Sunday, January 7, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 18 - Geronimo Pena

Maybe you've heard of Geronimo Pena, maybe you haven't.  He was a Cardinals second base prospect in the early 1990s after the team gutted away most of the WhiteyBall era players like Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, and Terry Pendleton.  Pena was supposed to be a part of a group of young talented players that were going to be teamed up with Ozzie Smith to make the Cardinals a competitive team again.

I think that Geronimo Pena's place in the world of 1990s prospects can best be demonstrated by his appearance on the Cardinals 1993 Upper Deck team card.

Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford had established themselves as everyday players by the time that this card was put out in 1993.  Both outfielders showed talent that made Cardinals fans believe that they could eventually be All-Star level players.  Pena had that sort of potential too, but he just didn't stay on the field long enough to show it for more than a half season.

Pena's injuries included:

  • 1989 Spring Training - Broken wrist on a hit by pitch 
  • 1992 Spring Training - Broken collarbone by stepping on his own glove 
  • 1992 Regular Season - Nerve injury in shoulder 
  • 1993 Regular Season - Broken foot on a foul ball 
  • 1994 Regular Season - Broken elbow hit by pitch 
  • 1995 Regular Season - Hamstring pull on ground rule double 

Cardinals manager Joe Torre best summarized Geronimo Pena in 1995 when he said:

"That's been the question about him, can he stay healthy?  We don't know that.  He never has.  But you keep looking at his ability and you say you hope he does.  We're still doing that."

So, how talented was Geronimo Pena as a player?  

In his first season, in 1991, the Cardinals had Pena split time at second base with Jose Oquendo.  When you look at his overall numbers, he was a replacement level player, but Pena really had two separate seasons in that year.  During the first half of the year Pena hit just .222/.297/.333 with only 7 extra base hits in 102 plate appearances.  During the second half of 1991 Pena hit .263/.345/.463. 

 Just for reference, Ryne Sandberg won the Silver Slugger Award in the National League that season amongst National League second baseman.  His Slugging Percentage for the season was .483.  Sandberg was in the prime of his career at that point, Pena was a rookie, so for him to be within 20 points was a positive.   

Which brings us to 1992.  Geronimo Pena only played 62 games that season, but it might have been the only season, outside of 1991, where he played a long stretch of games without missing multiple months during the middle of the season.  The two month stretch of healthy Geronimo Pena hit .305/.386/.478 with 7 home runs, 12 doubles, 31 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.  Pretty nice numbers, that if he could have maintained over the course of a season, could have earned him some more recognition.  Maybe an All-Star Game appearance at the least.  

Unfortunately, during the next three seasons the Cardinals could not keep Pena on the field.  He was released by the Cardinals after the 1995 season.  He ended up signing with the Indians, but only was able to play in 5 games during the 1996 season.  

You get the point, on to baseball cards.  

Pena was a pretty good prospect which means he got some pretty nice cards.  My favorite Geronimo Pena card will always be the 1993 Upper Deck Cardinals team card at the top of the post.  I know he's the least successful player on the card, but given his level of play while healthy, I cannot help but think that the person who made that card thought they were making the first of many cards that would have Geronimo Pena and Ozzie Smith together.  The Cardinals really wanted that to be their middle infield in the early and mid 1990s.  

Second favorite.  

His 1993 Upper Deck base card.  I like the action shot of him hitting.  The photo on the back of the card is nice too.....

Pena was a switch hitter and I like that they have him batting righty on the front of the card and lefty on the back.  I actually prefer the picture on the back of the card a bit.  Wrigley always makes a nice backdrop on baseball cards.  The top looks like Riverfront in Cincinnati.  Hello, cookie cutter.  

Last card is another action shot.  

Nice base running photo.  

Pena could steal bases, although the Cardinals did a lot less running once Joe Torre started managing the team.  In 1987, while he was in A Ball, Pena had an 80 steal season.  He definitely had some good speed.  

The back of the card is nice too.  

Again, another base running photo.  I like the backs of these Leaf cards from the early and mid 1990s.  The stadium picture is probably a little dated for 1994, but it's still nice to see the Busch Stadium where I grew up watching games.  The arches around the top were very distinct, and while the Arch view is better in the new version of Busch, it was still there if you were sitting in the infield. 

Not sure exactly what Geronimo is up to these days, but his son is a sophomore on the baseball team at the University of Maine.  

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