Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gene Gene The Pitching Machine

Wayland Eugene Nelson. Yes, I read the back of old Donruss cards too. He came to the White Sox in 1984 from the Mariners. He was gone at the end of 1986 to the team you all associate him with, the Oakland A's.

Being a middle reliever in the 80's must have really sucked. At that time the only pitchers the public cared about were the starting pitchers. The closers were slowly getting noticed, but the middle relievers walked anonymously through the crowd. They could pass for an overzealous fan if it weren't for the fact that they were on the field and the security guards didn't care about it.

Gene looks like he's wondering when he'll get some attention. Well, it wouldn't be with the Sox. I'll bet when he got traded to Chicago, he thought he'd be going to the playoffs every year. And why not think like that? The 1983 Sox won their division by TWENTY GAMES! That's unheard of. Plus they picked up Tom Seaver. What's not to like? It just goes to show you that what looks good on paper, almost never materializes. Some players never come close to career years again. That's why I still believe that any team is capable of beating any other team on any given day.

Gene's career year came in 1990 with the Oakland A's. He had an ERA of 1.57 as a middle reliever and went to World Series in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The A's even won in 1989. Not even an earthquake could stop them that year. Gene was a big part of those teams, but 1990 was his year. He got the press, he got the attention, everything came together. He was setting up Dennis Eckersley, life was grand.

Reality has a funny way of deflating your ego. In 1991, Gene's performance started to slip. In August of 1992, he was released from the A's. After stints with the Angels and the Rangers in 1993, he was out of major league baseball.

1985 Topps is the first set I remember actively collecting. I vividly remember riding my bike up to the local drugstore to wander the candy aisle in search of packs. I could either pick up some packs, some candy, or some comics. If I played my cards right, I had enough for all three. Although, I never got this card in a pack of Topps. This was a traded card. I didn't even know these cards existed until I saw the 1990 set at a local card shop when it first came out.

I can still picture Gene coming out of the bullpen in the sixth inning at old Comiskey Park relieving Tom Seaver against the Red Sox in April. Yes, I was at that game too. Before the talk on ESPN, before the World Series ring, before 1990, he was on the Chicago White Sox.

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