One of the greatest joys of this column is the tremendous feedback we receive. Sometimes the feedback comes in direct emails which is how we do our mailbox editions and sometimes the feedback comes courtesy of in-person or Facebook feedback. Our recent column about some failed prospects not only drew tons of response on social media but also provided us plenty of names to draw from for present and future columns as well.
A few of the suggested names really didn’t fit the profile. Some were indeed much hyped prospects who, while not living up to the Hall of Fame predictions, did carve out nice, long careers.
But there were plenty of others who faded quickly despite a lot of hobby hype. So without much further adieu, let us move to List #2.
We’ll begin with a couple of former rookies of the year who had that one good year and then basically did very little for the rest of their career. First up is Jerome Walton, the 1989 Chicago Cubs center fielder who parlayed a great rookie season as well as being on a division winner into instant hobby stardom.
Sometimes you have the term “perfect storm” when there is a confluence of events which mesh perfectly. Well, for hobby stardom, 1989 was for a time, Jerome Walton’s year. In addition to being the hot rookie on the field, his “key” 1989 card (if you can believe in 2015 such a term exists) was the Upper Deck high number rookie card. At one time, one could actually sell that card (especially in the Chicago area) for $10 each. Now you can buy 100 of them for 15 bucks–and his other rookie cards are mostly on the dollar menu.
By the way, Walton still lives in the Chicago area. And he even had a Cubs rookie running mate in 1989 who was also in hot running popularity. Fellow outfielder Dwight Smith was also a 1989 rookie card and there are now baseball cards of Dwight Smith Jr.
The second player on our “busted” prospect tour is Pat Listach. Way back in 1992, there might have been no hotter player than Listach. During that time period, the Milwaukee Brewers were seemingly coming up with hot prospect one after another and Listach looked to be the real deal as a starting short stop with speed and good batting ability. The 1987-1993 era seemed to be the time for Brewers up and comers if you remember such great names as Joey Meyer, Glenn Braggs and even Rob Deer. Unfortunately, for those collectors who invested in 1992 Listach rookies, you pretty much got his best and he quickly became a long-time common.
Today, Listach is still involved in baseball as he will be the manager of the Seattle Mariners’ AAA team in Tacoma. Listach will be joined by pitching coach Jaime Navarro and hitting coach Cory Snyder. Talk about a great grouping of formerly hot or popular late 1980’s-early 1990’s hobby heroes.
The third player on today’s tour will involve our first pitcher who failed. There will be plenty more later but we’ll begin with Todd Van Poppel, who was the number one overall draft pick and one of four early 1990’s Oakland A’s pitching prospect draft picks. There is a new-found expression called “There is no such thing as a pitching prospect” and to some extent that term began with Van Poppel and other pitchers of that ilk.
A couple other hot pitching prospects around the Van Poppel time were also drafted very high and never even came close to the majors. Yes, we’re talking about Kiki Jones and Robbie Beckett among others. By the way, neither Beckett (Robbie nor Josh) are related in any way to Dr. James Beckett. One of the funniest phone calls I ever received was when Josh Beckett was going to be drafted in 1999 and Pete Williams called me to ask about whether they were related. Josh was a Texas born pitcher so he (and I’m sure plenty of other people) thought there was a chance they were related.
While Van Poppel’s career never developed the way investors wanted it to go, he did spend a nice time in the major leagues and even turned in a couple of very solid seasons as a reliever. And there is that Classic ‘Future Aces’ card which may in retrospect be the patron saint for bad baseball card predictions.
For our final player for this article, we’ll continue with the pitching grouping and mention a more modern pitcher in Mark Prior. Along with Kerry Wood, Prior was going lead the Cubs to their first World Series championship in nearly a century back in 2003. He and Wood basically pitched the Cubs into the playoffs and some fans believe the team was only a Steve Bartman foul ball away from going to the Fall Classic.
Entering the 2004 season, every 2001 issue was smoking hot because Prior was almost as popular as Albert Pujols and frankly, Ichiro Suzuki had dropped to third among collectors of 2001 fans. Well by the end of the 2004 season, Ichiro had established himself as a possible future Hall of Famer with his 262 hit season and Prior was on his way to the sore arm farm. The 2001 Fleer Platinum Prior card was triple printed and conspiracy theorists figured that was no accident but a way for collectors to keep buying those packs so they would get more Prior cards.
Prior continued for many years to try to get back the 2003 magic but never did regain the early career form. And frankly, which baseball stathead has not blamed Dusty Baker for overworking both Wood and Prior in 2003? I’m a bit old school and the pennant you want to win is this year’s pennant because nothing is ever guaranteed. In looking through the list of teams which have won 100 or more games since 1990 there has been exactly one team (1998 Yankees) which won the World Series. Thus, you have to do what you can this year and not worry about the future. In fact, knowing Max Scherzer was going to be a free agent, I would have pushed him further last year in an effort to win with what I had available.
Frankly, that is one reason why pitching prospects sometimes flame out earlier than projected as you have to win what you have in front of you. Heck, the Tigers did come within a few playoff games of going to the 1987 World Series and if they did, do you think they would regret trading future HOFer John Smoltz for two seasons of Doyle Alexander?
This is round two of our busted prospect lists and we’ve got a few more names in the pipeline to discuss and as always your feedback is welcomed. Perhaps you put a few cards of a prospect away or made a trade which you now regret (or vice versa). We’d love to hear from you so please respond to the email at the bottom of this column.