In 1960, Topps debuted their All-Star Rookie team that celebrated the best first-year players from the season before. In the decades since then, T.C.G. hasn’t been shy about doling out cardboard honors for the players they deem as the future stars of baseball.
During most of those years, though, there was a hedge.
These players were All-Star Rookies, or Dodgers Prospects, or Rookie Stars.
Each of those monikers connotes either that the player in question starred as a rookie — but won’t necessarily develop further — or that he has the prospect of developing into something big.
But starting in 1980, Topps threw caution to the wind and declared a handful of young men each season to be “Future Stars.”
No doubt about it, these guys would be stars in the future.
Except, of course, baseball players are human and so, it turns out, is Topps. Naturally, then, many of the Future Stars turned out to be benchwarmers, platoon players, or utility infielders.
For a select few, though, Topps’ whiff was even worse.
Because, for these guys, the future never came at all. By the time Topps anointed them as Future Stars, their Major League careers were already over, even if no one knew it yet.
Here are 11 of their stories.
Bobby Cuellar — 1980 Topps Indians Future Stars (#665)
This card confused me for quite awhile.
That’s because Mike Cuellar was a standout on the mound for the 1970s Baltimore Orioles who won 20 games three years in a row with the Birds (1969-71) and then once more in 1974.
For some reason, I thought Bobby was Mike, and I couldn’t figure out how a potential Hall of Famer could be a Cleveland Indians rookie in 1980.
Bobby Cuellar made four appearances for the 1977 Texas Rangers, who traded him to the Tribe in 1978. He never made it back to the Majors despite Topps’ assertions.
Arturo DeFreites — 1980 Topps Reds Future Stars (#677)
Frank Pastore had an excellent campaign for the Cincinnati Reds in 1980 and looked like a true Future Star for a couple of years before tailing off.
Harry Spilman was never much of a hitter in the Major Leagues but did hang around for parts of 12 years.
Their cardboard mate on the 1980 Reds Future Stars card was Arturo DeFreites who had appeared in 33 games as a pinch hitter and first baseman for the Reds in 1978 and 1979.
He turned 27 in April 1980, though, and never made it back to the Bigs.
Butch Edge — 1980 Topps Blue Jays Future Stars (#674)
The early renditions of the Toronto Blue Jays weren’t much fun to watch. And their cards weren’t much fun to pull from wax packs, either.
This 1980 Blue Jays Future Stars card is a great example of both.
Pat Kelly made his Major League debut in 1980 and played three games — then he was done.
Ted Wilborn played in 22 games for the 1979 Jays and then eight for the 1980 New York Yankees. Done.
And then there was Butch Edge, whose entire nine-game Major League career was played in 1979 before his only card was issued.
And these were Toronto’s Future Stars!
Keith MacWhorter — 1981 Topps Red Sox Future Stars (#689)
Reid Nichols spent eight years in the Majors, and though his cards never climbed out of the commons bin, he was at least a Future Something when the 1981 Topps set debuted.
Bruce Hurst pitched for 15 years in the Big Leagues, winning 145 games for four teams and serving as Roger Clemens’ Number 2 for the Boston Red Sox in the mid-to-late 1980s.
And Keith MacWhorter?
He lost three games for the BoSox in 1980 and never again saw the inside of a Major stadium as a player.
Steve Macko — 1981 Topps Cubs Future Stars (#381)
The early 1980s Cubs were pretty bad, with the 1981 team finishing at 38-65 during the strike-torn season.
As it turned out, their Future Stars didn’t offer much hope for improvement.
Randy Martz was the star of the group, winning 17 and losing 19 over four seasons.
Carlos Lezcano’s entire career consisted of 49 games over 1980 and 1981.
Steve Macko was long gone by the time the strike hit, though — he hit .250 in 25 games in 1979 and 1980. During that final season, he sustained a bone bruise in a collision with Bill Madlock. While undergoing treatment, doctors discovered that Macko had testicular cancer, and the disease claimed his life in November of 1981.
Al Olmsted — 1981 Topps Cardinals Future Stars (#244)
In 1981, the St. Louis Cardinals were on the verge of a run that would see them take the World Series title in 1982 and return to the Fall Classic in both 1985 and 1987.
Tito Landrum contributed to all three of those teams, and Andy Rincon won two games for the championship club.
But Al Olmsted, Landrum’s and Rincon’s car mate as a 1981 Future Star, appeared in five games in 1980 and never made it to Busch Stadium — or any other Major League diamond — again.
Jeff Schneider — 1982 Topps Orioles Future Stars (#21)
Baseball is a beautiful game of ups and downs, hits and misses, coincidences and connections.
All of that drama and curiosity comes crashing together on card #21 in the 1982 Topps set, one of the most famous swatches of cardboard in the hobby.
For here on the vaunted Cal Ripken, Jr., rookie card, we also find Bob Bonner, he of the 61 games played in a career that spanned from 1980-83. And for an added twist, Bonner is listed as a shortstop, while Cal checks in at third base.
Bonner and Ripken share their rookie card with the esteemed Jeff Schnieder, who mopped up seven times for the 1981 Baltimore Orioles but never appeared in the Majors again.
Scott Brown & Geoff Combe — 1982 Topps Reds Future Stars (#351)
You can get a pretty good feel for the fortunes of the early 1980s Reds by the fact that they appear on this list twice.
Paul Householder spent parts of eight years in Major League outfields and showed occasional flashes of power and speed.
Not so bad.
But man, both Scott Brown (10 games pitched in 1981) and Geoff Combe (18 appearances in 1980-81) were already gone from the Majors for good by the time this 1982 Future Stars card debuted.
The Topps crystal ball must have been shooting blanks with these Reds teams!
Fred Kuhaulua — 1982 Topps Padres Future Stars (#731)
This card features …
- Wonderful dorky 1970s/1980s sunglasses courtesy of a guy who squeezed eight Major League seasons out of his right arm (Armstrong).
- A great buy-a-vowel baseball name who lasted for parts of four seasons as a Major League catcher (Gwosdz).
- A Hawaiin native who made three appearances for the California Angels in 1977 and five for the San Diego Padres in 1981, his last Major League action.
Tim Pyznarksi — 1987 Topps Future Stars (#429)
After a five-year hiatus, perhaps feeling stung by early stumbles, Topps brought back their Future Stars promises in 1987. This time, though, they limited their subjects to one per card, thus maximizing the overall potential rookie-card hype should multiple players hit it big.
We all should have known that a 27-year-old rookie who had garnered a total of 47 Big League plate appearances was a longshot. Maybe that gaudy .238 average and zero home runs from 1986 blinded us, or may it was Tim Pyznarkski’s minor league power profile, but I do remember this card moving OK at card shows in 1987.
Too bad for all of us that he never made it back to the Majors.
Lance Dickson — 1991 Topps Future Star (#114)
Lance Dickson was a hard-throwing lefty who recorded 111 strikeouts in 76 minor league innings in 1990 at age 20. That was good enough to get him a cup of coffee with the Chicago Cubs that fall and the designation of Future Star in the 1991 Topps set.
Dickson was back in the minors in 1991 and continued to strike out batters, but could neither prevent runs nor stay healthy well enough to ever get back to the Majors.