Sometimes, you can only get where you want to go if the stars align.
Or, the superstars.
Or, maybe even the downright legends.
Just ask Warren Cromartie and Sadaharu Oh.
But first, it has to be said that Cromartie got pretty much where he wanted to go a long time ago, and he probably had a pretty good idea even earlier that he would get there.
The White Sox selected Cromartie in the 7th round of the June 1971 MLB Draft when he was still just 17 years old, after all.
He opted to enroll in Miami-Dade College instead and ended up being drafted again, four more times, through 1973.
That run included three first-round selections, culminating in the Montreal Expos’ selecting Cromartie with the fifth overall pick in the secondary phase of the 1973 June Draft.
He made his MLB debut a little over a season later, in September 1974, and then was in Montreal to stay by 1976.
Cromartie stayed put through 1983, splitting time between the outfield and first base, and picking up regular at-bats through most of that run. By the end of that final season in Montreal, he had just turned 30 and owned 1084 big league hits, with a .280 batting average and a .737 OPS.
But toward the end of his run with the Expos, Cromartie found himself in constant position battles, first with Joel Youngblood, then with Terry Francona. A locker room blowup after Bill Virdon took over the team as manager in 1983 cost Cromartie a three-game suspension, and then back problems curtailed his production down the stretch.
Find 1987 Calbee baseball cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1987 Calbee baseball cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
Free agency gave Cromartie a chance for a fresh start, and the veteran decided to make it really fresh — he signed with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.
The story goes that manager Oh — yes, the guy who hit more home runs than anyone else — watched Cromartie take batting practice when he arrived in Japan and saw something amiss in the outfielder’s swing.
The fix? Take BP with a book under his elbow.
The results? Thirty-plus home runs in each of his first three seasons with the Giants, and a seven-year tenure in Japan that concluded in 1990 with a career batting line of .321, 171 homers, 558 RBI, and a .930 OPS.
Oh (that’s oh, not Oh), and a whole bunch of cool Japanese baseball cards that would look right at home in any Cromartie connection.
One of the best, for my money, is the 1987 Calbee beauty you see up above. I’m not sure what Cromartie is doing in the pic, exactly, but he sure seems excited about it. And why not?
He was a superstar playing for a legend, after all.
Cromartie tried to retire after the 1989 season, but his success and the Giants convinced him to come back.
He did bid adieu to Japanese baseball after one more season, but the Kansas City Royals invited him to Spring Training in 1991. He went, and made the team, and stayed with the team pretty much all season, hitting .313 with a single home run and 20 RBI in 148 plate appearances.
That season, Cromartie was a pinch hitter extraordinaire, but he never would have had the chance — or the extra baseball cards — without a little help from a baseball god, and a book.
Oh! Oh, my.
Wow! Wax of the Day
Cromartie came back to MLB just when the hobby was getting really crazy, which means he made it into several baseball card set that summer. One of those was 1991 Leaf Series 2, which just so happens to still be as plentiful as air. You can find unopened boxes, like the one below, just about any day of the week.
It definitely won’t set you back an arm and a leg, but it might be fun digging for Cromartie, or luminaries like, say, Tom Lampkin.
Check out the full listing on eBay, here (affiliate link).