Back in June 2020, going slightly batty with pandemic boredom, I read a baseball book called The Wax Pack by an author named Brad Balukjian. Based on the premise of Lawrence Ritter’s excellent book The Glory of their Times, Balukjian opens an old wax pack then spends the better part of a year tracking down each of the players in the pack. It’s an entertaining read and if you haven’t read it, you should give it a try. I don’t have a year to spend tracking down former players, but at a recent card show, I did have a dollar which was good enough to buy two unopened packs of Topps 1988 baseball cards. Each pack contains 15 cards and one stick of hardened, dusty, nasty-looking gum.
I wasn’t collecting in 1988, being deep into the responsibilities of work, marriage and fatherhood but I am anxious to see what this 33-year-old pack of cards contains.
We’re off to the interesting start, on the inside fold of the wrapper, it says “be a superstar – say no to drugs”. The gum was obviously in bad condition and went straight into the trash.
John Candelaria – NY Mets – I can remember The Candy Man being a pretty effective pitcher with the Pirates and indeed he was, 124-87 over 12 seasons, including a sterling 20-5 mark in 1977. He won a World Series with Pittsburgh in 1979 and threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers in 1976. I had no idea he pitched for 19 years, compiling a 177-122-mark worth almost 42 WAR. He didn’t even play for the Mets in 1988, having been granted free agency and subsequently signing with the Yankees in January of 1988.
Greg Maddux – Chicago Cubs – I should probably get this card graded. Maddux of course ended up being a Hall of Famer in a 23-year career that saw him win 355 games! Wow! I doubt we’ll ever see another pitcher win 355 games in our lifetimes. 1988 was Maddux’s breakout season: 18-8 and his first All-Star berth. It was the start of a phenomenal 17-year run that saw him win 297 games with a cumulative ERA of 2.83. He won four Cy Young awards and 14 Gold Gloves in that span but curiously only appeared in 8 All-Star games.
Keith Miller – NY Mets – Miller, who played second base, third base and, in the outfield, came up with the Mets in 1987. He was part of one of the more famous trades in Kansas City history, when the Royals sent Bret Saberhagen and Bill Pecota to New York for Miller, Gregg Jeffries, and Kevin McReynolds. Miller was an oft-injured utility guy, appearing in 157 games for the Royals between 1992 and 1995.
Oddibe McDowell – Texas Rangers – was once a highly-touted prospect. An oddity: he was drafted six separate times, finally signing with the Rangers in 1984. He played on the 1984 Olympic baseball team and won the Golden Spikes award that summer. He only played 31 games in the minor leagues, hitting .400 for AA Oklahoma City, before Texas installed him as their present and future centerfielder. He spent four seasons in Arlington, becoming the first Ranger in history to hit for the cycle, before being traded to Cleveland. He lasted one season in the Cle before they traded him to Atlanta. His last major league action came in 1994 with the Rangers.
Tom Lawless – St. Louis Cardinals – Lawless was a light-hitting utility infielder, whose main claim to fame was that he was the only player ever traded for Pete Rose, a straight-up deal in August of 1984, which returned Rose to Cincinnati from Montreal. Lawless made his debut with the Reds in 1984, before that detour in Montreal, which lasted all of 11 games. The Expos sent him to St. Louis in spring training 1985. He closed out his career with two years in Toronto. Lawless only hit two regular season home runs but did manage to stroke one in the 1987 World Series, an unlikely Game four, three-run blast off Frank Viola.
Tom Lasorda – LA Dodgers – Where do you start with Lasorda? He pitched briefly for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Kansas City Athletics, before moving into coaching. He paid his dues, working his way through the Dodger system, before taking over the big-league club in 1976. He won 1,599 games as the Dodgers skipper, including two World Series titles. He managed the United States to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic games. He had a colorful, larger-than-life personality which was punctuated by occasional outbursts, such as the one directed at Kurt Bevacqua in 1982, or what was called the Dave Kingman tirade in 1978. Both are outlandishly hilarious and profane. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. Lasorda passed away on January 7, 2021, at the age of 93.
Dave Parker – Cincinnati Reds – This guy had a helluva career. He made his debut with the Pirates in 1973 and taking over right field not long after the death of Roberto Clemente. Over his 19-year career, he collected 2,712 hits, led the league in batting twice, won the MVP award in 1978, and made 7 All-Star teams. If you Google All-time great outfield throws, two of Parker’s gems will pop up. The dude had a cannon attached to his right shoulder. He spent the 1988 season as a DH in Oakland (Topps was notoriously late with updating off-season trades) where he hit .257. Parker’s Hall of Fame candidacy has been hurt by his exposure in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials.
