Dream or Dud: The 1989 Upper Deck Star Rookie Subset

1989 was the first year that Upper Deck released baseball cards. At that time, there were four major brands of cards with Score coming on board in 1988 using all color fronts and backs. But Upper Deck was special, it was all color, yes, but they used a glossy card stock that made the photos pop more than regular ol’ cardboard. While Donruss and Fleer gave Topps some competition, and Score upped that ante, the 1989 Upper Deck was what made the bubble grow (and soon burst, but that’s another story altogether).

The first cards in the set were who they deemed as the “Star Rookies”. Come along, and let’s play “Dream or Dud” with these fellows.

Ken Griffey, Jr. Р Mariners. Finally, the Mariners are first at SOMETHING. Upper Deck gave card #1 to Griffey after just one full season of minor league baseball, and that was because the guy assigning the numbers to the star rookies was a Mariners fan. Good call all around. DREAM

Luis Medina – ¬†Indians. “Funky Cold” could have been a synonym of his career. He was drafted seven times, and wound up with just 163 at bats in the bigs. He was also kind of old for a rookie in 1989, going into his age 26 season. That’s not always the best sign. DUD

Tony Chance – Pirates. I do think the folks at UD were smoking something. Why card him after a .216/.276/.323 season in A and AA? Did they lose a bet? He’d been scrapping in the minors since 1983. Now, he did play in Mexico and the Northern League until he was 37, but this was a DUD if there ever was.

Dave Otto – He had four cups of coffee with Oakland from 1987-1990. There wasn’t much of a chance he’d break into that Oakland pitching staff, Oakland allowed him to become a six-year free agent. He spun through Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and the Chicago Cubs. His career ended with the strike, but he became a broadcaster with the Cubs before putting his MBA to use. Good to have a backup plan. DUD

Sandy Alomar, Jr. – Padres. Included in the haul for Joe Carter, Alomar was an good-to-great catcher for years, and possible may have had a memorable career had it not been for injuries. He had a bad 1998, and that allowed Einar Diaz to take over as the regular. From 2001 on, Alomar was a vet catcher for hire. It was a solid career, but not as spectacular as it could have been. DREAM for when he was healthy and young.

Rolando Roomes – Cubs. The card shows him hitting an easy pop-up (I’m guessing). How prescient. After 1991, he vanished from baseball. Another ‘old’ rookie – he was entering his age 27 year. DUD.

David West – Mets. Part of the haul the Twins got for Frank Viola in mid-season 1989. His line in the 1991 WS: 0 2 4 4 4 0 with 1 HR. Noyce. Got it together for the Phils in 1993, but again was battered in the Series. He compiled a 3.6 WAR from 1993 to 1995, and ended with a 2.6 career WAR. Do the math…DUD

Cris Carpenter – Cardinals. No, not that one. No, not Matt Carpenter, either. He was the punter at Georgia that decided to pitch instead of kick. Ended his career with the Brewers, a common occurrence for mediocre pitchers in the late 90’s. DUD

Gregg Jefferies –¬† Mets. Card voted most likely to be desecrated by teammates and left in the players’ locker. Had he not been a dick, or overhyped by NY media, or paid attention to defense, he would have been remembered as having a decent career. His 1993 with the Cards, where he piled up 5.1 WAR and slashed .342/.408/.485, was his peak and while not sustainable, gives everyone a ‘what if’ thought. Still, I call him a DREAM.

Doug Dacsenzo – Cubs. Still is a folk hero in Chicago for his pitching exploits (he was an OF, remember) and for taking a Rob Dibble fastball to the legs on his way to first after a bunt. It’s on You Tube. A DUD, to be honest, but I still love him anyway.

Ron Jones – Phillies. The guy was a major league hitter on knees that were as delicate and fragile as an Alt-Right pundit’s ego. Dream talent, DUD health.

Luis de los Santos – Royals. Believe it or not, there were two Luis de los Santos that made the majors. This one was a first baseman that hit like a shortstop. DUD

Gary Sheffield – Brewers. There’s a rare ‘error’ card where SS was printed upside-down. Fitting, since he played SS like he was upside down. (HI-YOOOOOO!). Of course, a DREAM.

Mike Harkey – Cubs. He was a big man (6’5, 220) and couldn’t throw hard. (94 whiffs in 173 innings was the best he did). One of the most frustrating pitchers for the early 90’s Cubs. DUD

Lance Blankenship – A’s. LaRussa always loved guys like this who could play every position. Playing those positions well, or hitting well enough, that’s another story. Blankenship could field, and he really could take a walk (.350 OBP with a .222 BA) and could run. But the rest of his offensive skills were lacking, and he was done by the time he was 30. DUD

William Brennan – Dodgers. He pitched in 12 big league games, total, in 1988 and 1993. I think I’ve expunged them from any memory, real, sentient, or trace. DUD

John Smoltz – Braves. Names familiar, did he do anything worthwhile? DREAM

Ramon Martinez – Dodgers. I can’t believe someone who weighed only 160 pounds broke down after throwing 234 innings and 12 complete games at age 22. You think they’d notice something wrong when his K/W ratio was halved? He was a DREAM, even after he was LaSorda’d.

Mark Lemke – Braves. Of all the random guys to make a career out of one out-of-his-mind World Series, he was the most random. Since the Braves were always on national TV and in the post-season in the 90’s, that’s what you heard every damn time he was at the plate, too. He ate up way too many outs, but he made up for it with solid defense. There were worse second basemen out there. DREAM for staying power.

Juan Bell – Orioles. “Grampa, can you tell me the story of when you were the player that was going to move Cal Ripken off of shortstop?” DUD

Rey Palacios – Royals. A rare breed, in that he was a catcher that was used as a pinch runner 24 times in his rookie year. He also played third and first, because you’ve got to have Rey Palacios in that game in the late innings. A .560 career OPS for a fringe player will get you released pretty quickly. DUD

Felix Jose – A’s. Not to be confused with Junior Felix. He was traded for both Willie McGee and Gregg Jefferies in his career. He had a pretty good 1991 and 1992, and a decent 1994 before the strike. But thanks to the strike and other issues, he was late to sign and then released twice in 1995. That started a journey that took him to Mexico, Korea, and the Independent Leagues. He played until 2009 when he hit .306 for Schaumberg. Three good years, then a lifetime of travels. DREAM for a life of baseball.

Van Snider – Reds. Van Voorhees Snider should have been a name of a lacrosse player at Furman than a AAAA outfielder with the Royals, Reds, and others. He had over 3,000 plate appearances in AAA, and he hit just .253 there. DUD

Dante Bichette – Angels. Anyone who says that defensive stats are worthless forgets how bad Bichette butchered any ball hit towards him in the outfield. And yet somehow he was allowed to start 47 games in CF in his career. There’s a double to the gap…DUD (hey, it’s my list…)

Randy Johnson – Expos. I saw him in the minors, and I’ll have to say, he was always a few inches away from seriously hurting someone on most every pitch. Never would have expected the career he had, but he was a joy to watch when he put it all together. DREAM

Carlos Quintana – Red Sox. He may have been overhyped, but he had a good excuse for losing his big league career – he was hurt in a car accident while taking his brothers to the hospital in Venezuela after they had been shot at a party. Sorry that’s not witty or pithy. DUD for reasons outside of his control.

That’s nine dreams, and 17 (count ’em) duds. Even if I change Bichette in recognition of his homers (but the man had 133 RBI’s in 1999 and still had a negative WAR), Upper Deck didn’t have a great first year here.



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