Collecting Brandon Beachy
Thursday night, my wife and I drove over to Discover Mills mall in Lawrenceville. John Smoltz was there signing his recent book, Stating and Closing. We arrived about an hour and a half before the signing was set to begin, and was fortunate enough to get place 73 in line. We appeared to be the only people with a single copy of the book to be signed. I could see people buying copy after copy, seemingly for every Braves fan they know. Me? I’m not that nice I guess.
I struck up a conversation with the older guy in line in front of me. His son used to own a card and memorabilia shop over in Roswell. At some point, he stopped selling cards since he couldn’t compete with the internet retailers. Eventually he would sell his shop and now works as an independent dealer of signed jerseys and stuff. He said that his son has a closet filled with signed Braves jerseys, including a Spahn and a Mathews. His son already had a lot of Smoltz stuff, but he thought he would enjoy a signed copy of the Smoltz book.
When an individual picked up their number, the bookstore employee would place a yellow post it note on the title page. We were told that if we want the book personalized, to put the name on the post it. The old guy saw my name and informed that I would have a hard time selling the book if I got the autograph personalized. Well, OK then.
Of course, I have no intention of ever selling the book. John Smoltz remains one of my favorite players in the history of the game. As the line moved through the store, I thought back over his career. When Smoltzy was first called up in 1988, he got knocked around quite a bit. He seemed to put it all together on the awful 1989 Braves team, but Smoltz was wildly inconsistent through the early part of his career. It’s hard to forget a year like 1991 when he had his infamous Jekyll and Hyde season (2–11 5.16 through July 6, 12–2 2.63 after), which he followed up with a dominating post-season. Still, other than game 7 of the 1991 World Series, I’m having trouble remembering any defining moment from the early years of his career. Maybe I’m just getting old.
It took the line a while to wind through the store to the signing table. We were all Braves fan, so no one complained when someone started streaming the audio from the game to their phone. That brings me to Brandon Beachy.
It was young pitching that led the Braves out of the cellar, and it was young pitching that looked to lead the Chicago Cubs to greatness in 2003 and beyond. That year, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were dominating and led the Cubs deep into the post-season. (Just in case there’s a Cubs fan reading this, I won’t mention how it all ended.) It wasn’t long after that season that Mark Prior’s arm troubles began. It was seemingly one injury after another and now he finds himself attempting yet another comeback with the Red Sox.
On Friday, Kerry Wood pitched in his last major league baseball game. It was announced that Wood would retire after one more appearance. He struck out Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox and was taken out of the game. He shook the hands of his teammates, walked back to the dugout where his young son jumped into his arms. The Cubs fans even demanded a curtain call. It was a special moment that I think any baseball fan could appreciate.
When Wood and Prior looked ready to dominate the National League for years to come, they were the darlings of the hobby. Many of their cards sold for prices that most of us couldn’t imagine paying for a single card. Many of the people who bought their cards considered them investments. In the hobby, there are no riskier bets than a pitcher. A Prior card that sold for hundreds a few years ago can now be picked up for a few dollars. I wonder if collectors thought about that during the run on Stephen Strasburg cards a few years ago?
Kerry Wood’s autograph cards are neither cheap nor expensive. They are certainly within a price range that most people could acquire one if they really wanted one. His career was up and down, but it was his defining moment in 1998 that ensured that his cards would never bottom out completely. In just the 5th start of his career, Kerry Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros in a complete game shutout. He gave up one hit and did not walk anyone. It was a historically dominating performance and sent expectations through the roof for the young fireballer. They were expectations that no one could have lived up to, but after a few injuries and a constant battle for consistency, Wood really didn’t even get a chance. Still, he got to leave the game on his own terms, with his head held high and thousands of fans applauding. How many guys in the big leagues wouldn’t want that?
I don’t want to make too much of Brandon Beachy’s performance Thursday night. Historically, complete game shutouts have always been a big deal, but until recently, they weren’t exactly rare. Still, Beachy had the look and the composure of a guy who is ready to become the ace of a major league staff. Was this a defining moment? It certainly isn’t the type of early career moment that brought Kerry Wood to national attention. It wasn’t historic. It was simply the type of performance that made us all appreciate the Braves big three: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Brandon Beachy is one of those guys whose story makes everyone want to root for him. Following his junior year at Indiana Wesleyan, Beachy was not drafted. The Braves signed him as an undrafted free agent. When he was moved into the Mississippi Braves starting rotation during the 2010 season, his career took off. He found himself first in AAA and then filling in for the injured Jair Jurrjens as the Braves tried to scrap their way into the post-season. Beachy wasn’t a guy listed on top prospect lists. His rise was as unexpected as it was exciting. He may have suffered through some inconsistency during the 2011 season, but he showed that he was already a major league caliber pitcher.
This year, the Braves are seemingly a different team. They’ve become pretty darn good at scoring runs, but the starting pitching has been iffy. Jair Jurrjens is now a AAA pitcher. Mike Minor has been dismal. Randall Delgado seems to throw two of three disastrous pitches every start that cost him. Fortunately, Tim Hudson is reliable and Tommy Hanson has more dominating innings than bad innings. Still, the Braves most reliable started this season has been Brandon Beachy. Are we witnessing the start of a great career?
That’s a loaded question. Really, it’s best not to get too excited about a starting pitcher until a few great years have passed. Still, I’m a fan and how can you not be excited about the performance of a kid like Beachy? I was excited enough after the game that I got onto eBay and purchased four of Beachy’s early autographed cards. See, there’s good news about collecting Brandon Beachy. Since the expectations for his career have grown organically, the prices for his cards have only risen moderately. If something happens, if it all doesn’t pan out for him, the card values don’t have far to fall. On the other hand, if he continues to grow our expectations of him with his performance on the field, we’ll be able to smile knowing we already have his cards while others pay top dollar.
Buying up cards of young pitchers is risky business. Still, I’m betting on Brandon Beachy.