#CardCorner: 1991 Topps Oscar Azocar
Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.
For his 1991 Topps card, a smiling Oscar Azocar decided to do something special. As we see here, he has taken two bats and a baseball, and is opting to have some fun with them. Gripping the bats near the knobs, Azocar holds them extended upward, parallel to each other. He places a baseball between the barrels of the bats, somehow balancing the ball in place while keeping the bats extended. I’ve never seen this done. I’ve never even seen this attempted. I don’t know how hard it is to do this, but it looks like it would take far more coordination than I naturally possess. It might even take more coordination than most major leaguers possess. I do know this: It’s pretty cool.
For too long, I used to think that Oscar Azocar epitomized the struggles of the New York Yankees teams of the early 1990s. A free swinger, Azocar struggled so much in trying to reach first base that many Yankee fans considered him synonymous with the team’s tribulations during that era. I felt especially bad about that in June of 2010, when I learned that Azocar had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 45. I only felt worse when I started to read about Azocar, learning more about a hustling ballplayer, a fun-loving teammate, and a delightful man who played every game as if it were his last.
Born and raised in Venezuela, a young Azocar caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who offered him a contract—as a pitcher. Signing him as an 18-year-old in 1983, the Yankees watched him pitch for three seasons. He showed a good screwball and curveball, but didn’t throw hard enough to advance past A-ball.
In 1987, Oscar’s minor league manager, a young Buck Showalter, decided to allow the pitchers on his team to take batting practice once a week. Showalter was so impressed by Azocar in the batting cage that he informed his superiors within the organization. The Yankees soon gave the approval to switch Azocar from the mound to the outfield.
Only three years later, Azocar completed the climb. In July of 1990, the Yankees brought him to the big leagues and watched him deliver a profound first impression. Appearing as a pinch-hitter in his first at-bat, Azocar pounded out a single. In his next game, he singled, doubled, and homered. Through his first 20 games, the rookie outfielder compiled a robust .320 batting average and four home runs.
Azocar’s aggressive style of hitting eventually caught up with him. Over his first 130 plate appearances, he had no walks. He fell into a terrible slump, sinking his average into the .240s. By the time he had finished his rookie season, Azocar had stepped up to the plate 218 times—and drawn the grand sum of two walks. Swinging the bat from a pronounced crouch, he swung at almost any pitch within the general proximity of the batter’s box. In one stretch, he came to bat seven consecutive times without taking a single pitch.