Monday, January 09, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Alan Trammell and George VukovichPosted by Bruce Markusen
Whether he’s a deserving Hall of Famer or not, Trammell was unquestionably a very fine player for the Tigers in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. He was a good clutch hitter with power, ran the bases well, and formed a lyrical double play combination with the similarly underrated Lou Whitaker. Trammell was featured on a number of baseball cards during that time, including some wonderful action shots of him at the plate and in the field. Perhaps my favorite is his 1985 Fleer card, which is seen here. The photo was taken during the 1984 season, when Trammell batted .314 with a .384 on-base percentage as one of the essential cogs of the Tigers’ world championship team.
In this card, we see Trammell standing at second base, waiting to make a play on George Vukovich, an outfielder with the Indians. Vukovich, not to be confused with either the late John Vukovich or Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich, was mostly a journeyman outfielder whose brief career lasted from 1980 to 1985. When this photograph was taken in 1984, Vukovich was in the midst of putting up career best numbers. The principal right fielder for the Indians that summer—he played mostly against right-handed pitching, platooning with the wonderfully named Carmelo Castillo—Vukovich batted .304 with an OBP of .354 and a slugging percentage of .439. Those weren’t mind-numbing numbers, but for George Vukovich, they represented just about the peak of his performance.
Vukovich’s Indians played Trammell’s Tigers 13 times in 1984. Six of those matchups took place at monstrous Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, where this photograph was snapped. So here’s the mystery. In which of the six games did this play occur? Was this a ground ball force play at second base, or was Vukovich trying to steal the base? (He went a paltry 1-for-5 in stole base attempts that year.) And finally, was Vukovich safe or out? Trammell appears to be in the ready position, with his glove low to the ground in preparation of making the tag, but it’s not clear to me that he has the ball in his glove. Is he really ready to make the tag, or is he tricking Vukovich into thinking that he has the ball, so as to make Vukovich slide into the bag?
These are the questions. Will the box scores provide the answers?
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.