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Fifteen Years Later - 1986 Revisited
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by Asher B. Chancey,
Fall, 2001

The 2001 season was one of those rare turning point seasons in which a seasoned group of veterans cements their place in baseball history while a new crop of youngsters tries to establish their place as tomorrow's stars. The trend brings back memories of the early days of my baseball consciousness, which began when I was nine years old with my first pack of baseball cards. Already a rabid baseball fan, I was home sick from school one day when my mother stopped by the Woolworth’s on Canal Street after work. She bought two packs of 1987 Topps (wax packs) to make me feel better, and thus began a lifelong obsession with baseball cards. The two packs of baseball cards became a weekly tradition, and as I opened more packs of cards, I began to learn the names, faces, and careers of such great players as Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, the Niekro brothers, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and Pete Rose. In those days, of course, a player's entire career fit neatly onto the back of his card, and I was particularly drawn to those players for whom Topps had to use a tiny font just to fit them all in (Tommy John and Jerry Reuss come to mind). But what brings me back to that time was something else I noticed about my cards that year. It became apparent over the next few years that the 1987 Topps set contained many great players in the twilight of their careers, as well as a substantial rookie class. In fact, that set contained a complete lineup of greats as well as a complete lineup of youngsters who would run the league for the next ten to twenty years:

1986 Veterans 1986 Rookies/Second Years
C     Bob Boone C    B.J. Surhoff
1B   Pete Rose/Steve Garvey 1B  Wally Joyner/Andres
2B   Willie Randolph Galarraga/Mark McGwire/Will Clark
3B   Mike Schmidt 2B   
SS   Dave Concepcion 3B   Bobby Bonilla
OF  George Foster SS   Barry Larkin/Ozzie Guillen
OF  Reggie Jackson OF  Barry Bonds/Eric Davis
OF  George Hendrick OF   Jose Canseco/Ruben Sierra
OF   Rafael Palmeiro
DH  Dave Kingman/Andre Thornton DH   Danny Tartabull
P    Steve Charlton P    Doug Drabek
P    Phil Niekro P    David Cone
P    Don Sutton P    Greg Maddux
P    Bruce Sutter P    Bobby Thigpen
P    Tom Seaver P    Bobby Witt

The dichotomy is clear. As we bid adieu (although in some cases not for another couple of years) to a class that included five Hall of Famers (six if not for the indiscretions of one Pete Rose), we ushered in a new class of talent who would fill quite nicely the shoes of their predecessors. The similarities between what the 1986 Veterans class had already accomplished and what the 1986 Rookie class would go on to accomplish are somewhat remarkable. Mark McGwire’s steady, if not one dimensional, ascent up the career home run chart without being able to hit is average is certainly reminiscent of Pete Rose’s ascent up the career hit list without hitting for power. Ozzie Guillen’s soft hitting-slick fielding act was no doubt a throw back to Dave Concepcion’s Big Red Machine days. The solid first base played by Will Clark in Texas and San Francisco certainly reminds one of the solid first base played by Steve Garvey in San Diego and Los Angeles.

But wait, there's more. In 1986, Steve Carlton held the record for most Cy Young awards with four, a record that 1986 rookie class member Greg Maddux tied in 1995. It may surprise the average baseball fan to find out that George Hendrick finished his career with over 250 homeruns and over 1,000 RBI’s, just as most fans outside of the Greater Los Angeles area were surprised to discover that when Wally Joyner retired earlier this year, he, too, finished as a member of the 250/1000 club. Bruce Sutter’s five years as baseball’s most dominant closer no doubt appear to be echoed by Bobby Thigpen’s similarly dominant but short career. David Cone and Phil Niekro even both led their leagues in wins and losses at different times in their careers. The most vivid contrast would have to be Barry Bonds, may have more tools than fellow 500 club member Reggie Jackson, but would no doubt trade his 500 stolen bases to be even mistakenly known as Mr. October.

The most startling connection thought is the one that bonds Dave Kingman and Jose Canseco. Both were the premier power hitters in the league at one point, both managed to hit over 40 home runs in a season without hitting over .240, both played on more teams than you can count on one hand (although Kingman almost did it in one season), both were so inept in the field that they were only viable at DH, and both managed to hit over 400 home runs and remain essentially locked out of the Hall of Fame. The fact that Canseco spent his rookie campaign with the same 1986 Oakland Athletics with whom Kingman spent his final year is downright spooky. One can only imagine what may have happened if perhaps Jose would have picked a locker a little further away from Dave’s.

After fifteen years, the cycle has come around, as 2001's veterans head into the sunset, and a new crop of rookies has come along to start their careers. As the 1986 rookies, and several other players who debuted in the 1980s near the twilight of their careers, and at least 4 or 5 of them virtually locked in for the Hall of Fame, the guard once again changes. With the retirement of Will Clark and Wally Joyner at the beginning of the season, the impending retirements of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. at the end of the season, and the likes of Eric Davis, Harold Baines, Rickey Henderson, Mike Morgan, Bret Saberhagen, and Jesse Orosco not likely to be too far behind, the time is ripe for another 1986 style changeover. The 2001 class would make the 1986 class proud:

2001 Veterans 2001 Rookies/Second Years
C     Benito Santiago C    Ben Davis
1B   Will Clark/Wally Joyner 1B  Albert Pujols
2B   Robbie Alomar 2B  Jerry Hairston, Jr. /Alfonso Soriano
3B   Bobby Bonilla 3B  Eric Hinske
SS   Cal Ripken Jr. SS  Jimmy Rollins
OF  Eric Davis OF  Ichiro Suzuki
OF  Rickey Henderson OF  Corey Patterson/Vernon Wells
OF  Tony Gwynn OF  Juan Pierre/Tim Raines Jr.
DH  Harold Baines DH  Daryle Ward/Adam Piatt
P    Bret Saberhaegn P    Wade Miller
P    Mike Morgan P    Roy Oswalt
P    Jesse Orosco P    C.C. Sabathia
P    Bobby Witt P    Joel Pineiro
P    Chuck Finley P    Barry Zito/Mark Mulder

I can only imagine, that somewhere, some nine year old boy is about to open his first pack of baseball cards and begin learning the names and faces of my heroes and of the men who will be his.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at