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, May 28, 2021

Rating the Rookie Cups 2.0 - 1981

Good evening all.  After an extremely hot week here, today has been an overcast cool day.  It was a nice break from the heat, but it has also been raining off an on so I was forced indoors a lot today.  The upside to this is that I was able to get this post written much earlier than I have done in the past few weeks.  Well, not MUCH earlier, but at least it was a couple hours before midnight.

Tonight we are looking at another Rookie All Star Team that is without cups.  They sadden me, but let's persevere anyway.  This team is the 1980 RAST pictured on 1981 Topps cards. This team is not  remembered as a comparatively great team.  Over half of them were either out of the league or nearly out of the league by the time I started collecting five short years later.  And only one of them saw action in the 1990s.

The 1981 Topps team features one member of only three sets of brothers to be Rookie All Stars.  Rich Murray is the 1B on this team while Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was the DH on the 1978 Topps team.  The other two sets of siblings are the Conigliaro brothers (Tony & Billy) and the Young brothers (Dmitri & Delmon).  There are also two father/son duos and at least 3 uncle/nephew duos on All Star teams.  

As far as the set goes, I like 1981 Topps and am currently building it.  I am not at wantlist level yet, but I am over halfway there (including the traded set).  The set is very colorful.  Some might scoff at the seemingly random color patterns, but I really like most of them.  Team color schemes are fine, but every now and then it is nice to mix things up.  I love my Rockies and I love their purple color schemes, but it would nice to get a yellow/blue card or a green/red card or even a pink card every now and then.

The major design is the team color cap which also lists the position and team name.  It is just amazing to me that this is the only Topps flagship set that uses a baseball cap as a design element.  It is such a part of the game and really works well here. I am not as big a fan of the solid color caps like Boston or Cincinnati as I am the tri-color caps like Baltimore. 

The other design element is one that I could really have lived without, the baseball with Topps written on it.  It would have been okay had they used the actual Topps logo, but they just printed the words TOPPS in all caps.  It is weird.  The player position could have been put there instead, but honestly I would have just eliminated the baseball from the card altogether and it would have been perfect.

Let's take a look at the 1980 Topps Rookie All Star Team.

Dan Graham - C - Orioles - Season Rank (35 of 61) - Career Rank (58 of 61)

Rich Murray - 1B - Giants - Season Rank (61 of 61) - Career Rank (61 of 61)

Damaso Garcia - 2B - Blue Jays - Season Rank (32 of 61) - Career Rank (32 of 61)


Glenn Hoffman - 3B - Red Sox - Season Rank (50 of 61) - Career Rank (53 of 61)
Ron Oester - SS - Reds - Season Rank (44 of 61) - Career Rank (26 of 60)

Joe Charboneau - OF - Indians - Season Rank (60 of 184) - Career Rank (168 of 184)

Rick Peters - OF - Tigers - Season Rank (75 of 184) - Career Rank (161 of 184)

Lonnie Smith - OF - Phillies - Season Rank (123 of 184) - Career Rank (47 of 184)


Doug Corbett - RHP (RP) - Twins - Season Rank (5 of 34) - Career Rank (20 of 34)

Britt Burns - LHP - White Sox - Season Rank (6 of 49) - Career Rank (11 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 which as I mentioned above means moving Doug Corbett to the reliever category and adding a RH starter to the team. 

Catcher - Dan Graham - Orioles

There was only one catcher that met the 100 game requirement, Ernie Whitt of the Blue Jays.  The only other catcher anywhere close was Dan Graham of the Orioles, so I simply matched up the two AL East catchers.  Whitt proved to have a much longer and celebrated career, but for the rookie season Graham was just a little better.

First Base - Rich Murray - Giants

First base in 1980 was one of the weakest positions in both results and in depth that I have seen since I began this series.  There was no player that appeared in more than 65 games that year.  It was basically a position that would have fit in perfectly with the shortened 2020 season.  I lowered the bar to 50 games just to get two competitors, Rich Murray of the Giants and Harry Spilman of the Reds.  It was a close battle, but Eddie's younger brother overcame the mostly pinch hitter here.

Second Base - Dave Stapleton - Red Sox

Compared to the other positions, second base had pretty good, but not great, depth in 1980.  I lowered the bar only to 95 games to pick up three players, Dave Stapleton of the Red Sox, Damaso Garcia of the Blue Jays, and Tim Flannery of the Padres.  I also included Ron Oester of the Reds since he played more games at second than at shortstop.  Neither Oester nor Flannery proved to be a threat which left it a two man race.  Stapleton, who was a much better defender, also proved to be slightly better than Garcia on offense as well.

Third Base - Glenn Hoffman - Red Sox

Third base was yet another position with a disturbing lack of depth among rookies.  There were only two players over 81 games, Glenn Hoffman of the Red Sox and Tim Flannery of the Padres, who played both second and third.  Despite not having a great rookie year, Hoffman easily won this battle and justified his spot on the team.

Shortstop - Ron Oester - Reds

Shortstop had a little depth.  There were three fairly regular rookie shortstops that played 80 or more games, Todd Cruz who split between the Angels and White Sox, Dickie Thon of the Angels, and Jerry Dybzinski of the Indians.  Ron Oester of the Reds played more games at second base, but since Topps made him their SS and he did play there some, I included him.  There were no standouts in the group, but Ron Oester managed to hold his spot quite easily.

