This is Baseball Musings, an occasional offseason column that riffs on random things found while perusing Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and other baseball sites.
Today is Cory Snyder’s birthday. You probably didn’t know that, and you probably don’t care. Truth is, I didn’t even know it until this morning, but this new bit of knowledge was reason enough to write about one of the top players of my youth.
Full disclosure: I know Snyder was not really among the best players of my youth. I call him a “top” player because Snyder is in some ways the perfect personification of “1987.” And that’s significant because 1987 was the year I went all-in on baseball. Snyder played only a very a small role in that, but his involvement still resonates nonetheless.
If you’re a baseball fan of a certain age, especially if you collected baseball cards, you probably have a mental image of Snyder, in his home Indians uniform, about to catch a ball, surrounded by faux-wood paneling and a golden trophy next to his name. That image probably makes you smile — because there was a time when a 1987 Topps Cory Snyder All-Star Rookie card could fetch a fortune, if you define “fortune” by what 11-year-olds consider a lot of money (roughly $4).
A quick note about that Topps All-Star rookie trophy: It carried a simple message: Pay attention to this player. But it was a message that young collectors tended to interpret another way: Save this card, for it will some day be worth more money than you can possibly imagine.
Snyder got the coveted designation because he was one of those mid- to late-’80s players who seemed destined to be a superstar, if judged by the often incomplete and short-sighted standards of 1980s evaluations. He could hit for power, but that was about it. He had a strong rookie campaign in 1986, clubbing 24 homers in just 103 games and finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. The Topps trophy on that ’87 card only enhanced his reputation.
So, entering the 1987 season, Snyder was officially a player to watch — and that meant his 1987 baseball card was one you wanted.
With every pack of cards purchased for 35 cents at my local Harris Teeter, Snyder’s card was among those I really hoped to get. After all, the price guides listed the card anywhere from $2 to $5, which, again, to an 11-year-old with no income, might as well be $10,000.
As the 1987 season progressed, Snyder kept putting up impressive numbers. Home runs were all the rage that season, thanks to an early incarnation of The Juiced Ball, and Snyder was in on that action. He hit 33 dingers in 1987, which was a big improvement over his 1986 output but still paled in comparison to MLB leaders Andre Dawson and Mark McGwire, who each hit 49. Still, Snyder’s season was more than enough to keep his Topps card an object of desire — though, as with the home run race, he trailed McGwire significantly in that area, too.
This is where I’ll pause to say that my 11-year-old evaluation of Snyder’s abilities — and most others’ evaluations, probably — were overly optimistic. All I cared about were home runs, which are always good, but even a cursory look into his other stats reveals that any enthusiasm among collectors and fans was ill-informed. Power numbers aside, Snyder’s on-base percentage in 1987 was just .273. He struck out 160 times and drew just 31 walks. His OPS was an unremarkable .729. His bWAR was in the negative, -0.4, thanks mostly to his poor defense; he made 24 errors between the outfield and shortstop to finish with a -1.3 dWAR.
Of course, back then, advanced analytics weren’t really a thing. The eye test was king — and the eye test told you that while Snyder would make some errors, he could hit the ball a long way, so he was someone you wanted on your team — and in your baseball card collection. So Snyder remained a “valuable” part of my card collection into 1988, when he again posted good power totals but had otherwise mediocre numbers and produced 2.7 bWAR. As it turns out, that season represented the peak of Snyder’s career.
He played another six seasons with the Indians, White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants and Dodgers, but his only positive-WAR year was 1992, when he slashed .269/.311/.444 with 14 homers with San Francisco. He retired in 1994 at age 31. His career totals: .247/.291/.425, with 149 homers and an OPS of .716.
MLB has but one official video highlight from Snyder’s career, and it’s this: He throws out B.J. Surhoff (speaking of would-be valuable baseball cards ) at the plate to end a game in 1988.
Anyway, back to those old baseball cards. I still have some Snyder rookies. They, like most other cards from that era, are essentially worthless apart from their nostalgic value. But that doesn’t matter. They provided me and millions of other kids with countless hours of fun and hope in the late ’80s. There’s definitely value in that.
So, even though that ’87 Topps card was never worth more than a few bucks, I’ll always have a soft spot for Cory Snyder. His name takes me back to a time of wax packs, baseball enthusiam and youthful naiveté. Happy birthday, sir.