Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Into the Sunset, Pt. 4: John Olerud
It's hard to say when I first became a John Olerud fan.
It seems like I've been one since...forever.
Best I can remember, he was one of the first players I specifically collected as a kid.
I, like many other baseball fans at the time, noticed something peculiar every time Olerud took his position at first base.
He wore a helmet.
As a nine year-old kid, I thought that was so cool. I can remember wanting to wear one anytime I had to play first base in Little League. He was one of my idols. (Only later did I learn exactly why Olerud wore the helmet, the result of a brain aneurysm during his college days.)
Of course, being the stat geek I was at the time (an attribute that stays with me to this day), I also found out that Mr. Olerud was a pretty darn good hitter as well.
He hovered near the hallowed .400 mark in '93. Although he tailed off near the end of the season, he still captured the AL batting title with a fantastic .363 average that year.
My Olerud collection is nearing the 150-card mark these days. As I took a look through them in preparation for this post, I noticed that Topps never really gave him that one "spectacular" card that most name players seem to get during their careers.
Surprisingly, it was the overlooked Collector's Choice brand that produced Olerud's "peak card" during his career, this one coming from their 1998 release.
This is about as close to a "perfect baseball card" as it gets. Just look at that beautiful landscape shot paired with the fluffy clouds in the background.
Plus, he's even wearing that quirky helmet.
I own four different final cards of Olerud from his final cardboard season in 2005.
So who did the greatest job of sending him "into the sunset"?
Let's find out.
Like many other players that came before, Olerud finished up his career wearing a couple of unfamiliar uniforms.
He spent his second-to-last big league season with the Yankees in '04, appearing in just 49 games for the Bronx Bombers that year.
None of Olerud's final cards are subpar, which is something I can't honestly say about the three players I've already featured in this theme. Each of them had at least one that wasn't exactly a "masterpiece".
In my book, Donruss ranks last out of the quartet of Olerud's "sunset" issues.
However, this isn't a bad one, by any means. A fine shot of the expert hitter at the plate.
In the end, I had to give the number three spot to...
...a card of Olerud in "fielding mode".
Any issues of him wearing that helmet is a favorite in my book.
2005 Fleer Tradition has always been kind of a wild card for me. It's one of those "middling" sets that I can't seem to decide whether I like or not.
I wish Fleer was still around nowadays. I've always felt that they'd be a nice compliment to all the Topps products on the shelves these days.
For now, I'll just have to relive Fleer's glory through their past heroics.
Like this one.
The "silver medal" for Olerud's send-off goes to Topps Heritage.
Topps' 2005 Heritage release pays homage to the classic 1956 Topps design, one of the best vintage sets ever made.
I could never get sick of the dual-image theme of these cards. The portait/action shot combo is one of the most simple, yet fantastic, ideas ever conceived in the world of baseball cards.
The only problem I have with this one is that the black/yellow nameplates in the top-right corner seem more appropriate for a team like the Pirates. I'm not sure how well it works for the Bronx Bombers.
Still, that's only a minor detail, one that doesn't even come close to taking away from the overall greatness of this card.
But Olerud's best "sunset" issue stands out in a big way.
Had this card not been released, there'd be a gaping hole in the cardboard legacy of John Olerud.
A few of my favorite players never received actual cards picturing them with their final teams. Topps never released a card of Orlando Cepeda as a Kansas City Royal. The same can also be said of George Foster's short stay with the White Sox.
I'm glad that Olerud wasn't relegated to that category.
Thankfully, Topps Update came along and saved the day.
He finished his career with the Red Sox in 2005, posting a .289 average in 87 games for Boston that year.
Although I can't tell you exactly why, I recently ranked 2005 Topps as my favorite Topps set of the 2000's. I've always had a soft spot for the general look of these cards.
It might also have something to do with this card.
After all, it was the only set to give John Olerud the goodbye he deserved.