The Closest Thing to a Rookie Pitcher in ’93 Finest

I bought five refractors on the day I began collecting the set. A pair of Milwaukee Brewers, Darryl Hamilton and Cal Eldred, made up the third and fourth cards of my set and single-handedly provided one third of the team’s representation.

Eldred was a player expected to make an impact on the Brewers and the hobby. He picked up a few innings at the end of 1991 and then was lights-out good for the ’92 season. He pitched 100 innings and made a serious run for the Rookie of the Year Award despite not joining the club until after the All-Star break. A sub-2.00 ERA, double-digit wins, and a crazy-low 0.36 HR/9 IP ratio sent collectors scurrying to find his cards late in the season. Topps was ready for Eldred in 1993, placing him in the ’93 Finest checklist despite having the lowest number of appearances of any pitcher in the set.

The Brewers quickly sought to remedy his lack of playing time and promptly assigned 258 innings of work. His numbers reverted back to normal with the increased workload and heavy use is thought to have contributed to elbow issues that ultimately derailed his career.

Above: Doesn’t Cal look like he’s having trouble making a shadow puppet in the photo on the back of the card?

This particular card was purchased ungraded on eBay and took my set completion up to 2.01%. PSA would eventually assign a grade of Mint 9 to the card. Looking back at my purchases of the past several years, the raw cards I purchased on the auction site generally graded well. Eldred had been a player I was interested in at the time the card was released. I would have been thrilled back then if I was told that I was to receive a random refractor and it turned out to be this one.

Back in 1993 I did not have an Eldred refractor or even the base Topps Finest version. Honestly, I didn’t even have his regular Topps issues from 1992 or 1993. I did, however, make a trip to my local baseball card shop/movie rental store and purchase his 1992 Fleer Ultra rookie card. This card had so much going for it back then, including gold foil, gallons of gloss, and a mix of brightly colored gradients and fake marble. Three decades later I distinctly remember paying $4 for this card. Even after it became apparent his wasn’t Milwaukee’s version of Nolan Ryan, I kept the card in a “Rookie Card”-stamped top loader and never relegated it to the common bin.