The Atlanta Braves were pretty bad in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they had something a lot of other teams didn’t — a growing stable of young talent.
Young talent that would eventually help them build into a baseball dynasty (albeit a dynasty that produced just one title).
That talent would include position players like Javy Lopez and Chipper Jones (eventually).
But it’s pitching everyone always thinks of when the 1990s Braves comes up, and especially their pipeline of young and amazing rotation arms.
Find 1991 Topps MLB Debut cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find 1991 Topps MLB Debut cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
You know the names …
Tom Glavine …
John Smoltz …
Steve Avery …
Greg Maddux, after the Cubs got him ready.
And, of course, Paul Marak.
Wait … Paul Marak?
Yes, Paul Marak.
Now, I know you’ve probably never heard of Marak, or at least think you haven’t, but he was right there climbing Atlanta’s minor league ladder with Glavine and Smoltz and Avery.
OK, maybe he never caused quite the buzz that trio did, but Marak rose steadily through the minors after the Braves selected him in the 11th round of the 1985 draft all the same.
By September of 1990, with the Braves still looking bad but ready to break out the next season, Marak got his call to the Major Leagues. He made seven starts down the stretch, and, though he had a couple of ugly outings, he ended the season with a 1-2 record and a not-terrible 3.69 ERA.
Even better, he broke camp with the big club in 1991, and Bobby Cox even slotted him into the back of that rotation that would become legendary.
But April schedules are flaky, and so is the weather, and … well … Marak’s first start was rained out.
And that meant Cox would just keep the order going and that Marak wouldn’t be needed for a long time … back to the minors he went.
After two seasons back on the farm (Atlanta in 1991, Chicago Cubs in 1992), Marak was done with baseball.
But that seven-game stint with the 1990 Braves unlocked the key to baseball card immortality, with Marak appearing in several 1991 issues.
Maybe none expresses his situation, and the frustration he must have felt, though, better than his 1991 Topps Major League Debut card. There he is, standing in the sun, donning a Big League uniform at last, dreams of a long career so close — just sixty feet, six inches away, or so.
And yet … he just can’t quite hold onto them.
Yeah, that’s the moment to rock back on your haunches, push up your cap, and roll out your best “what the heck” face if ever there was one.
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