Storm Davis – Oakland A’s – Davis broke into the big leagues in 1982 with Baltimore. He came to Oakland in a 1987 trade. He had a couple of decent years in Oakland, 16-7 in 1988 and 19-7 in 1989. He became a free agent after the 1989 season and the Royals, as you well know, vomited a three-year, $6 million dollar deal on Davis, looking past the stats which showed he was a below-average pitcher, despite the gaudy win-loss totals. The stats are almost always right, and Davis became the poster boy for bad free agent signings after going 10-19 in two seasons in Kansas City. He managed to hang around until the end of the 1994 season, closing with a 113-96 record despite a career 4.02 ERA.
Ron Hassey – Chicago White Sox – Once a draft pick of the Royals (he didn’t sign), Hassey was towards the end of his productive 14-year career in 1988. He spent the season with Oakland, having signed as a free agent in November of 1987. Who was in charge of updating teams at Topps anyway? Hassey caught two perfect games in his career and was behind the plate when Kirk Gibson walked off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series. He played in three World Series before moving into coaching.
Jim Deshaies – Houston Astros – Deshaies was a left-handed pitcher who managed to carve out a 12-year career with Houston, Minnesota, San Francisco, Philadelphia, San Diego, and the New York Yankees. In 1986, he set a then major league record by striking out the first eight batters of a game. In 1988, he posted an 11-14 record with a respectable ERA of 3.00. His best season came in 1989, when he went 15-10 with a 2.91 ERA. After his baseball career ended, Deshaies became a respected announcer and commentator, first for the Astros and most recently for the Cubs.
Larry Parrish – Texas Rangers – The interesting thing about going through these old packs, is this was a time I was a bit disconnected from baseball. I’d forgotten about a lot of these players. Larry Parrish is a prime example. He was a third baseman and outfielder who fashioned a 15-year career with three teams, primarily Montreal and Texas, and the guy could hit: a career slash of .263/.318/.439 with 256 home runs and 992 RBI. He had a stretch between 1983 and 1987 where he was a tough out. He finished fourth in the 1979 MVP vote and made two All-Star teams. 1988 was his final season, which he split between Texas and Boston.
Dave Bergman – Detroit Tigers – Bergman was a solid player, a first baseman who put together a 17-year career with the Yankees, Astros, Giants, and Detroit. His best years came as a Tiger, where he helped them win the 1984 World Series. In that ’84 season, Bergman had an epic 13 pitch at-bat before blasting a full-count pitch into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium for a walk-off three-run jack that his manager Sparky Anderson called the greatest at-bat he’d ever seen. Bergman had an excellent season in 1988: .294/.372/.394. Sadly, he was lost to cancer in 2015 at the age of 61.
Lee Elia – Philadelphia Phillies – Elia had a short career as a shortstop with the White Sox and Cubs, a combined 95 games in 1966 and 1968. He moved into coaching in 1980 and helped the Phillies beat the Royals in that year’s World Series. He got his first managerial job with the Cubs in 1982, which is best remembered for his profanity-laced tirade (NSFW) directed at booing Cub fans. He got a second crack at managing when Philadelphia hired him in 1987. His 1988 Phillies went 60-92. He continued to coach in the big leagues through the end of the 2008 season.
Joe Magrane – St. Louis Cardinals – A lefty pitcher who broke into the majors in 1987 with St. Louis. He made 24 starts for the Cardinals in 1988 and though he only posted a 5-9 record, he did lead the league with a 2.18 ERA over 165 innings of work. He enjoyed his best season in 1989, when he went 18-9 with a 2.91 ERA in 234 innings of work, but unfortunately elbow problems hampered him the remainder of his career. He retired after the 1996 season with a career mark of 57-67.
Andy Hawkins – San Diego Padres – Hawkins came up with the Padres in 1982. Primarily a starter, he remains the only San Diego pitcher to win a World Series game. His best year was 1984, when he went 18-8 with a 3.15 ERA. In 1988, he had another solid season: 14-11 with a 3.35 ERA over 217 innings of work. He enjoyed a ten-year career with the Padres, Yankees, and A’s before moving into coaching. At one time he was the pitching coach for the Omaha Storm Chasers. One oddity of his career: in three career starts at Fenway Park, he logged one inning of work while giving up 18 runs.
Overall, not a bad pack of cards. I really should get the Maddux slabbed. There’s nothing like the feeling of opening a new pack. If you’re a collector, or have children at home who enjoy collecting, there are far worse ways to spend $10-15 than on a 30-year-old box of cards.