A place where Colorado Rockies baseball card collectors (all 3 of us) can waste some time reading about our favorite sport. The Rockies and their cards will be the primary focus, but I like to go off on tangents as well so anything and everything baseball related may be covered here.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Rating the Rookie Cups 2.0 - 1997


This week we an interesting team to check out, the 1996 Topps Rookie All Star Team.  This team has  something in common with the upcoming 2021 team that has yet to be determined.  The 1996 team was the first team that played a full 162 game season in 3 years following the strike that chopped off the end of the 1994 season and beginning of the 1995 season.  It was supposed to be an everything is back to normal set.  For me, it was completely irrelevant because that strike turned me off of baseball until the summer of 1998 McGwire/Sosa home run rivalry (that has since turned a new generation off of baseball) brought me back.  So this team falls into my years of just not caring.  It really is a shame because there was some good baseball played then.

This is the first team since I have re-started that featured a career leader at a position.  However, this team features 2 different players that are the career leaders at their position on my scale.  It is one of two teams that features 2 different players that lead their respective position.  The other is also from the 1990s, but I am going to leave it a mystery until we get to it. 

I have always thought of the 1997 Topps set at the Christmas set.  I'm sure I am not the first, nor the last, to have that idea.  The concept is that American League teams have a red inner border while the National League teams have a green one.  The player names also have an outlined font for the first name and a filled in font for the last name.  That is pretty much it with this set.  It is a very minimalist set otherwise.  Honestly, I have never really been a big fan of it, although there are some memorable photos in the set.

Let's take a look at the 1996 Topps Rookie All Star Team.

Jason Kendall - C - Pirates- Season Rank (13 of 61) - Career Rank (8 of 61)

Tony Clark - 1B - Tigers - Season Rank (48 of 61) - Career Rank (30 of 61)

Tony Batista - 2B - Athletics - Season Rank (46 of 61) - Career Rank (27 of 61)


Joe Randa - 3B - Royals - Season Rank (36 of 61) - Career Rank (14 of 61)
Derek Jeter - SS - Yankees - Season Rank (5 of 61) - Career Rank (1 of 60)

Jermaine Dye - OF - Braves - Season Rank (177 of 184) - Career Rank (50 of 184)

F.P. Santangelo - OF - Expos - Season Rank (91 of 184) - Career Rank (147 of 184)

Todd Hollandsworth - OF - Dodgers - Season Rank (65 of 184) - Career Rank (111 of 184)


Alan Benes - RHP - Cardinals - Season Rank (49 of 50) - Career Rank (45 of 50)

Billy Wagner - LHP (RP) - Astros - Season Rank (24 of 34) - Career Rank (1 of 34)


Here are the players I feel should have made the team.  This is based solely on rookie years stats and is a straight up "battle of the stats" with my opinion not factoring into the decision.  I give a chance to all rookies from that season that either played in 100 games, started 15 games, or had at least 10 saves.  If there happen to be less than 2 rookies that meet those qualifications at a position, then I will just compare the top two that don't meet parameters.  In this case, and all cases before 2011, I am retroactively adding a relief pitcher spot to the team which as I mentioned above means moving Billy Wagner to the reliever category and adding a LH starter to the team. 

Catcher - Jason Kendall - Pirates

One of the things I strive for in this section is competition.  But in 1996, there was virtually no competition for Jason Kendall.  The only other "rookie" catcher that played in even more that 50 games was Jesse Levis of the Brewers.  I used quotation marks because Levis was a rookie by technicality since 1996 was actually his 5th year in the majors, but he had not accrued 150 plate appearances in his first 4 years.  Nevertheless, Kendall easily defeated him and secured the spot on the team.

First Base - Tony Clark - Tigers

This was one of 4 relatively weak positions in 1996.  There were three candidates for this spot: Tony Clark of the Tigers, Ron Coomer of the Twins, and Mark Sweeney of the Cardinals.  Clark played the most and had a lot of homers, but his underlying stats were fairly mediocre.  Coomer and Sweeney were mostly bench players, but had decent numbers in part time duty.  In a surprisingly close battle, Clark barely hung on to his spot. 

Second Base - Tony Batista - Athletics

This was the second of 4 relatively weak positions in 1996.  There was only one candidate that met the 100 game criteria, so I lowered the bar to 70 games.  I ended up with 4 contenders: Tony Batista of the Athletics, Andy Fox of the Yankees, Tomas Perez of the Blue Jays, and Mark Loretta of the Brewers.  Despite only appearing in 73 games, Tony Batista managed to hold off his challengers with Perez coming in a close runner up.

Third Base - Joe Randa - Royals

Here is the third of relative weak positions in 1996.  If you are paying attention, that means the rookie infield thus far is pretty weak.  I had to not only lower the bar to 70 games again, but I also had to include two players from second base that also qualified at third.  It left me with 4 candidates: Joe Randa of the Royals, George Arias of the Angels, Andy Fox of the Yankees, and Mark Loretta of the Brewers.  Randa's decent rookie season proved to be dominating over the rest and he held his spot.

Shortstop - Derek Jeter - Yankees

This is by far the strongest position in 1996.  There were four solid contenders for the shortstop spot: Derek Jeter of the Yankees, Edgar Renteria of the Marlins, Rich Aurelia of the Giants, and Rey Ordonez of the Mets.  Renteria and Ordonez could have easily occupied two other infield spots had they qualified at other positions, but they were only shortstops.  And in 1996, no shortstop was beating AL ROY Derek Jeter.  He steamrolled his challengers to secure his spot. 

