Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #492, Steve Kemp (Article 95)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Boy was I excited when the Yankees acquired Steve Kemp.
By all measures, the most important measures of my life as a baseball fan and my understanding of the game as it was presented to me at the time, was that Steve Kemp was a superstar – one of the young greats in the game.
And he was now a Yankee.
I have always loved when the Yankees acquired the best talent. Steve Kemp was just the next in a long line of big time players (Don Baylor also came that winter) to help propel the Yankees back to the top of the baseball world.
And I was ready!
How did I know that Steve Kemp was one of baseball’s best players? I knew this through baseball cards. The cards of the day told this to me. It was clear as day. They made special baseball cards of the best players, the superstars. In fact some of those cards even noted that he was a superstar.
In the years before he was a Yankee, Steve Kemp was features in the following special sets:
1978 Hostess All-Stars
1979 Hostess All-Stars
1980 Kellogg’s Super Stars (3-D)
1980 Topps Superstar Photos (large-sized cards)
1981 Drake’s Big Hitters
1981 Topps Scratchoffs
1981 Fleer Star Stickers
1981 Squirt Panels
1982 Kellogg’s Super Stars (3-D)
1982 Topps Tigers Leaders Card
Steve Kemp was also featured on those little round baseball card discs that everyone seemed to have and no one seemed to know where they came from. He was also in those sticker sets that seemed to blossom out of nowhere.
In short, there was no shortage of baseball card and baseball card-type items that heralded Steve Kemp as one of the stars of the game.
There was no doubt in my mind, the Yankees were getting a star!
I remember that Steve Kemp had been on the cover of The Sporting News and I am sure I read a lot about him in Street and Smith’s baseball preview books over the years. I’m almost certain that he had also been featured in Baseball Digest on occasion.
Yeah, Steve Kemp was a star.
Prior to joining the Yankees, Steve Kemp has nice statistics. He was a slugger who got on base with a good batting average.
And he drove in runs.
Kemp had hit 20(+)-homers in two seasons (1979 and 1980) and he hit 18 and 19 in two other seasons as well.
Kemp batted over .280 on three occasions, batting as high as .318 in 1979.
And in four seasons, he had 88 or more runs batted in, including two 100-RBI seasons.
Yeah, Steve Kemp was a star.
The Yankees were getting a good one.
Sometimes the best of plans just don’t work out.
Early in the 1983 season, his first with the Yankees, I remember Steve Kemp crashing into Willie Randolph on a cold game in Toronto. It made no sense to me. Big leaguers didn’t play like that – we did, on the Little League field.
He had cotton in his ears.
It made no sense then. It still doesn’t today.
Kemp had hurt his shoulder, but he played through it.
I recall a lot of comments during the games from the announcers, probably Phil Rizzuto, about how tough Kemp was playing through the injury, but he never got going. Steve Kemp couldn’t get on track.
Then, in late August he was hit in the eye by a batted ball in batting practice. That injury wrecked his season. He’d play his last game on September 6.
Kemp battled for the Yankees, but he hit just .241. He had only 12 homers. He drove home only 49 runs.
I remember being so disappointed.
In 1984, things didn’t go so well again. Kemp played in just 94 games. He did hit .291, but, by then, I think I knew that he wasn’t the player he had been when I determined he was a star because he was featured…everywhere.
The baseball cards said he was a star. And he had been, but he wasn’t one with the Yankees.
I just didn’t work out with the Yankees.
I sometimes wonder how good Steve Kemp could have been if he didn’t get hurt. When the Yankees signed him, he was only 28-years-old.
Here was a guy who, in a good season, could hit .300/25/100.
Those were the gold standards of the day.
The Yankees signed him for five years…
The Yankees won 91 games in 1983. They finished 7 games out (in third place).
In 1984, the Tigers just rolled over the American League East. No player would have made a difference.
In 1985, the Yankees won 97 games and finished just two games behind the Blue Jays.
In 1986, the Yankees won 90 games and finished just 5.5 games out.
In 1987, the Yankees won 89 games and finished 9 games out.
Might a healthy and productive Steve Kemp have helped them close those gaps? Probably. It just wasn’t to be.
After the 1984 season, the Yankees traded Steve Kemp to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dale Berra was in that deal and so was a minor league outfielder who they Yankees acquired. This outfielder would become a big name in Yankees lore… a player who, had they kept him, might have also helped them reach the top of the division…