Outfield - Joe Charboneau - Indians, Rick Peters - Tigers, Bobby Brown - Yankees

In the outfield, there was quite a bit more depth.  There were 10 rookies with at least 96 games played.  Some of those not in real contention included Rudy Law of the Dodgers, Rick Sofield of the Twins, Lloyd Moseby of the Blue Jays, and Leon Durham of the Cardinals.  The top 2 spots in the OF were clearly AL ROY Joe Charboneau of the Indians and Rick Peters of the Tigers.  So that left the remaining spot up for grabs between Bobby Brown of the Yankees, future HOFer Harold Baines of the White Sox, and Lonnie Smith of the Phillies.  Surprisingly the less heralded Brown triumphed over the two more celebrated outfielders.

RH Starter - Bill Gullickson - Expos

Since Topps awarded the RHP slot to a reliever, we will have a group here without an incumbent.  The group was smaller than in most years with only 7 contenders with 15 starts, but it was not a weak group per se.  It also was not a top heavy group with each contender having a solid, but not great rookie year.  Some of those not in contention were Charlie Lea of the Expos, Mark Bombeck of the Mets, Renie Martin of the Royals, and Bob Walk of the Phillies.  It all came down to a battle between a solid full season of Richard Dotson of the White Sox and a strong half season of Bill Gullickson of the Expos.  Gullickson pulled out a solid victory.

LH Starter - Britt Burns - White Sox

Even in a year with a smaller right handed starter crowd, there were fewer lefty starters.  I had to lower the bar to 13 starts to pick up 5 pitchers, Britt Burns of the White Sox, Gary Lucas of the Padres, John Tudor of the Red Sox, Charlie Leibrandt of the Reds, and Paul Mirabella of the Blue Jays.  It wasn't even close.  Britt Burns dominated the competition.  It is easy to forget just how good that guy was.

Relief Pitcher - Doug Corbett - Twins

Arguably the best depth for rookies in 1980 was relief pitchers.  4 different relievers received votes in the NL ROY race.  In this competition, there were 5 relievers involved, Doug Corbett of the Twins, Dan Quisenberry of the Royals, Jeff Reardon of the Mets, Dave Smith of the Astros, and NL ROY Steve Howe of the Dodgers.  Strangely enough, Howe brought up the rear in this race.  Corbett and Quisenberry were the leaders in games and saves.  Corbett and Smith were the leaders in ERA and strikeouts.  What that did was ensure that Corbett was at or near the top in almost every category to win the spot over the very talented relief pitcher group.


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


Topps was not perfect in this case, but they were pretty close.  Their only "misses" were second base and the third outfield spot.  In both cases, the player they chose was very close to the player the stats chose.  WAR greatly favored Stapleton mainly due to defense, but overall Garcia and Stapleton was a toss up.  The outfield spot was more a case of a high batting average in a shorter season.  Brown played about a month longer than Smith which means he also had to deal with his averages regressing a bit.  Players that play a month or two less than their fellow rookies often avoid hitting the "rookie wall" which brings hot starts back to normal.  Topps's choice of Doug Corbett for RHP was iffy, but not a horrible choice because Corbett did have an outstanding rookie year and none of the RH starters was THAT great.  Overall Topps did a great job with the picks here.

Final Thoughts on the Team

Strongest Team Members (rookie) - Britt Burns, Joe Charboneau, Doug Corbett
Strongest Team Members (career) - Lonnie Smith, Britt Burns, Ron Oester
Weakest Team Members (rookie) - Rich Murray, Glenn Hoffman, Ron Oester
Weakest Team Members (career) - Rich Murray, Dan Graham, Joe Charboneau
Rockies on the team (Present and future) - 0 (most were long retired by the time the Rockies came around)
Best Card (IMHO) - Lonnie Smith (that photo is just so bad that it belongs in the Awkward Family Photos HOF...just fantastic)
Worst Card (IMHO) - Damaso Garcia (the angle of the photo makes him look like he is 3 feet tall)

As far as rookie seasons go, this team was below average.  Nothing really great, but nothing really horrible either.  Not to be harsh, but this is arguably the worst career Rookie All Star Team of all time.  If not the worst, then definitely bottom 5 for career.  Lonnie Smith was a very underrated player for his career and had a very good chance at winning NL MVP twice, but when he is by far the best player on the team, it is just not going to be that good.  Most of these players just fell off a cliff after their rookie year.  Burns was a great pitcher that had a career ending hip condition at age 26.  I would put him in the same category as Mark Fidrych and Mark Prior of pitcher that could have been HOFers without injury.  Even though his career numbers didn't look all that impressive, Oester ended up as one of the biggest fan favorites in Cincinnati of all time.  He was even inducted into the Reds HOF in 2014.  When I was growing up, Joe Charboneau's name was emblematic of not trusting good rookie campaigns.  I felt bad for the guy, because who wants their name associated with something like that.  In fairness to Charboneau, he was not the only one from this group to peak in their rookie year.  But this was still the best group of rookies from 1980.  1980 just happened to be a very weak year for rookies in general.


The 1999 team pictured on 2000 Topps cards.

Thanx for reading.


The Diamond King said...

I liked this one. So much different/wrong with this year (no cups, weird colors), but a great effort by Topps to get the right players. And after that, the players ended up being mediocre. Lots of interesting peaks and valleys for this years guys.

Nick said...

I've heard of Rich Murray, but I can't believe I didn't know he was Eddie Murray's brother until this post. Always amazed at how much baseball history I have left to learn.