1993 Finest: Andy Van Slyke

Andy Van Slyke once said, “My biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can’t figure out how to spend forty-three dollars in meal money.”

I’ll be honest. I’ve eaten cheap and used left over per diem allowances to pick up a baseball card. I’d do this anyway, but baseball cards are as good a benefit as anything else. I picked up my Andy Van Slyke refractor for less than $43. In fact, I could have bought a combo meal at a fast food restaurant or ducked into a grocery store to put away three solid meals and still had enough left over for this addition to the collection.

For another five cents I could also pick up my favorite Van Slyke card, a brightly colored card from the 1992 Triple Play set. Card #6 from this debut series shows Van Slyke as a 10-year-old Little Leaguer. As a 10-year-old myself when this card was released, it was inspiring to see another kid on a real baseball card. This wasn’t the custom generic-looking one hawked by photographers in my local league. This was an actual piece of professionally made cardboard pulled directly from a pack of cards.

The anti-refractor: Simple, affordable Triple Play cards were introduced by Donruss as a direct response to the takeover of the card collecting hobby by premium brands like Upper Deck.

Van Slyke has some offbeat interests. A man quick to make a quotable remark, he can sometimes sound like the talk radio stations that permeate the Missouri airwaves that he lived near for so long. Numerous cards have mentioned small insights into his personality, like how he likes to peruse the Federal budget (who doesn’t?). Sales taxes charged on cab rides are a pet peeve (man, it’s like we’re best friends). He has listed his favorite singer as Michael W. Smith (you do you, Andy) and his favorite book as Romans. I take a bit of umbridge at this book choice, not because it is from the Bible but because it isn’t a book in any real sense. Romans is a 15-page letter written to a church in the mid-first century AD. At best it’s a pamphlet.

Van Slyke Would Have Been Awesome in the 1970s

Looking at Andy Van Slyke’s stats, I get the feeling that he played baseball just outside of the era in which he would have been most appreciated. He put up very good numbers across multiple categories, batting a respectable .274, stealing 20+ bases, and hitting almost as many home runs per 162 games played. Defensively he was considered to be one of the better center fielders in the game. His WAR metrics show an average of over 4 wins above replacement per 162 games, a level on par with the likes of Paul Molitor and Dwight Evans.

Van Slyke was considered just such a player in the first five years or so of his career, but became overshadowed when the sport’s offensive barrage began building in the late 1980s. Van Slyke continue hitting 15-20 home runs annually but couldn’t compete with the headlines generated by guys like Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Jr., and teammate Barry Bonds. I have a feeling Van Slyke would have still put up similar career numbers had he played from 1974-1985 instead of 1984-1995. Still, one has to tip a cap to a solid member of the Hall of Pretty Good.

Getting a Van Slyke Refractor

This card takes me to one-third completion of the set. A minor hoard of Pittsburg Pirates players has been slowly broken up over the past couple years, freeing up extra copies of what had become a slightly challenging card to locate. I’m not entirely sure what prompted this to happen, though I have seen the same seller moving multiple Pirates refractors one at a time on eBay.

Andy’s ball caps always seemed to be the big, poofy style favored by truck drivers and recipients of free branded hats.