When I first started paying attention to baseball, I was a seven year old living in Rhode Island. The only games on television involved the Red Sox and the Braves, because every Braves game was televised on TBS at the time. Naturally, my ability to learn about other teams was a bit limited, as they were not exactly televised.
As I started collecting baseball cards, I began to learn about players from other teams. On occasion, certain players and cards would stick in my mind, such as how a 1987 Topps Ben Oglivie was my first baseball card, and therefore, the first Brewer I knew of. It was the same way, although through a pack of 1986 Topps, that I ran across my first Pittsburgh Pirate, Sam Khalifa.
As Khalifa played all of three seasons in the majors, if his five games in 1987 count as a season, he is sort of an odd player to stick in the memory banks. It is not as though the card was overly memorable either, with Khalifa taking a lead. The card is certainly no 1984 Fleer Glenn Hubbard with a giant snake or this Rex Hudler offering.
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It would be understandable if Sam Khalifa is someone that you do not recall. His career was not exactly stellar, as he posted a .219/.294/.285 batting line. His rookie season was, at least comparatively, decent, as he posted a .238/.307/.319 batting line, hitting both of his home runs and stealing the five bases he had in his career. A possibly promising rookie campaign proved to be the best season that Khalifa would have.
Out of the majors by age 23, Khalifa stayed with the Pirates as minor league filler with the AAA Buffalo Bisons for two more seasons. As it became apparent that he was not a part of the Pirates plans going forward, Khalifa left Buffalo, and after being suspended by Pittsburgh, he never played professional baseball again. A former seventh overall selection, his career was over at age 25.
Despite his struggles, and subsequent spat with the Pirates front office, Sam Khalifa is the first player I recall from the Pirates during my childhood. If I had gotten a different pack, that player may well have been someone different, but it turned out that Khalifa would be that player. Unfortunately, that did not bode well for his career.
Who was the first player you remember from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and how did they come to your attention? Let us know in the comments!