When you’re young, your dreams are big and bold.
You’re going to be a brain surgeon … an astronaut … President … a best-selling author … an award-winning actor.
Heck, why not do it all?
And if you’re a baseball player, you’re not just going to be a Big Leaguer … no, you’re going to lead your team to World Series glory with a two-out, two-strike home run to walk off as champions in Game 7.
You’re going to be an All-Star … an MVP … a Hall of Famer. Along the way, of course, you’re going to appear on a shoebox-full of your own baseball cards.
Those are the visions that accompany your every at-bat in Little League and side-yard pick-up games for years.
You can see it on the faces and in the walks of especially the best players on any local youth team — smug assurance that their diamond future has no ceiling.
As the years pass by, though, and as competition heats up, those first nagging feelings of doubt set in. Some of the dreams fade against more immediate concerns like Algebra, driving, girls.
By the end of high school, the guys who think they have a shot to make it in baseball have dwindled to a handful, or maybe none or one in small communities in a given year.
The idea of what defines “making it” changes over the years, too. Maybe the Majors aren’t in the cards, but a chance to keep playing baseball in college seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Maybe the diamond can even help pay for college?
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Maybe. And after it does? Trade in the spikes for loafers and a tie, or maybe a Star Wars lanyard and a standing desk if you’re really lucky.
There certainly won’t be any professional baseball to pay the bills, and Topps will never come calling to feature your mug on one of its cards.
But there are a select few guys who keep that original dream alive for far longer than might have seemed possible.
Take catcher Albert Stieglitz, for example.
Stieglitz broke in with the New York Giants organization as a 19-year-old with the Class D Pauls Valley Raiders in 1953. He did well enough there, hitting .319 with six home runs in 364 at-bats, which got him a call to the Class B Danville Leafs in 1954.
There, in the Carolina League, Stieglitz hit .251 with four dingers and drove in 51 runs. In 1955, it was on to Single A, where he hit .314.
The next two seasons are missing from his baseball records — the timing and duration suggests military service, but I can’t prove that. When he returned to baseball action in 1958, though, it was with the Double-A Corpus Christi Giants, where he cranked up his power (10 home runs) and hit .290 over 378 plate appearances.
Then, 1959 brought Stieglitz to the last rung of the Giants minor league ladder at age 25. With the Triple-A Phoenix Giants, Stieglitz hit seven home runs to go along with a .279 average, but managed just 228 plate appearances.
Why the abbreviated season?
Well, first you need to know that Stieglitz was a good enough prospect at that point to garner a card in the 1960 Topps set as a Sport Magazine 1960 Rookie Star (card #144). If you flip that card over, you get his minor league stats to that point, and a paragraph of explanation:
Al might have been a Giant regular for the 1959 season if a broken leg had not stopped him …
So, yeah, a broken leg would probably stop a young catcher from trying to make the Majors, at least temporarily. And, despite Topps’ enthusiasm, the Giants sent Stieglitz back to Double A in 1960, this time to the Rio Grande Valley Giants. He made it into 98 games, logging 318 plate appearances and connecting on another 10 bombs. But his average plummeted to .243 … and he turned 27 not long after the season.
And then … nothing.
Al Stieglitz was finished as a professional player — his dream of playing Major League Baseball was done, even if he had already landed a Major League Baseball card.
Stieglitz and Topps conspired to flout the natural order of things nearly sixty years ago, putting cardboard before The Show, and thus created a perfect entry for this Day 29 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge — the Big League card of a player who never made it to the Majors.
Thanks, guys … for the cardboard, and for reminding us what the dream feels like.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.