The 1979 Topps “prospects” cards told you right up front, in so many words and in so many pictures, that the guys featured weren’t who you opened the pack to find.
First of all, “prospects” isn’t all that hopeful, not like “Future Stars” would be, starting in 1980. Even the “rookies” label used in the years leading up to 1979 was more optimistic — the bubblegum maker at least expected the players pictured to log some playing time in the majors.
But in 1979? They were just prospects. Maybe they’d do something, maybe they wouldn’t.
And, just in case you didn’t get the hint from that downgraded status, Topps went ahead and sucked all the color out of the photos.
So we were left with a run of 26 cards featuring 78 dudes who we might never hear from again, all pictured through a frosty-window-pane lens that left them faded, colorless, overexposed.
It’s sort of like looking out on a winter’s day.
Which is fitting when you gaze upon a card like #703, 1979 Angels Prospects.
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There on that pasteboard, we have shortstop Jim Anderson, starting pitcher Dave Frost, and second baseman Bob Slater.
Anderson, who had already logged 48 games with the Halos in 1978, would double that tally in 1979 as California won their first division title. That offseason, he became the Player to Be Named Later in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.
He stuck around the bigs through 1984, amassing 211 total hits for a .218 batting average.
On the other end of that rookie, er, prospect card, Slater lived up to his billing — a pure prospect who never got the call after four years in the minors. His last season, with the 1979 Salt Lake City Gulls, came while collectors were sliding his first and only big league card out of wax packs.
And in the middle, we have the star of the card — Dave Frost.
It’s a name to match the frozen-mist theme of the card, to be sure, but it’s also a name old-time baseball fans and Angels lifers will recall fondly.
After the White Sox picked Frost in the 18th round of the 1974 Draft, he spent four years on their farm before breaking through to the Windy City for a cup of coffee in 1977.
Things were looking up.
Alas, that December, the ChiSox traded Frost along with Brian Downing and Chris Knapp to the Halos for Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley and Richard Dotson.
Yeah, this was Brian Downing for Bobby Bonds, but the other players mattered, too.
In 1978, Frost mattered enough to craft a nifty 5-4 record with a 2.48 ERA in about half a season with the big club.
Frost was already 26 years old entering the 1979 season, though, making even his “prospect” status a question mark, especially considering he had exhausted his rookie eligibility in 1978.
Maybe that 1979 Topps rookie card of his should have labeled him as a “prospective ace.”
Because, in that gilded, long-ago summer, Dave Frost became the Halos’ best hurler, starting 33 games and running up a 16-10 record with a 3.57 ERA. He edged out rotation mate Nolan Ryan in ERA, WHIP, ERA+, WAR, winning percentage, and innings pitched.
But then, in the ALCS, Frost drew the start in Game 2 against the Baltimore Orioles … they lit him up to the tune of five runs in 1 1/3 innings. A mop-up stint in Game 4, the final tilt of the series, didn’t go much better — four runs in three innings.
The Angels went home for the winter, which must have felt cold even there in southern California.
And in 1980, elbow problems gnawed at Frost’s effectiveness, and he put up a 5.29 ERA in 15 starts.
One more rough season in Anaheim was followed by another pothole-filled campaign with the Royals in 1982, both ending with a 5.51 ERA.
Frost spit 1983 between minor leagues stops with the Pirates and Phillies and then hung up his spikes at age 30.
His Major League line reads 33-37, 4.10 ERA — not the stats of a superstar, but better than most kids with big dreams ever muster.
And good enough to thrust that frosty Dave Frost rookie card into the sunlight for one glorious season.
If you want an unusual piece of history from that 1979 Angels team, it’s hard to beat this eBay listing …
That’s a team belt buckle autographed on the back by team owner Gene Autry.
No word on whether there is a matching lasso somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be discovered.
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