Steve Jeltz was going to be something big — just ask Donruss.
Now, it’s easy to poke fun at the selections Donruss made for their Rated Rookies subsets back in the 1980s and 1990s … and I have. I mean, Dave Shipanoff? Brian Dubois? Kevin Belcher?
But they did score a few big hits, like Jose Canseco and Greg Maddux and Mark Grace.
And, while Steve Jeltz falls squarely into that scratch-your-head camp with the Dubois and his paragraph mates up there (^) from our vantage point here in 2020, the world looked a little different back in 1985.
For one thing, most of us didn’t really *get* the correlation between age and future potential, so it didn’t matter a whit that Jeltz still had his rookie status intact entering his age-26 season.
These days, if you’re not already halfway to some Hall of Fame marker — think 500 home runs or 1800 walks or a millions sunflower seeds — well, you might as well just hang ‘em up, pardner.
Back then, though?
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Back then, in 1985, Jeltz was coming off his second cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Phillies in two years. And, as Donruss noted on his 1985 Rated Rookie card back, he had used those 28 games in September of 1984 to emerge as the Phils’ likely starting shortstop for the next season.
Philly made Donruss look doubly smart when they traded incumbent Ivan De Jesus to the Cardinals in April of ‘85, clearing the path for the rook.
Starting “youngsters” made sense for the Phillies, too, who had been on a slow slide downward since their Wheeze Kids team made it to the World Series in 1983. It was time to clear the deck and start building things back up, and fresh-faced dudes like Rick Schu, Jeff Stone, and Juan Samuel were going to lead them forward.
Oh, and Steve Jeltz.
But while those other guys were actually still sorta young, and while Samuel already had an All-Star season under his belt entering his age-24 season, Jeltz had the sort of light-hitting minor league resume that you might expect from a shortstop in the 1980s.
Philly plugged him into the hole anyway, though, and he did what he had shown he would — namely, he hit .189 with virtually no power and not much speed, either. That showing limited Jeltz to just 70 starts, but he was back as a regular in 1986 … and 1987 … and 1988 … and part of 1989.
The hitting got a smidge better, as Jeltz finished with a lifetime batting average of .210 to go with five home runs and 18 stolen bases. It all added up to a -0.3 WAR over the course of eight seasons, all but the last (1990) with the Phillies.
But there is one saving grace for Jeltz and Donruss (aside from that fetching rookie card of his, that is) …
See, Jeltz was part of a military family, and he was born in France on May 28, 1959.
As of this writing, only seven players who ever reached the Major Leagues were born in France.
And, among all those guys, Jeltz is the all-time leader in games played, plate appearances, at-bats, runs scored, doubles, triples, RBI, and stolen bases. Only presumptive Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy and his gaudy 26 home runs stand in the way of Jeltz and power immortality, too.
Put it all together, and you have a card — that 1985 Jeltz Rated Rookie — that was a product of its time and that, all considered, wasn’t really that far off base.
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