The final Topps baseball card for Keith Comstock is shown above. Comstock made it to the major leagues in 1984, in his ninth season as a professional. Having never spent nine minutes as a professional, I could not knock him or his career for a moment. His is a tribute to the line in Bull Durham were the Durham Bulls’ manager tells Crash Davis “You can keep coming to the ballpark, and keep getting paid to do it.” That, all by itself, sums up a life that I can only imagine.
Comstock’s first stint in the majors lasted four games, and when no clubs wanted to sign him after that first season, he spent two years pitching in Japan. He came back to the states and pitched for the Giants, Padres, and finally the Seattle Mariners. By the time his 35th year rolled around in 1991, he was the true epitome of a journeyman player.
The card is unusual in that it incorrectly identifies him as a member of the Chicago Cubs. The card was later corrected to read the Seattle Mariners, and as a long-time editor and writer, I can tell you that the person who was responsible for checking the accuracy of these things at the Topps company wishes they had this one back.
Mistakes, once they’re out there, can live forever as a testament to the fallibility of all people. Batters strike out, fielders miss ground balls, umpires blow calls at home plate, and Topps calls Keith Comstock a Cub instead of a Mariner. Unfortunate, but life still goes on, anyway.
But there’s more to Comstock than this. He did spend most of 1991 in Triple A, but he was called up to the major league club in August of that year. He had made it back to the majors, and had another chance to show what he could do. The best things in life don’t last, though, and his final outing shows just how tenuous a pitcher’s career can be.
It was August 5, 1991. The Mariners were playing in Oakland against the three-time defending AL champion Oakland A’s. The Mariners trailed the A’s 1-0, when Comstock was sent to the mound for his first appearance of the season. The first batter he faced, Harold Baines, led off the eighth with a double. Willie Wilson, in his first year with Oakland after a long career in Kansas City, went in to pinch run for Baines.
The next batter, Brook Jacoby, singled home Wilson, and the A’s had pushed their lead to 2-0. But all was not yet lost. The next batter, Mark McGwire, flied out to right field, and with a runner on first and two outs, the Mariners could think about turning a double play to end the inning.
The next batter, second baseman Mike Gallego, drew a walk from Comstock. The following season, Gallego played three seasons with the Yankees. His subsequent departure cleared the way for the Yankees to give his number 2 to a young prospect named Derek Jeter.
With that walk to Gallego, Comstock was removed from the game. The next Seattle pitcher, Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) allowed Jacoby to score, and the inning ended with the Mariners trailing 3-0. Since he had put Jacoby on base, Comstock was responsible for both of the runs scored by the A’s. Dennis Eckersley came on to pitch the ninth, and as he did so many times, he retired all three Mariners hitters in order and secured the victory for Oakland.
Comstock had faced four hitters and thrown 15 pitches, but he did not take the loss that day. His ERA was an unsightly 54.00 for the season, but another couple of innings would bring that down considerably. Unfortunately for Comstock, there would never be another opportunity to lower his ERA.
Comstock was a spectator the last month and a half of the season, and he became a free agent after the season ended. When no teams showed an interest in signing him, his big league career ended. No warnings, no fanfare, nothing. After pitching 144 innings in his 153 appearances, across parts of six major league seasons, Keith Comstock was a major leaguer no more.
What’s the lesson from this? I would have to say treat every outing like it could be your last, because someday it will be. And worst of all, you may not even know it at the time.