The real difficulty is explaining how much fun it is to be a baseball junkie. For the uninitiated, the game holds endless facts and stories about teams, seasons, games, players and outcomes. The history of the game is what makes it all come together. Who could know that a young Pitcher named Babe Ruth would eventually set a record for hitting Home Runs? Who could imagine that a skinny High School basketball player would turn out to be a Hall of Famer named Sandy Koufax…and did you know that he was born Sanford Braun?
You can never run out of stories when it comes to our national pastime. I was reminded of this vividly when a collection of minor league baseball cards recently came across my desk. One of the team sets featured the 1988 Las Vegas Stars, the AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The team finished the Pacific Coast League season with a record of 74-66 but as with all teams, there are 25 stories beneath the surface. Let’s take a look behind the curtain at the 25 individuals in this beautiful, black-bordered card set.
> #1, Joe Bitker P – The workhorse of the rotation, he pitched 178 innings with a 3.58 ERA and a record of 8-10…he was 11-9 the previous season for the Stars. He pitched briefly in the majors in 1990 & ’91, appearing in only 15 games. His lifetime big league record was 1-0…undefeated!
> #2, Keith Comstock P – A veteran at age 32, he was the Closer and had 5 Wins & 17 Saves. His career included two seasons in Japan and stints with four big league clubs. The left-hander had a lifetime major-league record of 10-7.
> #3, Greg Harris P – One of the Padres top prospects, he was 9-5 at age 24 and made his big league debut that September. Pitched in eight seasons as a major-leaguer with a lifetime record of 45-64 and a 3.98 ERA.
> #4, Joel McKeon P – Was 2-5 for the Stars with a 5.96 ERA. He had pitched for the White Sox in 1986 & ’87 but never made it back to the majors.
> #5, Pete Roberts P – Started 13 games and had a record of 4-6. Pitched three more years at the high levels of the minors but never made a big league appearance.
> #6, Todd Simmons P – Had a true “vulture” campaign as he pitched 54 games in relief and complied a record of 12-5. Completed one more minor league season and was out of baseball at age 25.
> #7, Ed Vosberg P – A very useful swing-man, he started 11 games and pitched another 34 in relief. Finished with a record of 11-7 and posted 2 Saves. His baseball career spanned from 1983-2007 and he pitched in 10 big league seasons before retiring at age 45. The prototypical situational left-hander, he won a total of 10 games in the majors and was part of the 1997 World Series champion Marlins.
> #8, Kevin Towers P – A familiar name that was recently in the news as he passed away at age 56 just last week. 1988 was essentially his last season as a player but he later became a famous front office executive. After starting as a scout for the Padres in 1990, he eventually became their GM, serving in that capacity from 1995-2009. From 2011-2014, he was the GM of the Diamondbacks.
> #9, Joe Lynch P – Was 6-6 with 8 Saves out of the bullpen and had an impressive 3.27 ERA. Pitched two more seasons for the Stars and retired at age 27.
> #10, Shane Mack OF – Got 267 AB’s with the Padres in 1987 and got back up to the big club again in ’88. His real MLB success came during his stint with the Twins from 1990-1994 where he hit over .300 in four of the five seasons. Played in Japan in 1995 & ’96 before coming back to the majors for a few more years. He was a lifetime .299 hitter with a .821 OPS in nine big-league campaigns.
> #11, Thomas Howard OF – Played with the Stars in both ’88 & ’89 before making his big-league debut with the Padres in 1990. Ended up with over 2,600 big league AB’s over 11 seasons. Also played for the Indians, Reds, Astros, Dodgers & Cardinals.
> #12, Jerald Clark OF – Hit .301 in 408 AB’s for the Stars. Ended up playing parts of seven seasons in “The Show” with a lifetime BA of .257. His Brother Phil played for three teams in the 90’s and hit .276.
> #13, Randy Byers OF – A .267 hitter in 100 games for the Stars, he only had 26 major league AB’s and was out of baseball before turning 24.
> #14, Bip Roberts 2B – Hit .353 with 29 SB’s and was on his way to the majors. One of the quickest players in the NL during the early 90’s, he had 46 SB’s for the Padres in ’90 and 44 for the Reds in ’92. Leon (his real name) played 12 years with over 1,200 Hits and a .294 BA. Made over $17 Million during his big league career.
> #15, Brad Pounders 1B – A productive bat in ’88 with 14 HR’s & 74 RBI’s but it was his last professional season at age 24. His Son Brooks did make the major leagues and pitched for the Royals in 2016 and the Angels in ’17.
> #16, Rob Nelson 1B – The power hitter in the middle of the line-up for the Stars, he hit 23 HR’s with 77 RBI’s in 388 AB’s. Ended up with only 152 major league AB’s and hit .178.
> #17, Gary Green SS – Had over 300 AB’s and didn’t hit a HR. Eventually accumulated 180 AB’s in the big leagues and didn’t hit a homer there either. His Dad Fred pitched in the majors during the early 60’s and was a member of the 1960 World Series champion Pirates.
> #18, Joey Cora 2B – This diminutive infielder hit .296 for the Stars and only struck out 19 times in 460 AB’s. Spent 11 years in the majors and had over 1,000 Hits with a .277 lifetime BA. His Brother Alex played 14 seasons and is the new Manager of the Red Sox.
> #19, Mike Brumley SS – Hit .315 and swiped 41 bases for the Stars. A switch-hitter, he played parts of eight seasons in the majors before retiring in 1996. His Dad (also named Mike) was a Catcher for the Washington Senators from 1964-66.
> #20, Roberto Alomar, SS/2B – Even though he was only 20 years old, the talent level was obvious and he got called up to the Padres after only nine games in Las Vegas. His rookie season gave a glimpse of what was to come with a .709 OPS & 24 SB’s. One of the best fielding 2B in the history of the game (he won 10 Gold Gloves), he was inducted into Cooperstown in 2011. His Dad & Brother (both named Sandy) were also major leaguers.
> #21, Bruce Bochy C – At the other end of the spectrum from the young players, this was his last season as an active player after playing parts of nine years in the majors. The epitome of a back-up Catcher, his lifetime BA was .239. He managed in the minor leagues for the next four years and became the skipper of the Padres in 1995 and stayed for 12 years including a World Series appearance in 1998. In 2007, he took over the helm with the Giants and three world championships later, he is one of the most respected leaders in the game. After 22 seasons and almost 1,800 Wins, he may be on track to Cooperstown someday.
> #22, Sandy Alomar, Jr. C – A .297 BA with 16 HR’s put him on the radar at age 22. Became the starting Catcher for the Indians in 1990 and made six All-Star teams in his career.
> #23, Tom Brassil IF – This was his 7th minor league season and despite hitting .311, he called it quits at age 28.
> #24, Steve Smith Manager – A minor league infielder form 1976-82, he never made the majors. He managed in the minors for 12 years, half of them at the AAA level.
> #25, Sonny Siebert Coach – An outstanding major-league Pitcher in the 60’s & 70’s, he won 130 big league games with a lifetime ERA of 3.21. Won 16 games three times and made two AL All-Star teams.
Lots of baseball history from a minor-league team that played 30 years ago. One, and possibly two, Hall of Famers, multiple All-Stars and some baseball heritage of families that played the game. If you think this team is the exception to the rule, think about this…we could have chosen the 1988 Richmond Braves and talked about the cards of John Smoltz, David Justice, Lonnie Smith, Jeff Blauser & Leo Mazzone.
As always, the history of the game is what makes it all come together.