1987. A bad Padres team, a Tony Gwynn batting title. For any Padres fan in their late 20s and above, this is pretty much par for the course. 1987 is the foundation upon which my Padres fandom has been built; 1987 is burned into my soul. While 1984 got me to take notice of all the fun everyone was having (I was 4, so come on!), 1987 was the year I began to have a concept of how to appreciate the game. With that, I started collecting baseball cards.
I did love my baseball cards. I’ve heard stories about people driving all over town buying every pack they could, in an attempt to find a Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck rookie card. That was never me, though. I took care of my cards, but I couldn’t have cared less what Beckett had to say about their value. They were a window, and it allowed me to get a glimpse inside of a game which (up to that point) had been relegated to 51 (road) games on channel 51. They allowed me to learn about things like John Kruk’s potent bat having earned him a job as a 4th outfielder. And that Walla Walla, Washington had a baseball team. Baseball cards were gospel to this young fan.
Which is why I am haunted by Tim Pyznarski.
Tim Pyznarski was a first baseman acquired in a trade with the Oakland A’s for Joe Lansford. Think of this trade as a predecessor to Allan Dykstra for Eddie Kunz, or the future Donavan Tate trade: one first round flameout for another. After an unremarkable first season at hitter-friendly Cashman Field, Pyznarski put up big numbers in 1986. .326/23/119 with a 991 OPS was good enough for not only Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year and PCL Most Valuable Player; at 26 years of age, Pyznarski had finally earned his first call up to the big leagues.
It was a pretty bitter cup of coffee. .238/0/0 581 OPS, 64 OPS+. The only thing slightly above-average was his 71 wRC+. Struggling during a September call-up isn’t unusual, so on the wings of stellar minor league campaign, Topps labeled Tim Pyznarski of the San Diego Padres a “Future Star” in the 1987 set.
Oops, I forgot to mention that it was the TOPPS/Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year, not just Sporting News! Anyway, Tim Pyznarski wasn’t a future star. Tim Pyznarski wasn’t even a future Las Vegas Star. Prior to the 1987 season, he was sent to Milwaukee as the player to be named later in the Randy Ready trade. While my young self was waiting for Future Star Tim Pyznarski to arrive and save the Padres, he was spending the next three years with three different organizations. His 15 games with the Padres in 1986 were the only time he would step on a Major League field.
Growing up with the expected Arrival of Pyznarski, and maturing through the Gunslinger era, has colored how I view Padres Baseball. Where I should hate the crapshoot of the minor league system, I view it as absolutely vital. I like how the Padres have focused more energy on building through the system, but the promise needs to become reality. The depth we see in the system now needs to be built upon so that we see high-ceiling prospects become impact players at Petco Park. Not just because the Padres can’t afford to make moves on the open market (which is debatable), but that a great franchise should have a sustainable flow of talent coming through the system. And remember, fans: not every prospect needs to be a star. You have to develop bench players, too!
As much as this sounds like I’m poking fun at Pyznarski, he doesn’t carry the blame here. At 26 years old and a career year in a hitter’s haven, Tim Pyznarski never should have been labeled a “Future Star”. Especially when, in 1987, that distinction was bestowed upon the likes of Bo Jackson, Rafael Palmeiro, BJ Surhoff, and future Padres whipping boy Dave Magadan.
And for the kid who has been hanging on to the hope given by modern “Future Stars” cards, I say this: the system is improving. There is hope, but don’t bank on Kevin Cameron saving the day.