Sunday, September 9, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1995

Part 34 of our 50-year Hitting Streak...

What is it: 1995 Topps #490, Rico Brogna

What makes it interesting: Following the MLB players strike of 1994, the Baseball Card companies all seemed to go to eye-popping, flashy designs for their 1995 issues. For Topps, this basically meant putting a drop-shadow around the player photos, and putting player names in foil for the first time in their history (the ToppsGold inserts notwithstanding). It's not bad, considering some of the preceding issues from Topps, and it's light years better from the vertigo-inducing, acid trip nightmare that was the '95 Fleer set.

If there was ever a Mets player who probably deserved a better fate, it was Rico Brogna. Brogna was one of my favorites during his time here, I even have his autograph on a '95 Upper Deck card.

Rico Brogna was a hot 1B prospect in the Tigers organization who got buried in their system because Cecil Fielder arrived on the scene and started popping HRs all over the place, and also because the Tiger hitting coaches wanted to make him into a pull hitter when his natural swing generally drove the ball the other way. Deemed expendable, Rico was traded to the Mets for Alan Zinter shortly before the '94 season began. After some time in AAA, Brogna was recalled in late June, inserted into the lineup, and proceeded to hit like a house afire. At one point, he'd hit in 15 straight games, and 23 of 25 games overall, including a number of 5 hit games and a 5 hit game. His defense was also first rate as well. Brogna's arrival also coincided with the Mets, fresh off their miserable 103-loss season, beginning to play a considerably better brand of baseball. Immediately, Brogna was anointed the starting First Baseman. Though abbreviated, his '94 season was an undeniable success, as he hit .351 with 7 HRs and 20 RBI in just 131 ABs.

Brogna continued his fine play in 1995. With the Mets shedding many of their ugly salaries, Brogna was the one constant for the Mets, leading the team with 22 HRs and 76 RBIs, while hitting .289. Entrenched as the 3rd hitter in the lineup, Brogna had a flair for the clutch, and his .998 fielding percentage was best among NL 1Bmen. 1996 appeared to be more of the same, but a shoulder injury slowed him down and eventually ended his season in June. At season's end, Brogna, who had been diagnosed with a form of spinal arthritis while in the Detroit system (a condition that caused the Mets concern that he might have to retire), was mysteriously dealt to the Phillies for a pair of terrible relief pitchers, Toby Borland and Ricardo Jordan. The Phillies got the better of the deal, as Brogna had a pair of 100 RBI seasons for them, while neither Borland nor Jordan lasted the '97 season with the Mets (Fortunately, the Mets swung an equally masterful deal that offseason to land Brogna's replacement, John Olerud, so things worked out for the Mets as well).

Though Brogna's time with the Mets was rather brief, and his departure a bit ignominious, Brogna did leave a positive impression with the Mets. A friendly, charitable type, Brogna was generally regarded as a fan favorite while he was here, and remained popular with Mets fans long after he departed.

Card back:

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