame, but his stats over the course of his 15 year career could not be denied.

Jeff´s Rookie Card is in the 1991 Topps Traded Set, Card #4T

Outfield - Milt Cuyler
Detroit (A.L.) 1990 - '95; Boston (A.L.) 1996; Texas (A.L.) 1998

A second round pick in the 1986 draft, Milt Cuyler would make his way to the big leagues on the strength of his legs. Twice in the minors, he stole over 50 bases. As a rookie in 1991, Cuyler would steal 41 bags, finishing 3rd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. 1991 would end up being a career year for Cuyler, and despite being a favorite prospect of Sparky Anderson, he would not get nearly the same amount of playing time since his rookie season. Cuyler would have to share time in the following seasons with Juan Samuel, Eric Davis, and Tony Phillips among others in Center Field, then had a couple attempts to get a regular gig in Boston and in Texas. Following his retirement, he´s gone on to provide coaching and personal training independently, and he worked with the Minnesota Twins as a hitting coach and outfield instructor with the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Milt´s Rookie Card is in the 1990 Bowman set, Card #358

Right Handed Pitcher -  Mark Leiter
New York (A.L.) 1990; Detroit (A.L.) 1991 - ´93; California (A.L.) 1994; San Francisco (N.L.) 1995 - ´96; Montréal (N.L.) 1996; Philadelphia (N.L.) 1997 - ´98; Seattle (A.L.) 1999; Milwaukee (N.L.) 2001 

Mark Leiter´s career is a story of perseverance and determination. Leiter was drafted in 1983 by the Baltimore Orioles, and was making steady progress through their system. In spring training 1986, Leiter suffered a serious shoulder injury which required multiple surgeries. He would miss the entire 1986, 1987, and 1988 seasons. In 1989, he would return to pitching with the New York Yankees A squad in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He would be promoted to AAA by May of ´89, and was again invited to Spring Training in 1990 for the Yankees. He would make his major league debut in July of 1990 at the age of 27. Leiter would be traded that off-season to the Tigers, and as a 28 year old rookie would make his way as a starter and a reliever. He had a 9-7 record for the Tigers in 1991, and struck out 103 batters in his 143 innings of work. He would go on to an 11 year MLB career, winning 65 games. Leiter would face adversity again in 1993- his son Ryan was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and while Leiter was once again recovering from another shoulder surgery, his thoughts turned often to his infant son. Ryan Leiter would pass away on April 4, 1994, just weeks after Leiter had signed a deal to join the California Angels. Leiter would continue to pitch until 2001 for 8 different teams. His little brother Al and his son Mark, Jr have also pitched in the major leagues.

Mark´s Rookie Card is in the 1991 Bowman Set, Card #138

Left Handed Pitcher - Al Osuna
Houston (N.L.) 1990 - ´93; Los Angeles (N.L.) 1994; San Diego (N.L.) 1996

Lefty hurler Al Osuna pitched in 6 MLB seasons and finished with exactly 0 Wins Above Replacement. In his rookie season of 1991, Osuna had 12 Saves and a 3.42 ERA. He appeared in 71 games that season, 6th most among NL pitchers. He was a decent middle reliever over the rest of his MLB career, and was used as a lefty specialist, often facing just one batter to take advantage of lefty on lefty matchups. He also pitched as a reliever in college for Stanford, appearing in the 1987 College World Series. He actually came in with just one out in the first inning against Texas -- after the starter allowed 3 quick runs -- and proceeded to shut out the Longhorns for the remaining 8.2 innings.

Al´s Rookie Card is in the 1991 Topps Set, Card # 149

1 comment:

  1. Man... I totally forgot about Stanford winning the 1987 College World Series. Good times. Although, I gotta admit I don't remember Osuna playing for them.