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 5, 2021

Rating the Rookie Cups 2.0 - 1982



After an unexpectedly busy week here at home, I am excited to get the blog back to normal somewhat and get Rating the Rookie Cups out on time.  I am slowly trying to get a regular schedule down and get myself used to posting on that regular schedule.  I have done pretty good on with this feature on Fridays along with my trade bait posts on Sundays.  I am getting used to the Mailbag on Monday.  I hope to get a regular Wednesday feature going within a week or two and save the other three days for a combination random posts, non-weekly features, or simply a day off for me.  I'm getting there and I appreciate you guys hanging with me.

But let's get into the reason for the post, the 1981 Rookie All Star Team as shown on 1982 Topps cards.  Several things about this particular team stand out.  The most obvious is the omission of the actual cup on the cards.  As I mentioned a few weeks back, 1974 was the first year missing the cups, but not the last.  Starting in 1979 and going all the way through 1986, there were no cup cards at all.  This is a shame because some of the designs in those years would have been fun with cups involved.  But we can still honor the teams even without the cups on the card.

A weird quirk about this team is that 9 of the 10 players on the team were playing in the National League.  I'm not 100% sure, but that has to be a record.  Only Cal Ripken Jr kept this team from being an All Senior Circuit team. 

Another thing that stand out is this is the first of two appearances on the Rookie All Star Team for Cal Ripken Jr.  He is the only player in history to make the team twice because the first time he made it he did not get enough plate appearances to lose his rookie status.  Position players lose their status after 150 plate appearances and pitchers after 50 innings pitched.  There was some kind of special caveat added for the 2020 season which changed, but I am not 100% sure of what that is right now.  We shall soon see if he was deserving of the spot this time.  

But probably the most enduring thing about the 1981 team is that it was the first of three seasons in the Rookie Cup era significantly shortened for some reason.  We all know why 2020 was shortened.  In this case along with 1994, it was due to a labor stoppage.  Unlike 1994 which ended the season early, 1981 had a strange split season which divided the season into two halves.  The pre-strike and post-strike seasons led to strange things such as the team with the best overall record in the NL (Reds) not being one of the 4 NL teams to make the playoffs because they did not have the best record in the division in either half.  It also led to 50 lost games for each team.  A by-product of that is that the season ranks for these All Stars are very low (in most cases) in comparison to other years. 

As far as the 1982 Topps set goes, it has always been the "hockey stick" set to me.  It just seemed like it belonged as an NHL set instead of an MLB set.  It would be like having a goalpost or a rim/backboard combo as the key design element for a baseball set.  In other words, it just doesn't fit.  The random color scheme I don't really mind that much.  I enjoy a team based color scheme as much as anyone, but every now and then it is kind of fun to stuff like green on a Braves card or purple on a Pirates card.  Mixing it up occasionally is very cool. 

Let's take a look at the 1981 Topps Rookie All Star Team.

Tony Pena - C - Pirates - Season Rank (54 of 61) - Career Rank (15 of 61)

Tim Wallach - 1B - Expos- Season Rank (60 of 61) - Career Rank (17 of 61)

Juan Bonilla - 2B - Padres - Season Rank (55 of 61) - Career Rank (58 of 61)

Hubie Brooks - 3B - Mets - Season Rank (39 of 61) - Career Rank (17 of 61)
Cal Ripken - SS - Orioles - Season Rank (61 of 61) - Career Rank (4 of 60)

Tim Raines - OF - Expos - Season Rank (96 of 184) - Career Rank (6 of 184)

Mookie Wilson - OF - Mets - Season Rank (165 of 184) - Career Rank (79 of 184)

Rufino Linares - OF - Braves - Season Rank (180 of 184) - Career Rank (182 of 184)

Bruce Berenyi - RHP - Reds - Season Rank (48 of 50) - Career Rank (37 of 50)

Fernando Valenzuela - LHP - Dodgers - Season Rank (4 of 49) - Career Rank (7 of 49)



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.  Also in this case, since the 1981 season was shortened due to a strike, parameters have been altered accordingly.  

Catcher - Tony Pena - Pirates

This position proved to be one of the more competitive ones in 1981.  I relaxed games played to 50 and ended up with 5 candidates including Topps choice Pena, Rich Gedman of the Red Sox, Jody Davis of the Cubs, Sal Butera of the Twins, and Bud Bulling of the Mariners.  No one really stood out as a great rookie year since this group only played half of the short season.  In the end, Pena held his spot in a close battle over Gedman with Davis bringing up a strong third.

First Base - Tim Wallach - Expos

This position is strange because the Topps choice Wallach actually played more games in the outfield in 1981 than at first base.  I chose to leave him at first because he did played some games at first and because his competitors didn't really do much more.  I lowered the bar to 50 games once again and found two rivals in Randy Bass of the Padres and Rick Leach of the Tigers.  Wallach easily held on by what feels more like default than dominance.

Second Base - Juan Bonilla - Padres

This position is a case of a single rookie just getting more playing time.  Juan Bonilla received more at bats than any other rookie at any position in 1981.  In contrast, the other two players competing for this spot, Shooty Babitt of the Athletics and Joe Pittman of the Astros, were utility players before that became cool.  The sheer amount of Bonilla's playing time overwhelmed his opponents and he easily held serve.

