Every week the Top 7 column will be enhanced by the newest addition to the JoeSportsFan Radio Network, Seven Minutes with Jason Major, where our Top 7 guru rants on the current topic, touches on previous lists and also vehemently defends his Cardinals bias…all in around seven minutes.
As the Top 7 likes to do from time to time, we are going to discuss some old baseball card nostalgia. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Topps had their Future Stars, team leader cards, record breaker cards, and season highlight cards. Fleer had those split-picture rookie cards. But none of the three major companies had a subset quite like the Donruss Diamond Kings. Painted by Dick Perez (who eventually got his own Diamond King card because of it), it highlighted the best players from each team from the previous season. We have two “unfortunatelys” though. First, Donruss eventually got into the “insert” craze and made Diamond Kings only one in a certain number of packs, so they were harder to find and harder to finish the set. Secondly, trying to go Joe The Plumber and spread the wealth around, or trying to have an excuse to get an extra card for a certain player in their set, or just out of plain stupidity, some of their selections were a bit questionable. This week’s Top 7 looks at the most random Diamond Kings.
7. Scott Sanderson, 1992
How did Yankee fans put up with this? It’s amazing that just four years before they started dominating baseball with an insane amount of good, homegrown talent, and Scott Sanderson was their best player according to Donruss. For baseball card purposes, it is actually quite surprising that they didn’t put Kevin Maas in Sanderson’s spot since Maas is the undisputed king of hyped-up baseball cards that are now completely worthless.
6. Al Martin, 1994
With Barry Bonds out of the picture in Pittsburgh, it was Al Martin’s time to shine. Whether he’s a Diamond King or not is a different story, but there is no question that he’d make the 7 best players ever named Al. Al Downing, Al Nipper…that may be it actually. Al Martin is also incredibly entertaining—he said that he played football at USC, and it was even on the back of one of his Topps cards. Not only did he not play football at USC, but he didn’t even attend college at USC. It’s possible that Al Martin is secretly a comedic genius and needs his own show. [Post script: Al Martin, in fact, did NOT have a Diamond King, my source was wrong. He stays on the list though, because I wanted to talk about Al Martin.]
5. Greg Swindell, 1992
You have to feel bad for an early 90s Indian player. Swindell had a respectable 3.48 ERA in 1991, but went 9-16. The bigger story here is that Albert Belle was clearly the best player on Cleveland that year—28 homers and a 134 OPS+. Did Belle manage to piss off someone at Donruss too? Barry Bonds is quite the hated player, but he is Derek Jeter compared to Albert Belle. Plus, his only crimes were throwing a ball into the stands at a fan, and chasing down a bunch of kids who egged his house on Halloween. With the amount of vitriol aimed at him, one would think he could have at least snuck a murder or two in there.
4. Dave Schmidt, 1989
I wasted all of my money between the ages of 8 and 12 on baseball cards. I probably could tell you what every picture of every major card set looks like for about four years’ worth of cards. I also consider myself to know a lot of former random players. However, I am convinced that there was never a guy named Dave Schmidt. Baseball Reference is lying to me. They say that he went 8-5 for the legendary 0-21 start ’88 Orioles, good enough for a Diamond King over Cal Ripken. Who is Dave Schmidt? By the way, you can buy the 1989 Donruss Diamond Kings checklist on E-Bay for $1.00. What percent of people do you think actually used the checklist as a checklist? Probably somewhere around 10 to the negative sixth power percent.
3. Johnny Ray, 1986 and 1989
Are you Johnny Ray? Who wants to know, who wants to know? I want to know how Johnny Ray could be a Diamond King TWICE in his career. I used to think that his most crowning baseball card achievement was having an error card worth hundreds of dollars because he was mistaken for Barry Bonds. I stand corrected, because Johnny Ray, a guy whose top similarity score on Baseball Reference is Adam Freaking Kennedy, was named as the best player on his team twice. Perhaps there is still hope for Craig Paquette.
2. Mike Bielecki, 1990
In 1989, the Cubs went to the NLCS against the Giants, where Will Clark hit somewhere around .780 in the Cubs’ defeat. The Cubs were stacked that year: Jerome Walton was rookie of the year and had a 30-game hitting streak. Mark Grace and Andre Dawson led the offense, and they also had an up-and-coming pitched named Greg Maddux. Somehow, Mike Bielecki got the call as the best player of that season. Give Donruss an MVP and Hall of Fame vote immediately!
1. Pete O’Brien, 1990
This is as inexplicable as a guy throwing for 34 yards in a playoff game and winning. Pete O’Brien was the Indians’ recipient of the Diamond King in 1990, and he hit .260 with 12 homers and 55 RBI from the first base position. His teammate, Joe Carter, who was not even a 1989 Diamond King, hit 35 homers with 105 RBI. They might as well have made it Eddie Harris.