Quick … who holds the Major League Baseball record for the most saves in a season?

Well, yes, Francisco Rodriguez, who nailed down an amazing 62 in 2008. It’s a huge number, even if you think saves are meaningless, useless.

But before Rodriguez?

That might be tougher for a lot of modern fans to come up with, but most kids our age (“old”) know the answer — Bobby Thigpen, who put up 57 for the Chicago White Sox in 1990.

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And that was an even more amazing number at the time, because it shattered — like 1986-Red-Sox-level shattered — the old record of 46 set by Dave Righetti just four years earlier (also 1986).

Percentage-wise, that would be like someone hitting 90 home runs in a season to take down Barry Bonds’ mark of 73 (whether you think that one is dubious or not).

No one ever expects a record to fall so spectacularly, though Thigpen did have two consecutive 34-save seasons entering 1990. Still, no one saw 57 coming.

Well, no one except maybe Donruss.

See, back in 1988, Donruss issued a big ol’ late-season set for the second consecutive year. In 1987, it was Opening Day.

In 1988, though, it was Baseball’s Best.

That one showcased 335 guys who, presumably, were among the best on their teams that season.

One of those dudes?

Yeah, Bobby Thigpen, just then wrapping up the first of those 34-save campaigns.

Now, these cards were no masterpieces, drawing their design from Donruss’s funky alternating-color borders from the 1988 base set, but replacing the so-so and only slightly depressing blue with a jarring tangerine.

And new pics.


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For Thigpen, that meant replacing a pretty nice action shot (base set) with a sort of overly-exuberant smile (Halloween set).

Still, Donruss designated him as one of Baseball’s Best, and Thigpen made them look good for it a couple of years later.

I mean, sure, Brian Fisher was one of Baseball’s Best, too, and he put up a 7.94 ERA in 1989.

And, yes, 333 other guys were Baseball’s Bests, too.

But sometimes, you just gotta pump up the numbers to tilt the odds in your favor.

And sometimes, people surpass even your lofty expectations.


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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.

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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.

And stayed.

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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