(Today is "Teddy Bear Day". Sadly, I never had a teddy bear when I was a tyke. Probably explains why I'm so screwed up now. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 231st in a series):
This probably doesn't happen as much these days with the number of fans involved in fantasy baseball and internet junkies pouring over stats from the lowest levels of the minors, but there comes a time in a person's life when he discovers a player on a baseball card who he never knew existed.
Perhaps you don't remember the exact instant this happened for you, but I remember it for me.
It was early in my senior year of high school. Baseball cards were becoming less prominent in my life, but I still collected actively. The baseball card season had ended (back then, there were card "seasons" and the baseball card season stopped around September or October as that year's packs slowly disappeared to make way for football card packs and football card season). But there was still one more thing to do.
I had read somewhere that Topps was issuing a special, boxed Traded set for the second straight year. I had missed out on the first one, but was determined to land the second one. I placed my order through the mail and waited impatiently for the weeks to pass. I don't remember exactly when it arrived, maybe around November, but I couldn't wait to crack that tidy blue box for 132 exclusive '82 Topps Traded cards.
Everyone knows this set as the one with Cal Ripken Jr.'s solo rookie card, but I was just as interested in the other cards: my first Steve Sax card, George Foster as a Met, the rookie card for Bob Dernier.
I shuffled through them one by one, reveling in the familiar players wearing strange new uniforms, the rookies I had followed all during the 1982 season, the card backs that were red instead of green, and then it happened ...
Near the end of the stack -- the cards are numbered alphabetically -- I came to Steve Stroughter.
At least I think that's how you pronounce it. I had never heard of the guy.
This was a very unfamiliar feeling. I had spent the previous eight years building my baseball knowledge, through baseball cards, TV games, magazines and books, even visiting MLB parks. The result was when I pulled cards out of a pack, I knew every last player. Randy Martz. Dennis Littlejohn. I knew them all. Year after year.
And then, Steve Stroughter. Whose name I didn't know how to pronounce.
Stroughter never had another Topps card. Or a Donruss or Fleer card. You could not go to the store, buy a pack of cards and pull a Steve Stroughter card. He only appeared in a box, that came to your address.
Because there were no other Stroughter cards, I promptly forgot about him. But I did not forget that I didn't know every player in the majors anymore. As the years moved on, I went to college and then started getting jobs, I no longer felt the need or could be even bothered with knowing every player. It was almost a point of pride that I didn't know them all. "I have a life, you know."
But Stroughter still bothered me back in my brain. Who was that guy? It still bothers me now.
So I looked him up.
Stroughter's entire major league experience was 26 games for the Mariners in 1982. He batted .170, playing mostly DH but a little in the outfield.
The back of his Traded card gives you an idea of where he spent the rest of his time.
Years and years in the minors. Even a stint in the Mexican League in 1978. He was drafted (No. 1, by the way) by the Giants in 1971, for crying out loud!
I looked at his stats -- he played in the minors for the Giants, Angels, Mariners and Twins -- and his batting stats are pretty healthy each year. Yet, teams didn't seem eager to advance him quickly. Consecutive seasons in Single A, then Double A, then a lot of years in Triple A.
I wondered why he could do so well repeatedly in the minors and not get a chance in the majors for 11 years.
I think I discovered at least one of the reasons in an anecdote from a book called "Baseball's Even Greater Insults". Mariners manager Rene Lachemann called Stroughter "Stevie Wonder," because "every time they hit the ball to him, you wonder what's going to happen."
So problems on defense may have kept Stroughter away from the majors -- and prevented me from knowing who he was.
His inclusion in the 1982 Traded set was not just a surprise to me. I was happy to see someone else wrote about the shocking appeareance of Stroughter.
For those who prided themselves on knowing all of the major league players every year, this was a crushing development.
Today, there isn't a week that goes by where I hear about a player that I've never heard of before, look him up and realize he's pitched in 27 games already this season. That's the nature of my life, as well as the fact that there are more teams than there were in 1982 and far more transactions than there once was.
But it all started with Stroughter and a box of 1982 Topps Traded.
It's more than the Ripken rookie card set. Hell, I've heard of that guy.