A Funny Thing Happened to the Rated Rookies

Growing up I collected baseball cards. I heard stories about rare cards, players my dad had that became his favorites, putting cards in the spokes of a bike (which did not translate at all to my generation), and the delight that could be had when looking through your collection as an adult as realizing how many future stars were first admired by you as a child. An entire episode of Full House revolved around a Nolan Ryan rookie card that was discovered, sold for pennies, and resulted in family drama. I imagined that, looking back on my collection, I too would have fabulous memories and make great discoveries. For the most part that was a disappointment.

Many of the players I had never heard of as a kid, say, Cris Colon and Todd Steverson, had careers measured in games rather than seasons. Which is fine enough, baseball is a difficult sport. But I wanted to find a guy about whom I could say “I watched his whole career!” Kirt Manwaring had a relatively uninspiring career as a backstop in the National League, but he at least played for thirteen years. If I had gotten into fantasy baseball earlier in life, I bet I would have known who he was. Calvin Reese is best known for sharing his nickname with Gumby’s horse friend. But I felt like there had to be one star. One guy somewhere in that carefully packaged collection of rookies who would emerge from the time capsule triumphantly.

I didn’t have much trouble paging through my binder to see which former Major Leaguers had done all right for themselves. Tony LaRussa was still managing the A’s back then and in all three of his card portraits he was not wearing glasses. That was a start. Bill Pecota went on to be the namesake for the Baseball Prospectus player forecasting system. Royce Clayton played Miguel Tejada in the Moneyball movie.

Future managers were represented as well with Bob Melvin, Terry Francona, John Farrell, Kirk Gibson, and Ozzie Guillen leading the way. Heck, I even had a Maddox (Mike, who, as quoted on the back of his 1992 Topps was “look[ing] forward to returning to the Murph”). But alas, no star rookie just yet as I returned from the binder to the small box of minor leaguers and prospects.

Until, nearly three-quarters of the way through the small cardboard box, came Edgar Martinez. The third baseman was described as “a disciplined hitter to all fields who drives the ball into the alleys…a solid third base candidate for the Mariners in 1989.” He sure was. Martinez of course would go on to become the standard bearer for the designated hitter, justifying the DH as a position for a baseball player rather than an afterthought of the rules difference between the two leagues. He finished his career as a seven-time participant in the All-Star Game and five-time MVP candidate. Over 145 games in 1995 his on base percentage stood at .479, the 17th highest total for anyone playing at least that many games – and thirteen of the top fifteen spots are held by Bonds, Ruth, or Williams.

Edgar Martinez…My childhood was saved.

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