Thursday, August 1, 2013

H.O.F. Class of '99

When talking about great baseball card sets, many people will cite the number of Hall of Fame players that were on the checklist.  This will be the first in a series of posts on the Hall of Fame classes that featured players who also had cards in the '91 Fleer set.

Given that it came out in 1991, the earliest that Fleer's "Sunshine Set" could've possibly had a Hall of Famer would've been in 1997 (assuming that '91 was their last year, and after five years of retirement - '92 - '96).

In '97, there were a few guys that made the ballot, but weren't inducted.  Terry Kennedy, Garry Templeton, Mike Scott, and Fred Lynn made their only appearance on the Cooperstown list, all getting less than 5% of the vote.   Dwight Evans and Dave Parker received 5.9% and 17.5% of the vote, respectively, allowing them to qualify for the next ballot in 1998.

The following year, Evans and Parker saw spikes in their votes, getting 10.4% and 24.5%, respectively.  There was also a fresh batch of "one ballot wonders" that missed the 5% cut, including  Brian Downing, Carney Lansford, Willie Randolph, Pedro Guerrero, and Jack Clark.  A fresh faced Bert Blyleven placed second of the '91 Fleer alumni with 17.5% in his debut ballot.

While it took a few years for the first crop of Hall of Fame inductees, 1999 was a pretty solid one class, including three first-ballot HOF'ers.

Robin Yount received 77.5% of the vote in his debut ballot.  While barely squeaking over the requisite 75% bar, there is no doubting his Hall of Fame status.  The powder blue Brewers uniforms from the good old American League days look harken back to a simpler time, and the follow-through swing pose is one that is definitely befitting a player of his caliber.

Yount was definitely no spring chicken in '91, the 18th of his 20 seasons, all spent in Milwaukee.  That year, he hit a solid .260 with 10 homers and 77 RBI.  He got 131 hits in 130 games - not too shabby.  He would finish his Hall Of Fame career with 3,142 hits, one more than future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.  Speaking of Gwynn, he and Yount both wore number 19, the last on their respective teams to do so, as they have since been retired.  Yount went on to be a coach for the Diamondbacks and Brewers, as well as pitching an all natural lemonade brand called Robinade.

Speaking of members of the 3,000 Hit Club who spent their entire career with one team, our second inductee is George Brett.  He cruised into Cooperstown easily, with a whopping 98.2% of the vote.  His card is eerily similar to Yount's - a follow-through swing shot, in a powder blue uniform during a spring training game.  Only difference is that Brett is doing it from the left side, while Yount was a right handed hitter.  Solid looking card.

Not a bad head of hair for somebody who was entering their 19th season in the bigs at the age of 38.  The previous year, he won the AL Batting Title with a .329 average, his third such award.  I wasn't aware that he hit a ridiculous .390 in 1980, the year he also won the AL MVP.  1991 would be a tough year for Brett, as his average would drop 74 points to a career low .255.  For a guy who was a 13 time All-Star, he wasn't on the All-Star team the last five seasons of his career.  Since switching over from third to first, guys like McGwire, Mattingly, Fielder, Palmiero, Olerud, and Thomas took the slots.  He would end his career in 1993 with a .303 batting average, 317 homers, 1,596 RBI, and 3,154 hits.  Uniform number 5 has been retired by the Royals, the number he wore since his second full season in Kansas City.

Brett currently is the hitting coach for the Royals and has three sons, Jackson, Dylan, and Robin, who was named after the aforementioned Robin Yount.

Nolan Ryan managed to top Brett's induction numbers, posting a 98.8% on the ballots.  As high as that is, I'd like to meet the 1.2% of the voters who didn't vote for him.  Being a child of the 90s, my memories of the Ryan Express are with the Rangers (and in Advil commercials), but he also pitched for the Astros and Mets during his 27 year career, which ended in '93.  This card is one of my favorites of Ryan, in the classic rear-back-and-let-it-fly pose.  In '91, he would lead the league in WHIP, as well as record his 7th and final no-hitter on May 1st against the Blue Jays at the age of 44.  The final out of the game would be a strikeout of future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, one of the 5,714 strikeouts he would record in his career.

Like Brett, the hairline is receding just a bit, but it just reflects the veteran experience that would help Ryan become one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  One stat that jumped out at me is his 222 career complete games, or an average of 10 per 162 games.  Can't imagine today's pitchers getting anywhere near those numbers.  He ended his career being the all-time leader in walks, strikeouts, and hits per nine innings.  The Angels retired his number 30, and the Rangers and Astros both retired his number 34.  Ryan is currently the owner of the Texas Rangers.

Out of those three players, there are three great legacies, as well as some post-playing careers that are still going strong.

There were other '91 Fleer alumni who didn't make the cut in '99.  The one-time balloteers were Mike Witt, Frank Tanana, Charlie Leibrandt, Mike Boddicker, John Candelaria, and George Bell.  In their third year of eligibility, Dave Parker slumped to 16.1%, while Dwight Evans sunk to 3.6%, dropping him off the ballot.  Blyleven's second year saw him dip to 14.1%, just behind Dale Murphy's debut of 19.3%.  Carlton Fisk's debut of 66.4% saw him just barely miss induction, but was a very strong showing.

Well, there you have it, the very first Hall of Fame induction class from the 1991 Fleer set.  Many more posts to come, especially considering that there are some players that are still on the ballot

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