U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year of the Card–Pat Tabler, 1990
It makes sense that a hitter has a better chance to get a hit when he comes up with the bases loaded. Unless the hitter is 2002 Barry Bonds or something, most pitchers are loath to walk in a run and prefer to throw strikes and hope the line drive is hit at someone. Major leaguers combined for a .416 slugging percentage with the bases loaded last year, which is actually lower than I expected. But it was still higher than every other scenario except first-and-third and first-only.
Which brings us to Pat Tabler. Although he was a first-round pick, an All-Star, and won a World Series with Toronto in 1992, I think most people who remember Tablerâ€™s playing days remember his amazing hitting with the bases loaded. Although he was a decent hitter overall (.282/.345/.379), with the bases loaded, Tabler hit .489/.505/.693 in his career. Granted, that only covers 109 plate appearances, but those are still impressive numbers.
â€œI don’t have any theories. I might concentrate a little harder, and maybe the pitcher comes in a little bit, but I just try to put the ball in play.â€â€”Pat Tabler, quoted in Sports Illustrated, April 24, 1989
Patrick Sean Tabler was born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1958. He graduated from Archbishop McNicholas High School in Cincinnati in 1976 and was drafted in the first round (16th overall) by the Yankees. It took him a little while to get his minor-league career going, and he spent 2 Â½ seasons at Class A Fort Lauderdale before moving up to the next level. But he tore up AA pitching in 1980 and AAA pitching in 1981. The Yankees of that era were certainly good, but that may have been the height of George Steinbrennerâ€™s madness, and the Yankees were often trading prospects at the drop of a hat.
For some reason, New York dealt Tabler to the Cubs for players to be named later. Those players ended up being Bill Caudill and Jay Howell, both of whom were swiftly dealt elsewhere by the Yankees (Caudill never even played a game in pinstripes). Anyway, Tabler stayed at AAA throughout the major league playersâ€™ strike, then was promoted and made his major league debut on August 21, 1981. However, he didnâ€™t hit in his major-league trial, so it was back to AAA in 1982.
Although he had been drafted as an outfielder, the Yankees had converted him to a second baseman. Now the Cubs tried to make him a third baseman. Once again, the bat was there in AAA (how about a 1.025 OPS?) but not so much in the majors after he was called back up. The emergence of Ryne Sandberg and the Cubsâ€™ acquisition of Ron Cey made Tabler expendable, and he was dealt across town to the White Sox, who in turn traded him to Cleveland right before the beginning of the 1983 season.
Finally given a chance to play every day (and also entering his prime at age 25), Tabler posted a .291/.370/.409 line, then followed that with two similar seasons. In 1986, he really took off, hitting .326/.368/.433, and made the All-Star team in 1987 with a .307/.369/.439 line. And he finally settled in defensively, taking over as Clevelandâ€™s first baseman.
However, Tabler started the 1988 season slowly. The Indians, coming off a 100-loss season, woke up on the morning of June 3 with a 32-19 record, good for second in the AL East. Seeking some bullpen help, they traded Tabler to the Royals for Bud Black, who by then had been moved out of KCâ€™s rotation. For their part, the Royals were looking for a right-handed hitter to split time at DH with Bill Buckner, and someone who could spell George Brett at first base. Tabler also fit as a fill-in for Bo Jackson, who missed all of June with an injury.
Tabler hit .309/.358/.389 for the Royals in 1988, but fell off some in 1989. As the primary DH, he hit .259/.325/.308, for a disappointing 80 OPS+.
The 1990 Royals expected to contend, after adding Mark Davis and Storm Davis in the offseason. But they started the season poorly. By the end of May they were 12 games out. By the end of June, they were 16 out and the season was essentially over. With Tabler eligible for free agency after the season, it made sense for the Royals to deal him. So they did, sending him to the Mets on August 30 for reliever Archie Corbin.
Tabler would finish the season with the Mets, then sign with Toronto as a free agent. He was part of the Blue Jaysâ€™ division winners in 1991 and their World Series champs in 1992. At age 34, and with a World Series ring, Tabler decided it was time to hang it up. He moved into the broadcast booth, working as a studio analyst for Canadaâ€™s TSN channel and eventually becoming the color man for Torontoâ€™s TV games, a role he still holds today.
Pat Tablerâ€™s best games of 1990:
7/14@BOS: Went 3-9 in a doubleheader split, with a double, homer, and two RBI.
7/31@CLE: Went 2-4 with double and run scored in an 8-4 win.
6/21@MIN: Went 2-6 with two doubles in a 14-4 win.
About the card:
A great look at Tablerâ€™s swing. It appears the dugout behind him is full of Montreal Expos, so this was likely taken in spring training of 1989. Those powder blues sure look good, donâ€™t they? I really loved the look of these cards when I was a kid, but they seem terribly dated to me now. The inside blue and yellow border is a good choice for the Royals, but Iâ€™m not sure about the various shades of purple on the outside border. And not just because Iâ€™m a KU fan. The font they used for the player name and position on the back looks like it was pulled off an Art Deco hotel on South Beach, which is fine for Art Deco hotels on South Beach but maybe not for a baseball card. Itâ€™s funny that heâ€™s listed as 6â€™2â€ and 200 lbs. on the back of the card; baseball-reference has him at 6â€™3â€ and 175.
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