And now a little bit of fun inspired by a chance encounter with a pack of 1989 Topps baseball cards. My wife and I were in Target and they had a box of 15 assorted packs of baseball cards for $10. We like to send that sort of thing in care packages to our honorary nieces and nephews, and most of the packs were from 2006-07. But then, there was the pack of ’89 Topps in there and I’m not sure why. (Yes, the bubble gum was in there. No I haven’t. Yet.)
Some of the players in the pack were a trip down memory lane. Mickey Tettleton. A guy (Joe Hesketh) wearing an Expos uniform. Brady Anderson before his name became synonymous with “statistical outlier.” Then there were the guys of whom I had never heard. Terry Taylor apparently started five games for the Mariners in 1988 and no one told me. (He never pitched again in the majors.) The Yankees apparently employed a man named Charles Hudson who, judging from his stats, was a swing man. He pitched from 1983-1989 with the Phillies, Yankees, and Tigers. No clue who he was.
In what I suppose was meant as a cheeky joke, Kirk Gibson got an “All Star” card as a “pinch hitter” for the National League. (Even cheekier, Gibson never actually played in an All-Star game.) Then there were the GWRBI’s. Now there’s a stat that’s meaningful!
Anyway, a little while earlier I had been thinking about the World Baseball Classic, which is allegedly going to take place every four years, although the first one was in 2006 and the second one was in 2009. Someone in baseball… can’t… add. It’s supposed to be baseball’s version of the (soccer) World Cup. It’s just that the World Cup has a great deal of tradition going for it, as it dates back to 1934. It got me thinking. Had the WBC been going on for a while, 1989 would have been a WBC year. So, let’s turn back the clock, shall we?
It’s Spring Training of 1989. The Dodgers(!) are World Champions for the second time in the decade. The A’s have Billy Beane in camp… as an outfielder. Oh yeah, along with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco*. Debbie Gibson was number one on the charts with “Lost in Your Eyes.” (Milli Vanilli* was at #11. Seems like it was the golden age for things that we thought were the real deal, but turned out to be fake.) George H.W. Bush had just been sworn in as President. I was in 3rd grade.
So who would have (should have?) been on Team USA for the WBC ’89? Who would have opposed them?
A quick scan of the VORP ratings for 1988 shows that there were a lot of Americans among the best position players in MLB. Wade Boggs was coming off an insane season in which he had an on-base percentage of .476 and was first in VORP. Canseco* was second, although he was born in Cuba. Do you suppose that he would have played for the Cuban team? The only other non-Americans in the Top 25 were Andres Galarraga (Venezuela) and Julio Franco (Dominican Republic).
The Americans could have put together an infield of Brett, Sandberg, Ripken (Cal, not Billy), and Boggs with an outfield of Greenwell, Puckett, and Winfield. Carlton Fisk could have caught Orel Hershiser. Not a bad starting lineup. A bunch of All-Stars. Then again, the Americans went to the 2009 WBC with a roster filled with All-Stars and didn’t win.
But who would have been the competition that year? Looking at players born in the Dominican Republic who were active in the Majors at the time and who played for more than two years in the Majors, Dominica could have put together a starting lineup of MLB talent. The problem is that at the corners, they would have probably had to play some guys out of position. At the time, there were a lot of utility infielder types and slick fielding shortstops with OBPs too low to mention coming from D.R. (Junior Noboa, Mariano Duncan, Jose Uribe, Domingo Ramos, Rafael Belliard), so perhaps one of them could play third. Julio Franco and Tony Fernandez would have made a good keystone combo (although Andres Thomas was coming off a “good for a shortstop” year in Atlanta), with an outfield that could have featured George Bell, Pedro Guerrero, and that guy Stan Javier (who was his generation’s Raul Ibanez… never good enough to be in the “best in the game discussions”, but you kinda knew who he was… he was that guy.) Maybe Sammy Sosa (who debuted later that year) would have been called upon, or another promising minor leaguer, Jose Offerman. Tony Pena would have caught Jose Rijo or perhaps one of the Perez brothers (Pascual or Melido).
The Venezuelan team would have been a little thin in the outfield (Tony Armas, Carlos Quintana, and ???), but could have had an infield of Galarraga, Manny Trillo/Fred Manrique, Ozzie Guillen, and Carlos Martinez. Bo Diaz probably would have caught. The pitching is another story. During the 1989 season, the following pitchers born in Venezuela pitched in an MLB game; Miguel Garcia (who?), German Gonzalez (huh?), Urbano Lugo (oh that guy!), Julio Machado (?), Tony Castillo (ummm), and Wilson Alvarez. Looks like Alvarez gets the start.
The team from Puerto Rico could build an infield around the very young Alomar brothers, and field Carmelo Martinez at first with some combination of Luis Alicea, Rey Quinones, Joey Cora in the other two infield spots. In the outfield, they could call on the then-good quartet of Ivan Calderon, Ruben Sierra, Danny Tartabull, and Candy Maldonado. There’s something poetic about those four players being in the same sentence. Maybe the then-rookie Juan Gonzalez might have fit into that mix.
So, there would have been some interesting teams at the ’89 WBC. But teams like Canada, who put out a team of mostly (pretty good) MLB players would have had a few spare parts to call on. Japan is something of a mystery. At the time, there weren’t really any Japanese players in MLB, but was that an issue of talent or geography?
I suppose that it all goes to show how deep the talent pool worldwide has gotten and how good MLB has gotten in terms of finding it. The ’09 WBC featured teams composed of plenty of “really good” to “excellent” players. The ’89 version would have had some decent teams, but a few teams filling out their rosters with… filler.
So now, reader, I issue you a challenge. What would the WBC have looked like in years past? For example, what would the ’85 WBC US team have looked like? The ’77 WBC? The 1997 WBC? Leave something in the comments. The best entry wins a cookie. (Note: no actual cookie will be awarded.)