I don’t know much about Fred Breining other than what Baseball Reference has to say about him …
- He was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1974 MLB January Draft from the College of San Mateo.
- He spent the next five seasons working his way through the Pirates’ minor league system until they traded him on June 28, 1979, “with Al Holland and Ed Whitson to the San Francisco Giants for Bill Madlock, Lenny Randle and Dave Roberts.”
- He made his Major League debut for the Giants on September 24, 1980, when he was 24.
- Over the next four seasons by the Bay, he pitched out of the bullpen and then made his way to the rotation in 1983.
- That season (1983), he made 32 starts, going 11-12 with a 3.82 ERA.
- Then, on February 27, 1984, the Giants traded him with Max Venable to the Montreal Expos for Al Oliver. San Fran later also sent over Andy McGaffigan to complete the deal.
- In 1984, Breining pitched in only 6.2 innings over four appearances with the Expos. He didn’t pitch in the minors that season but did spend time on the farm in 1985 and 1986 before disappearing from professional hardball rosters altogether.
You’ve probably figured out from that abrupt change in fortunes that Breining got injured somewhere along the way. As it turns out, that happened in his last game with the Giants, in 1983. According to a UPI piece from the next spring:
Six days after being traded by the San Francisco Giants to Montreal for Al Oliver, Fred Breining reported to the Expos’ camp Saturday with a damaged shoulder.
The 28-year old Breining, 11-12 last year, said he injured the shoulder during his last start against Houston in September.
You think that might be why San Francisco ended up sending McGaffigan to the Expos on March 31?
Whether or not the Giants were trying to pull a fast one, Breining’s injury and his attempt to work through it afforded him just enough exposure in 1984 to stay on Topps’ cardboard radar.
And that meant that Fred Breining, with his career record of 27-20 and 3.34 ERA, was bestowed an honor that eluded even such luminaries as Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson: the capper card with complete career stats on the back.
With Breining making enough progress in his rehab to stick in the Expos’ minor league system for 1985, Topps must have thought the 29-year-old could make it back to the Majors.
But while Breining was bouncing from Indianapolis to Nashville and, finally, to Double-A Birmingham that summer, collectors could pull his red, white, and blue monstrosity from 1985 Topps packs across the board.
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With heavy slathers of airbrushing not seen since the 1978 Topps Greg Minton and Mike Paxton cards, Breining stares into the camera through his 1980s birth-control glasses like a confused Martin Short character.
And why wouldn’t he be confused?
Behind him is the dark and cavernous Candlestick Park, seemingly completely empty. Did Topps lure him to the stadium for one last snapshot before sending him on his way north of the border?
Or maybe it was a joint effort by the Giants and Topps, with the team telling him about his trade at the precise moment that the photographer snapped his photo.
Whatever the case, it was a classic artistic wipeout that only Topps could pull off, and at a time when their competitors were getting better and better at their craft.
It was also an unusual trophy for a player who didn’t win many of them, and it put Breining in some exclusive company.
After all, it’s not every day that a journeyman-type of player can say he accomplished something that most Hall of Famers never did, even if that “something” is a particular hunk of cardboard.
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