Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Card #21: Baltimore Orioles Future Stars

Who Can It Be Now?
It's the best 3-headed rookie card in the entire 1982 Topps set, showing up at Card #21. Everyone who might read this blog must know who Cal Ripken is -- whether as a shortstop or at 3rd Base, as this card says -- so let's focus on Bonner and Schneider a bit.

First, Robert Averill Bonner -- Bobby, as he is known in most places -- was a Texan by birth and was age 25 when this card went to press.  He attended Texas A&M, and was selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 1978 June Draft.  Bonner had been drafted twice before -- in the 10th round out of high school in 1974 by the Expos and after his junior year at A&M by the Royals in the 9th round.  Immediately on signing, he was placed in the AA Southern League at Charlotte and struggled at the plate.  

Bonner actually debuted for the Orioles as a 23-year-old in 1980, making four plate appearances in four games.  He hit .296 over 27 at-bats in a 1981 stint with Baltimore, but even this small sample portended problems with his plate approach -- he walked only one time in 29 plate appearances.  Bonner lasted just 4 seasons -- 1980 through 1984.  He appeared in 61 games, had 108 at-bats, and had a slash line of .194/.219/259.  He even tried his hand at pitching in the minors in 1984 -- he was drafted as a pitcher out of high school -- but that was scrapped after he made 4 unsuccessful appearances.  Bonner appeared on cards in the 1982 Donruss set and in the 1983 Fleer set.

In comparison to his other non-Ripken cardmate, however, Bonner had a long career. Jeffrey Theodore Schneider was born in Bremerton, Washington on December 6, 1952, but graduated high school from Alleman Catholic in Rock Island, Illinois before attending Iowa State University.  Schneider was drafted twice -- once right of out high school by the Cubs in the 18th round of the June 1970 draft and by the Rangers in the 2nd Round of the January 1973 draft, but he did not sign either time.  He was only signed in 1974 by the Phillies as an amateur free agent.  The Orioles then picked him up in the 1978 Rule 5 draft.

Schneider apparently made it on this card on the strength of his 1981 year at Rochester, where he served as a closer of sorts for the Rochester Red Wings.  He picked up 12 saves and finished 34 games for Rochester with a 2.35 ERA.  Schneider's problem was control -- over any one full season, he never had a BB/9 ratio of under 4.  

On the strength of that minor league season, the Orioles called him up in August of 1981. Schneider made 11 appearance for the O's, allowing 27 hits, 12 walks, and 4 home runs in 24 innings.  More tellingly, he appearance in a game that the Orioles won just once -- a 12-inning affair against Seattle on August 25 in which got the final out for his one and only save in his major league career.  He made his final appearance as a major leaguer against the Yankees in October of that year, and this card is his only appearance on a baseball card as a major leaguer during his career.

Goody Two Shoes
This category -- hopefully one of the last I will have to introduce, but you just never know -- will cover those players whose faith and religion have helped define their life.  Here, it applies to Bobby Bonner.  The major source of information on Bonner anywhere on the internet comes from the faith-based missionary organization that Bonner helped found called International African Missions -- I AM, for short.  

According to his biography on that site, Bonner and his wife first went on a mission trip to Africa in 1988 to Zambia.  The site then reprinted an interview that Bonner did with the website "Ripken in the Minors" -- which, by all indications, is an excellent site serving as an oral history of sorts for Cal Ripken's career.  That interview is an excellent source for information both on Cal and on Bonner.  There is one part of that interview that truly makes Bonner fit this category well:
I went to spring training and hit over .300 in spring training.  Joe Altobelli was our new manager.  He called me into his office and said they were going to send me back to the minor leagues and asked if I wanted to know why.  I"m thinking to myself that they've moved Ripken to short so I'm out of a job but I said, "I don't know why you're sending me down."  
He said, "You're taking this Jesus thing a little to far." And I said, "What?"  I was shocked.  He said, "You make everybody nervous." And I said, "What?"   He said, "You don't fit in.  You bring your Bible to the ballpark and talk about Jesus all the time."
I said, "Let me ask you something, Joe.  Do I play hard when I'm on the field?" He said, "Yeah, and we're not concerned about that.  We're concerned about your other things.  You have to leave Jesus in Church.  You can't bring Him to the ballpark with you."  
I said, "Joe, you don't know your Bible, man.  He lives in my heart and goes wherever I go."
Joe said these words to me and I'll never forget them.  He said, "Well, he ain't goin' to Baltimore."
Everybody Wants You
While Bonner mentions in the remainder of his interview with the Ripken site that he could not get Baltimore to trade him, Schneider did not have that same problem.  In fact, he was sent to the California Angels with Doug DeCinces -- a move that opened up third base for Cal Ripken -- in exchange for Dan Ford.

Don't You Want Me?
On the other side of the coin, Schneider also pitched so poorly in AAA Spokane for the Angels -- 24 innings, 6 strikeouts, 19 hits, 19 walks -- that he either was sent to Toronto or released by the Angels and signed by Toronto.  It did not make any ripple in any of the agate print I can find online, though.  

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Of course, Cal Ripken is the star of this card and this card is the star of the 1982 Topps set. Cal was the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year, the 1983 AL Most Valuable Playerthe 1991 Most Valuable Player, a two-time Gold Glove winner, an eight-time Silver Slugger winner, an 18-time All-Star, and a shoo-in as a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2007 when he received 98.5% of the vote.  He's one of those guys -- as was his ballot-mate, Tony Gwynn -- about whom you ask the BBWAA voters who did not vote for him the question: What more was he supposed to do to make the Hall of Fame? Cure cancer?

It was interesting to me to see what happened to Bonner and Schneider.  Bonner comes across in his interview with the Ripken in the Minors site as you would expect a pastor to be -- eloquent, full of stories, and engaging.  He was and is determined, and he has faith that his path has been the one that God has chosen for him.  He speaks as a man of passion -- the passion that he has found his purpose in life and is carrying it out.

Schneider's interview is one of a man who appears very guarded.  I don't know, of course, how much editing went into each interview posted on line there, but Schneider's answers are short, clipped, and terse.  

As an aside, all three men on this card appeared in the thirty-three inning marathon baseball game in April and June of 1981 between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings.  The game was a pitchers duel.  Schneider struck out 8 men in 5-1/3 innings that game after coming on in the ninth inning to pitch.  The game was suspended at 4:09 AM after 32 innings were played.  19 people were left in the stands at this point.  

The game was picked up again on June 23 in front of almost 6,000 fans and multiple television networks.  Interest in the game had picked up tremendously because, after all, the major leagues were in the middle of a players' strike.  Future major leaguer Marty Barrett scored the inning run in the game on a hit by Dave Koza (who never made the majors).  

The box score for that game is a fun one to review, if only to see lines like Red Wing Dallas Williams's 13 0 0 0 box score line -- 0-13 is a slump, not a game line!  Interestingly, the losing pitcher was Steve Grilli -- the father of current Pirates closer Jason Grilli.

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