Among the many articles or series I wrote during my Beckett days was a column called the “Card of the Month.” I really enjoyed writing those because I could do a riff on just about any topic I wished. The first one was the hilariously great 1976 SSPC card of George Brett and Al Cowens on which the young Brett is making a fake “mean face” for the camera.
The other was, believe it or not, about the 1987 Donruss Kevin Elster.
Elster’s story was one of redemption as he came up in the late 1980’s as one of what seemed to be a never-ending group of New York Mets prospects. Some went on to have long careers such as Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry while others had shorter moments of glory including Kevin Mitchell who had a hit in that fateful 1986 World Series Game Six 10th inning and also won the 1989 NL MVP award.
Elster was just another young Met in that line and was supposed to be the long-term answer at shortstop. Believe it or not, there was a time when that Donruss rookie was one of the most popular cards in the New York Metropolitan area.
However, for various reasons, Elster’s career sputtered and he spent several years between 1992 and 1995 bouncing around baseball and playing fewer than 50 major league games. Then, he returned to baseball in 1996 as the starting shortstop for the Texas Rangers, driving in nearly 100 runs while helping the Rangers win their first divisional title. I really enjoyed watching him that season and then writing about his comeback in the off-season.
Flash forward about 20 years and the Rangers are again hoping for a redemption story. In this case, it would be for one of their old stars, Josh Hamilton, who first appeared on a baseball card as a teenage über prospect in 1999 before spiraling into a horrible addiction a few years later.
If you are a sports fan, you’d almost have to have been living in a cave not to hear about the recent off-season struggles and how he, as the prodigal son, has returned to the site of his biggest triumphs. There will be Josh Hamilton Rangers cards this year but I really hope Topps comes up with a way to highlight what he did in his return last week. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
One of Topps tag lines is “we bring you closer to the game” and what could send a better message to fans and collectors than “Josh Hamilton’s comeback series against the Red Sox” showing the walk-off come from behind double he hit to win Sunday’s game.
I was fortunate enough to be in the stands on Sunday and my thought process on that hit went like this: First: It’s going to fall in for a hit and then go to the wall. Second: Hoping Prince Fielder can move his big body around all the way to score. Third: We were all already standing, so why not cheer some more and louder. Fourth: Be happy for Hamilton who is back playing where he never should have left.
And you know, just like Kevin Elster, even if the Rangers don’t conclude the season with a victory, there is again the realization that sports is great for redemption stories. And for those collectors who kept collecting Hamilton and kept the faith in this immensely talented player who has fought so many demons, enjoy the moment and hope there are more to come.