Outfield - Todd Hollandsworth - Dodgers, F.P. Santangelo - Expos, Ernie Young - Athletics

The outfield spots in this section is usually a matter of two guys standing out and the third spot being up for grabs.  In this case, that was not true.  There was only one that truly stood out, and that was NL ROY Todd Hollandsworth.  So that left the final two spots up for grabs among 9 challengers including Ricky Otero of the Phillies, Quinton McCracken of the Rockies, and Curtis Pride of the Tigers.  When all was said and done, it came down to 3 guys: F.P. Santangelo of the Expos, Ernie Young of the Athletics, and Marvin Benard of the Giants with Benard ending up just shy of the other two.  More significantly is that Topps's third choice, Jermaine Dye of the Braves, ended up in 8th place out of 10 on my scale.  I just don't understand how they chose him over the rest.

RH Starter - James Baldwin - White Sox

The right handed starter is usually filled with challengers and this year was no exception.  There were a lot of rookie starters in 1996, but none of them really had much staying power.  But I am not looking at careers here, just the season.  Challengers that were not really in contention included Rocky Coppinger of the Orioles, Cuban defector Osvaldo Fernandez of the Giants, and former overall #1 pick Paul Wilson of the Mets.  In the end, James Baldwin of the White Sox won a close three way battle over Topps's choice Alan Benes of the Cardinals and future relief ace Ugueth Urbina of the Expos.

LH Starter - Jose Rosado - Royals

This was the fourth of 4 relatively weak positions in 1996.  It was made even weaker by moving Billy Wagner to the relief pitcher spot.  In fact, as I was going through the rookie starters games started looking for challengers I found 16 right handed starters before I ever found the first left hander.  I ended up having to lower the bar to 11 starts just so I could get 5 challengers for the spot.  The contenders included Jose Rosado of the Royals, Shawn Estes of the Giants, Huck Flener of the Blue Jays, Justin Thompson of the Tigers, and Steve Wojciechowski of the Athletics.  In the end, Rosado pulled away from the rest and probably should have gotten the spot even over Billy Wagner. 
Relief Pitcher - Antonio Osuna - Dodgers

1996 was an extremely strong year for relievers.  Not necessarily just closers though.  There were only 2 relievers that met the 10 save parameter, so I amended the requirements for inclusion here to 10 saves and/or 65 games pitched.  Billy Wagner of the Astros did not actually meet either of those two criteria, but since he was Topps's pick I included him as well.  Some of those involved included T.J. Mathews of the Cardinals, Billy Taylor of the Athletics, Antonio Osuna of the Dodgers, Francisco Cordova of the Pirates, and Mike Myers of the Tigers.  Osuna shockingly pulled off the upset and took the spot.     Wagner had the sexy numbers, but his walk numbers were horrid and he just didn't pitch as much as the rest. 


100% - Perfect, 80-90% - Great, 60-70% - Good, 40-50% - Poor, < 40% - Utter Failure


Topps seems to have settled into a 7 out of 10 groove.  Granted the teams are being presented in a random order, but this is the fourth week in a row that Topps got the same score.  Of the three "incorrect" choices, by far the most egregious was Jermaine Dye as there were 5 guys that deserved the spot over him.  The lefty spot was clearly a strange one since a reliever got it, but I believe Jose Rosado was the best rookie pitcher regardless of hand.  The right handed was a toss up, but Benes had the most wins so at the time he looked better than he does today.  Not Topps's best choices, but not horrible either.

Final Thoughts on the Team

Strongest Team Members (rookie) - Derek Jeter, Jason Kendall, Todd Hollandsworth
Strongest Team Members (career) - Derek Jeter, Billy Wagner, Jason Kendall
Weakest Team Members (rookie) - Alan Benes, Jermaine Dye, Tony Clark
Weakest Team Members (career) - Alan Benes, F.P. Santangelo, Todd Hollandsworth
Rockies on the team (Present and future) -1 (Hollandsworth) (Arguably 2 because Dye was a Rockie on paper for one day but never played a game for the team)
Best Card (IMHO) - Jason Kendall (some really good photos here, but I have to go with the nearly lost art of the play at the plate)
Worst Card (IMHO) -Tony Batista (tough call here because none of them are "bad" but Batista shows him playing SS or 3B instead of his identified position of 2B...that has always bugged me)

This team is excellent.  There is not one, but two of the best careers by position on this team.  Jeter is already in the Hall and Wagner has a decent chance to someday join him.  But aside from them, there are some very underrated careers in Jason Kendall, Joe Randa, and Jermaine Dye.  For the season, the team was a bit weaker, although Jeter once again stands out as truly great.  The rest were not really bad, but not excellent either.  For season, I would probably put this team in the middle of the pack somewhere between 25-40.  For career, I would definitely bump it up to top 20.  Just a very good team in general.


The 2015 team pictured on 2016 Topps cards.

Thanx for reading.


Fuji said...

Kudos to Topps for their excellent work on photo cropping with this group. Hard to pick a favorite, but I'll go with the Hollandsworth.

Brian said...

I think Jermaine Dye was picked for the story and for the potential. He was added to the Braves to replace Dave Justice in the lineup, and the Braves still won the division. He's a big strong dude, too - I think Topps was looking for a "future star" as much as they were looking for an "All-Star Rookie." I think that's often the case when they miss. Other times they seem to be trying to get representation from specific teams.