If you collect cards in today’s tech savy world you sometimes forget that ebay or trade boards weren’t always around to easily track down your collecting needs. In the pre-internet world, if you wanted a particular card issue you had to hit the local card store (if you were lucky enough to have one), find a card show to attend (they occured maybe once or twice per year), hit up your friends (not many collected) , or pull the card yourself. Sometimes you even had to send away a little cash (for the dealer’s time) and a SASE to dealers who sold cards by mail. Being a collector of a player like Olerud, who most people in my town never heard of, was kind of a mini challenge. I was fortunate enough to have a local dealer who would hold every Olerud card he would run across (who else would want them right?). Unfortunetly for me, that pile was always pretty small since Olerud played several thousand miles away. By the end of 1992, I had all but given up trying to collect Olerud. It was frustrating to ask for Olerud cards at a show or shop and have the dealer say “Who?” or “Why don’t you collect a good player?” or “we only carry star players!” Even though Olerud was a World Champion, he still played in a market most people on my side of the country didn’t follow or care about in the very least, until a certain magical season in 1993 that changed everything.
In 1993, Olerud became the talk of baseball. He went from unknown obscurity to the top of the Baseball world. Olerud was scorching hot on the baseball field and in the hobby. I was no longer having difficulty finding Olerud cards at shows but unfortunetly for me the price went up and up and up. Olerud even made his first and only appearence on the cover of issue #101 of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly in August 1993:
In this issue was one of my favorite quotes I had ever read about Olerud:
“His bat likes to scream at the top of its lungs. In paragraphs, With proper punctuation.”
At the time, Olerud was still hitting above 0.400 and even though he wouldn’t be able to keep up the miraculous run, he was still on his way to a batting title and his second championship ring. Olerud had solidified a place in the collecting community and a slew of new cards would soon follow. It was also the year I went away to college and heard about a little product named 1993 Topps Finest. My jaw dropped when I saw the price. I was in shock that any Olerud card could ever reach triple digits. In 1993, I had no idea what a refractor was but the 1993 Topps Finest Refractor had to be mine but that would be years away.
In the 1980s I was a huge L.A. Dodgers fan. I grew up wanting to be the next Fernando Valenzuela. I was six years old when Fernandomania hit the nation and sucked me into the game of Baseball. I spent every waking hour trying to pitch just like Fernando. At the time I had no idea what a screwball was but I tried to practice being Fernando for hours. By the time I was old enough to play organized baseball I could look towards the sky and make my delivery just like my hero and I enjoyed every second of it.
As the 80s were wrapping up Fernando had fallen from Baseball’s elite. He was chased away from an organization that he helped bring to glory and as a Dodgers fan I was disgusted. The day the Dodgers let Fernando go I became a fan without a team. I was still a huge baseball fan but having no team to cheer for was difficult. I planned on following Fernando from team to team but by 1991 it looked like Fernando was about to become a part of Baseball’s past.
During the 1990 season, as Fernando was wrapping up his career with the Dodgers, a rookie from the Blue Jays caught my eye. He was tall lanky left hander who had a super sweet swing and word on the street was he was an amazing pitcher in college.
Olerud joined the Blue Jays straight out of college at the tail end of the 1989 season. He had just completed his junior year. A year in which he suffered an aneurysm that nearly killed him. He flat out told teams not to draft him as he was planning on finish college before joining the professional ranks. His draft stock dropped and he fell all the way to the third round. The Jays took a gamble that they could sign him and they did.
Johnny O’s first professional game was September 3, 1989 against the Minnesota Twins. He replaced Fred McGriff in the Top of 9th at 1st base in a game the Jays were getting blown out 9-1 by the Twins. The Jays escaped the top of 9th without giving up any more runs and Olerud stepped up to the plate for the 1st time in his professional career against German Gonzalez to start the bottom of 9th. The always patient Olerud, stood at the plate waiting for his pitch as German Gonzalez fell behind 2-0 to Olerud. The next pitch Olerud delivered, putting the ball in play between first and second for the first of 2239 career hits.
Olerud spent most 1990 as the Blue Jays Designated Hitter and chasing after the American Rookie of Year award. Even though Ole was destined to be a defensive wiz and a fantastic hitter, many people including myself, hoped to see him pitch. By 1991 that dream was no more as Olerud became the starting 1st baseman for a playoff contending Blue Jays team that was just a year away from winning a championship.