The 1993 Finest set was released at a time when the baseball world was latching onto the story of Mike Piazza, a hard-hitting catcher that had been selected in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. The original set checklist of 198 cards was expanded to accommodate an appearance by the player that would go on to be named 1993’s National League Rookie of the Year. Players selected this far down in the draft are not considered to even remotely have a shot at a long-term MLB career. Somehow, Piazza wasn’t the only longshot appearing in the set. Card #54 featured Jeff Conine, a newly minted member of the expansion Florida Marlins who had been selected in the 58th round of the 1987 draft. The back of Conine’s card even displays his lifetime statistics, all of which were accumulated in 37 games across two MLB seasons.
Prior to Conine’s selection by Kansas City as the 1,225th pick of the draft, he had only appeared in college ball as an uninspiring pitcher. The Royals signed him and implemented a plan to convert him to any other position, so long as he would get regular plate appearances. The work paid off, though not for the Royals. Kansas City let him go to the Marlins in the 1992 MLB Expansion Draft. In Miami he would go on to provide pivotal offense and defense in clutch moments that directly lead to the team’s only World Series championships.
Conine continued his unlikely path and became synonymous with the Marlins. A native of Tacoma, he found himself as the key man on a team at the opposite end of the country and was given the name “Mr. Marlin.” His baseball cards of the era played up the South Florida vibe, as evidenced by cards like his 1993 Topps issue shown below. Last month he rejoined the franchise as a special assistant to the team owner.
I first became aware of Conine a few years into his time with the Marlins. Interest in Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak was becoming feverish and I joined others in speculating who had the capability and remaining opportunity to challenge his performance. Conine was one of only a handful of players with an ongoing streak longer than 162 games so his name began to appear next to Ripken on active player leaderboards. Conine’s streak ended at a little over 300 games (less than two seasons) while the Baltimore shortstop racked up another 2,300+ games above Mr. Marlin’s total. Ripken’s mark will be safe for quite a while.
Conine has since pursued an Iron Man challenge of a different sort. He has competed in several triathlons including the big race in Kona. A later trek to the top of Kilimanjaro only adds to his story.
Comic book fans hoping the Iron Man references had something to do with their interests shouldn’t be too disappointed. Baseball Continuum has a great writeup about the time Conine and Billy the Marlin appeared in a Marvel Comics Spider-Man comic book. Go check it out.