Saturday, October 4, 2014

Comparing the Major League Debut Classes of 1994 and 2014.

In 1990, Topps created a set honoring the players who made their MLB debut during the 1989 campaign. It was a relatively successful set, with future HOF's like Ken Griffey, Jr., and Deion Sanders (okay, he's in the Football HOF) and others. In 2009, I created a post comparing the MLB Debut classes of 1989 and 2009 in honor of that set. To coincide with the MLB Debut 1990 and 1991 boxed sets, I also wrote a post comparing the MLB Debut classes of 1990 and 2010 and again for the MLB Debut classes of 1991 and 2011.

Sadly, they stopped creating this set. I wish they would bring it back, if only so that every player who makes it to the majors has at least one Topps card to call his own. But even though Topps stopped the MLB debut sets (and they don't plan on making them any time soon), I continued comparing the MLB Debut classes of 1992 and 2012 & 1993 and 2013. As the 2014 MLB season ended just ended, now would be a good time to review this year's 2014 MLB debutantes and compare them to the class of 1994. These have been fun posts for me to write, and it's nice to look back to see how the future stars of my youth (I was 18 in 1994), performed over the years. This article will be a bit more special for me as I will be attending my 20 Year High School Reunion next week.

According to Baseball Reference, 18,408 athletes have entered their names into the annals of Major League Baseball record-keeping. In fact, 234 of them made their MLB Debuts in 2014. That's 234 more players that have etched their names into history books, baseball encyclopedias, and baseball websites. Two hundred thirty-four more players who finally reached the pinnacle of their professional careers, no matter how long or how brief their stay was. They can honestly say that they have arrived.

In 1994, 114 players made their big league debuts, down from 203 players the year before (don't forget that the season ended a bit early thanks to the players' strike). Among the first of nine players to debut was Alex Gonzalez (who debuted on April 4, 1994), the last was Duane Singleton (who made his first appearance on August 4, 1994). Eleven players who would debut during the 1994 campaign would go on to become All-Stars at some point in their careers. We'd all get to know their names on a regular basis like Alex Rodriguez, Garret Anderson, Armando Benitez, Jeff Cirillo, Charles Johnson, Mike Lieberthal, Ricky Bottalico, Jon Lieber, Jose Lima and Chan Ho Park. Players who had high expectations, but eventually faded from the spotlight (William VanLandingham, John Hudek, Gar Finnvold, Kurt Miller) also made their debuts in 1994.

Believe it or not, one player who made his debut in 1994 was still on a MLB roster during the 2014 season (ehh...technically, he was...right?). The debutantes of 1994 (as of the end of the 2014 season) combined for 30 All-Star Game appearances, 2,489 home runs (654 by A-Rod), 10,705 runs batted in, 1,283 stolen bases, and a batting average of about .262. Pitchers who debuted in 1993 have gone on to a combined record of 1379-1464, saved 829 games, completed 100 games, faced 111,690 batters, struck out 18,750 of them, gave up 3,344 home runs, and had a cumulative ERA of 4.59.

At any given point during the 2014 season, there were 750 players on active rosters (not counting those on the disabled list). And in amongst the shuffling of talent, 234 baseball players, some who'd toiled in the minors for a very long time (Jumbo Diaz and Guilder Rodriguez come to mind), and at least one player who was drafted in the 2014 free agent draft (Brandon Finnegan), got to step onto the field of a major league stadium for the very first time and play at least one inning of major league baseball. One hundred two of them were position players, the other 132 stepped onto the pitcher's mound for the very first time. Of the 234, two were born in 1994 (Rougned Odor and Dilson Herrera), and the oldest player to debut was 33 years old (Tsuyoshi Wada).

The 2014 debutantes combined for two All-Star Game appearances (Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka), 247 home runs, 1,140 runs batted in, 179 stolen bases, and a cumulative .243 batting average. Pitchers went 200-233 with an ERA of 4.06, striking out 3,304 batters, and saved 18 games.

Just for fun, let's compare both classes:
Of the players from the debut class of 2014, just like in 1994, there could be some Hall of Fame candidates. Most may go on to All-Star caliber, or very long careers in the bigs. And for some, this may be their only year in the majors. But all of them can say that they achieved their dream of being a Major League Ballplayer.

And nothing can take that away from them.

I've clamored before about wanting to bring back the Major League Debut set. But I know in today's age of exclusive contracts and rookie card restrictions that a set of this type might never see the light of day again. And although I have a feeling that many collectors would not want to get a set that might have stars but plenty of "never will be's" amongst them, a set like this could contain the only card of a player who played in one inning of major league ball.

Who knows what the future will bring for the 234 players who first appeared in 2014. Most might never play in the majors again, disappearing in the obscurity of minor league baseball for the rest of their professional careers. Creating a set called the 2015 MLB Debut 2014 would give them a slim piece of cardboard immortality.

Oh well, I can dream, can't I???


JayBee Anama

P.S. Some time this week, I will post my picks as to who I think will make the 2014 Topps All-Star Rookie team. There will be a contest involved. Details to come soon. jba

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