Over break, when I wasn’t watching Rikki Lake, I spent a good amount of time in the attic of my house flipping through shoebox after shoebox of old baseball cards. The sheer quantity of cards up there is mind-boggling. Tens of thousands of them, some in plastic sheets, most in carefully labeled boxes with cryptic inscriptions like “Doubles, triples, and quadrooples.” In a market where some cards are worth upwards of $1000, my ongoing quest was always quantity, not quality, and if I don’t have a Nolan Ryan rookie in there somewhere, which I don’t, you can be damn sure you’ll find at least five ’82 Jerry Dybzinskis.
If a picture says as much as everyone says it does, a baseball card says even more. Cards mirror styles of the times: just as “867-5309 (Jenny)” sizzled its way on up the Billboard charts, the ’82 White Sox unveiled their flashy new uniforms, the ones with “SOX” in huge white futuristic letters strewn across the chest. The ’79 San Diego Padres are dudded out in brown and mustard yellow, while the Cleveland Indians of the same year favored hot pink jerseys and pants, accessorized with red-white-and-blue wrap-around belts—both ensembles would fit into an episode of Starsky and Hutch quite nicely.
Then, of course, there are the hairstyles. Gigantic afros on athletes of all races (Oscar Gamble, Warren Brustar, Nino Espinosa). Handlebar moustaches (Rollie Fingers). Absurd sideburns (Rich Gossage). Quite often, all of the above (Ross Grimsley). Embellishment is provided by beads (Kurt Bevaqua), enormous gum bubbles (Kurt Bevaqua again), gold ropes (Jose Rijo), sweatbands with the player’s face embroidered on them (Eric Davis). We live in an incredibly bizarre country and baseball players are not about to let you forget that.
And then, of course, there are the future star cards. The Topps card company prints these because rookies are always the most valuable cards in a set; by putting three or four rookies on one card, Topps triples—or even quadrooples—its chances of producing a card that people will want to buy. The downside of this is that the company stands to embarrass itself if it promotes, say, Marty Bystrom as Future Star God-boy (which it did) when Marty Bystrom looks and pitches like the guy in Blue Lagoon (which he did).
Thus we run into a problem when we learn that in 1980, the Future Stars, the New York Yankees’ soon-to-be proverbial meat of the order, the guys who give 110 percent and keep on givin’, the double-fisted, power-punchin’, almighty super dooper friggin’ FUTURE STARS are Bobby Brown, Brad Gulden, and Darryl Jones.
Kids have to learn about failure somewhere along the line, why wait until pre-algebra? Baseball cards present the perfect forum for a little lesson on the American tragedy. In fact, this particular card presents all the information anyone could possibly need surrounding the Yankees’ metamorphosis from a pennant-winner in 1981 to a team that straight-out sucked in 1982.
Conveniently, the tragedy of the future stars worsens from left to right, so from left to right we shall proceed. Bobby Brown actually put together a decent season once: in 1980, he hit .260 with 14 home runs and stole 27 bases. The following season he saw less action and apparently more curveballs and slipped down to .226 with nary a dong and four stolen bases. The season after that, Bobby found himself as far away from New York as he could possibly be, shagging flies for the Seattle Mariners, having been swapped for Shane Rawley, a ’75 Gremlin, and a box of Fig Newtons. Shane Rawley, naturally, was eventually traded for…shudder…Marty Bystrom. Brown was later sent to the San Diego Padres to model their uniforms; from there he went on to form New Edition.
If you look at Brad Gulden’s lifetime statistics, you can pinpoint in seconds what was without a doubt the best day of his life. In 1980, he had one hit in three trips to the plate. It was a home run. With a .333 batting average (better than Rod Carew) and a home run percentage of 33.3 (better than the Babe), you can just bet Brad Gulden was one happy guy as he trotted those bases in front of thousands of adoring fans. His incredible stats that year just ended up getting him traded, though, again to the Seattle Mariners, this time for Larry Milbourne and a copy of Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. Needless to say, Milbourne was soonafter traded for Butch Wynegar, who no doubt hung out with Marty Bystrom and who later suffered a nervous breakdown at the hands of the merciless New York fans. Brad Gulden was only heard from again in small peeps, finishing his seven-year career with 435 at-bats, a perfect .200 lifetime average, and a videotape of his 1980 home run which he no doubt watches nightly in his trailer back home in Carver, Minnesota.
Darryl Jones, sadly, saw his career both begin and close in 1979, when he hit .255 with six runs batted in in 47 big league at-bats. By now he’s most likely coaching somewhere or another. He has kids who probably don’t laugh at him. He might even go out and have a couple beers with Marty Bystrom every once in a while.