Saturday, September 22, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1998

Part 37 of our 50-year dependable #3 starter...
What is it: 1998 Topps #132, Rick Reed

What makes it interesting: The 1998s are another nice effort from Topps. Nice front, nice back, although sometimes the gold foil names gets lost among the gold borders. Nonetheless, it's one of their better, cleaner designs, similar to the '96s in concept.

It's hard enough to find a Rick Reed baseball card in general. We all know Rick Reed's story, how he was a journeyman who became a replacement player during the 1994 strike out of necessity, how he was then removed from the MLBPA, eventually ostracized by many players and forgotten about. Because most baseball card companies negotiated with the MLBPA, they were not allowed to make cards of Rick Reed. But Topps, who signed players individually, was still able to produce cards of Reed. And after not appearing on any kind of card since 1993, Reed was back on cardboard in 1998. The story goes something like this:

Reed was signed by the Mets as a Free Agent prior to the 1996 season. He spent all of '96 in AAA, playing for Bobby Valentine, who by the end of the '96 season, was managing the Mets. Reed came to Spring Training in 1997 and impressed everyone, so much so that he was named the Mets 5th starter. Despite not being fully accepted by many teammates (John Franco, in particular, was a bit nasty to Reed), Reed took the ball and then took off. After a pair of solid outings that didn't end the Mets way, Reed finally won his first game on April 22nd, against the Cincinnati Reds, a Complete Game effort to boot. I was at this game, and when Reed came to the plate late in the game, fans yelled "SCAB!!" at him. But as the season progressed and Reed continued to pitch well, the jeers stopped. Reed's ERA remained under 2.00 into June, and after winning his 10th game on August 4th, Reed had matched the number of wins he had in his entire career.  Reed finished up the year at 13-9, with an ERA of 2.89. He walked 31 batters in 208.1 innings. The afterthought was now a mainstay.

If Reed was good in '97, he was great in '98. Reed picked up right where he left off, being the steady, dependable presence in the middle of the rotation. He never blew anyone away, he relied on an arsenal of pitches that were always on target and simply kept batters off balance. Not once, but twice in the month of June '98, Reed took Perfect Games into the 7th inning. Reed's perseverance would be rewarded by a trip to the All Star game that year, and his 16 wins and 3.48 ERA were buoyed by 29 walks in 212 innings pitched.

Reed's numbers weren't quite as lofty in 1999 and 2000. Multiple trips to the Disabled List undercut his season in '99, and his numbers regressed to 11-5, 4.58. But with the Mets desperate for victories in the final week of the season, Reed saved his best performances for when they were needed most. Reed's final start of the regular season came on a Saturday Night against Pittsburgh, with the Mets one game out of the Wildcard. Reed would deliver a Complete Game, 3-hit Shutout with 12 strikeouts, keeping the Mets alive and well, and ultimately allowing them to make the Postseason. In the Playoffs, Reed was just as good. His 6 inning effort against Arizona in Game 3 of the NLDS kept the game close until the Mets pulled away for a 9-2 victory. Against Atlanta in the NLCS, Reed was even better in Game 4, pitching shutout ball into the 8th before being felled by a pair of HRs. Nonetheless, the Mets rallied to win the game, and the next day, Reed was in the bullpen, ready to pitch if the game stretched beyond the 15th inning. Had the Mets been able to force a 7th game, Reed would have been on the mound. 2000 was a similarly uneven regular season for Reed, as he finished with an identical 11-5 record, and a 4.11 ERA. Nonetheless, Reed was on the mound on several important instances, including taking the start the night the Mets clinched their second consecutive Wildcard, keeping the Mets afloat and in the game in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, and, of course, a fine 6-inning effort in Game 3 of the World Series.

Reed was off to a fine start in 2001, making his second All Star team and keeping his walk numbers at their usual low level. But with the Mets floundering and pieces being moved around at the trading deadline, and despite signing a 3-year contract in the offseason, Reed would be dealt to the Minnesota Twins in an ill-advised deal for Matt Lawton. Reed was heartbroken, and although he would pitch through 2003 with the Twins (and had an excellent 15-win season in 2002), Reed always considered leaving the Mets as the day "baseball kinda died" for him.

Rick Reed was a consummate competitor and a true rags-to-riches story. Reed pitched with a ton of heart and a ton of smarts, and it served him well in his time with the Mets. Reed departed with 59 wins, a 3.88 ERA and a legion of fans who went from calling him a scab to appreciating everything he brought to the Mets in his 5 years here. Rick Reed was a key member of one of the most successful eras in Mets History. He wasn't always great, but when it was needed most, Reed always delivered with a great effort, and this always endeared him to fans and teammates alike.

Card back:

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