Third Base - Hubie Brooks - Mets

This position proved to be one of the easiest to decide, not only in 1981, but of all time.  Hubie Brooks had a pretty strong rookie year, but his lack of competition made him look even stronger.  I had to lower the bar to 30 games played to find even one other rookie.  I went down to one additional game to add both Ty Waller of the Cubs and Dave Edler of the Mariners to the mix.  It wasn't even close as Brooks held his spot.

Shortstop - Luis Aguayo - Phillies

The position of shortstop in 1981 is one of the weakest positions for rookies from top to bottom in everything I have searched thus far.  For what it is worth, no player had a positive WAR.  I lowered the bar to 40 games to find 3 candidates, Aguayo of the Phillies, Ed Romero of the Brewers, and Chuck Baker of the Twins, and included Ripken and his 23 games.  Aguayo proved to be the best of a bad lot with Ripken bringing up the rear in the quartet.

Outfield - Tim Raines - Expos, Mookie Wilson - Mets, Gary Ward - Twins

As usual in the outfield there was a large group of candidates for the three spots including George Bell of the Blue Jays, Dave Henderson of the Mariners, Mark Brouhard of the Brewers, and Tito Landrum of the Cardinals.  None of them really factored in though.  The top two outfielders were clearly Raines and Wilson which left the third spot to be decided between Topps choice Rufino Linares, and a pair of Twins teammates in Gary Ward and Dave Engle.  In a close three way battle, Ward proved the winner over Engle and Linares.

RH Starter - Mike Witt - Angels

There were seven competitors for the right handed starter spot once the bar was lowered to 13 starts, including Rick Mahler of the Braves, teammates Ed Lynch and Greg Harris of the Mets, Randy Martz of the Cubs, and Pascual Perez of the Pirates.  But in the end, it came to down to a two man race between Topps's choice of Bruce Berenyi of the Reds and Mike Witt of the Angels.  Witt ended up winning the spot by a razor thin margin over Berenyi with Mahler posting a solid third place finish.

LH Starter - Fernando Valenzuela - Dodgers

Left handed starter is usually the weakest spot on a Rookie All Star Team.  In 1981, it was probably the strongest group.  There were 5 pitchers vying for the spot including John Martin of the Cardinals, Chris Welsh of the Padres, and Jerry Don Gleaton of the Mariners.  However, the battle ended up between the two Rookies of the Year from 1981.  Future closer AL ROY Dave Righetti was a very strong challenger, but nothing could stop Fernando-mania. 
Relief Pitcher - Larry Andersen - Mariners

I have come to enjoy retroactively adding a reliever to the team, especially pre-1985 when I started really paying attention to the game, because it lets me take a closer look at some guys that I have basically ignored.  In 1981, there was very competitive field of seven candidates for the spot.  Andersen of the Mariners, Fred Breiling of the Giants, Dave Stewart of the Dodgers, future HOFer Lee Smith of the Cubs, Danny Boone of the Padres, Kevin Hickey of the White Sox, and Rod Scurry of the Pirates.  Larry Andersen rose to the top of a close battle.  I wish Andersen could have actually been on the team because he had a good career and deserves to have better legacy than simply being the guy the Astros traded for Jeff Bagwell.


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


The 1981 season proved to be very difficult to choose players.  As the scale says, Topps did good with their choices and got very lucky that one of their incorrect choices in Ripken looks wonderful in hindsight.  The Ripken choice was really questionable, but it's not like there was anyone else that stood out.  The Berenyi over Witt choice was purely a toss up as they were pretty close in my system.  In truth, only the choice of Linares makes no sense because there were two other guys that deserved the spot over him.  All in all though, Topps didn't do a bad job at all which I guess explains the "good" rating.

Final Thoughts on the Team

Strongest Team Members (rookie) - Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Raines, Hubie Brooks
Strongest Team Members (career) - Tim Raines, Cal Ripken, Fernando Valenzuela
Weakest Team Members (rookie) - Cal Ripken, Rufino Linares, Tim Wallach
Weakest Team Members (career) - Rufino Linares, Juan Bonilla, Bruce Berenyi
Rockies on the team (Present and future) - 0 (several players were active and bouncing around in the mid 90s, but none landed in Colorado)
Best Card (IMHO) - Tim Wallach (a few good cards here, but you can't beat the classic pornstache)
Worst Card (IMHO) - Cal Ripken (almost chose Fernando's uber sad face, but multi-player cards are horrible for rookie cups)

There are two legitimate Hall of Famers on this team in Raines and Ripken, even if the latter didn't really deserve inclusion.  Of the remaining players, there were notable names to 80s baseball fans that had very solid careers like Fernando, Wallach, Brooks, and Wilson.  There were a couple of dud careers in Bonilla and Linares, but they will always be able to say they shared an honor with two HOFers. Much like the current 2020 team, this team had the misfortune of being part of a shortened season.  Because of that, their season average are in the bottom 10 of teams of all time.  That is why I also do career averages because this team really proved to be in the top 20 teams of all time. 


The 2003 team pictured on 2004 Topps cards.

Thanx for reading.


Brett Alan said...

Were there any other players besides Ripken who won a Rookie Cup but had to share a card the following year? Can't be many. (Of course, he did get a solo card in the Traded set. Too bad it didn't have the trophy on it.)

hiflew said...

He is the only one to date. Although there have been two players that did not get a card at all. Danny Ainge (yes the basketball guy) and Charles Johnson went cardless the years they were named.

Fuji said...

The Bonilla and Mookie swinging at the plate are the two cards that stand out to me the most. I wish they would have used an action shot for Tony Pena. Loved his catching stance.