A baseball card mystery: Lou Brock and the unknown Pirateby Bruce Markusen
February 01, 2013
I hear a lot of talk about how Lou Brock doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The critics say that he didn’t walk enough. That he struck out too much. That he wasn’t a good enough defender in left field. Those critics say that those weaknesses counteract the 3,023 hits and the 938 stolen bases.
Many of those critics conveniently ignore Brock’s postseason numbers, which I believe carry him from a borderline Hall of Famer into a deserving place in Cooperstown. Brock played in three World Series for the Cardinals, all during the pitcher’s era of the 1960s. His performance in those three Fall Classics amounted to a cross of Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig. Brock batted a combined .391 in 21 games, covering a span of 92 plate appearances. He hit four home runs, stole 14 bases in 16 tries, and compiled an OPS of over 1.000.
Without Brock’s all-world effort, it’s quite likely that the Cardinals don’t win two of those World Series, in 1964 against the Yankees and in 1967 against the Red Sox. It’s true that Brock did make a baserunning mistake in his third Series against the Tigers, when he failed to slide into home against Bill Freehan in Game Five, but it’s worth pointing out that the Cardinals still led the game at that point. It’s also pertinent to note that Brock hit .464 in that Series and reached base over 51 per cent of the time. It would be difficult to pin the seven-game loss squarely on the shoulders of Brock.
Having established my brief but emphatic case for Brock, his 1976 card is easily my favorite among those issued for him by Topps. It’s most appropriate that Topps shows him on the basepaths, where he gained much of his reputation as the game’s new stolen base king after Cobb.
Based on the angle of the photograph, I’m relatively sure that the Pirates infielder is the shortstop and not the second baseman. So my initial thoughts centered on Frank Taveras. But he wore No. 10, and not 12 in 1975. I also don’t remember Taveras having such a large Afro as the player in this picture, but my memory could be sketchy on that point.
Maybe we need to go back a season further, to 1974. But Taveras still wore No. 10, and the only two Pirates infielders to have a "2" in their number were Ed Kirkpatrick (No. 23) and Paul Popovich (No. 24). Both were white, so there is no match there either.
To be honest, I’m positively stumped on this one. Without knowing the identity of the Pirates’ infielder, there is probably no way to pinpoint the date, the game, and the inning. Can anyone help me out on these persisting questions?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.