Making it to the Major Leagues is no easy feat for any player … even the greats. Guys like Dave Winfield, who never spent a day in the minors, or Ken Griffey Jr., who was a Big League phenom in his teens, may have made it look easy, but that’s what happens when you combine supreme talent with dedication and hard work.

But, man, some journeys are more jagged and harrowing than others. Take Pete Ladd, for example.

Drafted in the 25th round by the Boston Red Sox in 1975, the right-hander spent two seasons with the Single-A Winter Haven Red Sox, toiling out of their pen and looking like — maybe — a future closer. In 1979, Ladd got bumped up to the Double-A before the Sox traded him and Bobby Sprowl to the Houston Astros for Bob Watson.

Houston mostly kept Ladd in the pen with the Double-A Columbus Astros, but his 1.80 ERA was enough to convince Houston brass that he was ready for a Major League trial. In the heat of a pennant race with the Cincinnati Reds in the old National League West, Ladd appeared in ten games for the ‘Stros down the stretch and registered a nifty 2.92 ERA.

Though Houston fell short of Cincy in the standings, it looked like they had at least found a piece of their future bullpen in Ladd.

However, something happened on November 19, 1979, that changed the trajectory for the entire Houston franchise. On that date, Nolan Ryan signed a free agent contract — the richest ever to that point — and left behind the California Angels for the shady climes of the Astrodome.

That move may not have directly ousted Ladd, but it did crowd the pitching staff. And when the the dust cleared in the spring of 1980, Ladd was back in the minors.

1983 Fleer Pete Ladd

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He stayed there all season, moving from Double-A Columbus to the Triple-A Tucson Toros along the way.

Then, after another season in the desert, the Astros shipped Ladd to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Rickey Keeton.

So, at age 25, Ladd found himself with his third organization, his only Big League experience three years in the rearview. And then … the Brewers sent him to the Triple-A Vancouver Candians to start the 1982 season.

You know he had to be hoping for a short stay, but things didn’t work out that way. Because, while Ladd was rolling out to a 10-2 record with eight saves and better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, the Big League Brew Crew was doing something even more exciting.

They were contending.

Manager Harvey Kuenn (after he replaced Buck Rodgers) had his “Harvey’s Wallbangers” firing on all cylinders, with guys like Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas, Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich, and others whipping the Milwaukee faithful into a froth.

By the middle of July, the Brewers were in a dogfight with the Baltimore Orioles for supremacy in the old American League East. They could use any help they could get.

And so, on July 17, the two steam engines combined forces when the Brewers brought Ladd back to the Big Leagues and brought him in to pitch the seventh and eighth innings against the White Sox.

He got the win.

On his 26th birthday.

And then things got even better, because Ladd stayed on the roster, and Kuenn kept using him.

Through the end of the season, Ladd went just 1-4 with three saves and a 4.00 ERA, but the Crew took the division flag … and Ladd was on the postseason roster.

In the ALCS, Kuenn called on Ladd three times, and the “youngster” responded with three-plus innings of perfect ball, saving two of the Brewers’ victories as they downed the Angels in five games.

Things didn’t go quite so well in the World Series, as Ladd allowed a hit and two walks — but no runs — in two-thirds of an inning in his lone appearance (a Game 2 loss).

Still, he was in the World Series — quite a turnaround from just a few months before when his Big League prospects weren’t looking so great.

For his efforts and as a small but integral part of one of the more colorful teams of the last 50 years, you’d have to imagine that Ladd was rewarded with a flood of cardboard commemorating his run … right?

Not quite.

While Ladd did score return engagements with the Brewers from 1983-85 before wrapping things up with the Seattle Mariners in 1986, the card companies apparently didn’t have much faith in his resurgence heading into 1983.

Topps and Donruss took a hard pass on the big right-hander, leaving only Fleer to pick up the challenge of memorializing his (partial) season in Milwaukee.

And so they did.

You can see the result above, on Ladd’s 1983 Fleer baseball card. It may not be the most artistic hunk of cardboard you’ll ever see, but it’s appropriate, don’t you think? Even if he’s saddled with, “Peter”?

I mean, there is Ladd in that iconic Brewers uniform, grinning ear-to-ear.

How else would you expect to find a man who went from sepia memories of a brief glory to full-on baseball euphoria in the span of just a few months?

And maybe, just maybe, he was looking forward to the reactions his back-of-card human interest snippet would engender among collectors across the land.

1983 Fleer Pete Ladd (back)

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