Tuesday, January 24, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Bob Didier and Cleon JonesPosted by Bruce Markusen
It is very appropriate that Bob Didier’s 1973 Topps shows him in a defensive position. The switch-hitting Didier didn’t hit much--in fact, he never hit a home run in his six-year big league career--but he was an excellent fielder and a strong thrower. In 1969, he finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year race, as he helped the Braves to the first ever National League West title.
Didier might have had a career along the lines of defender extraordinaire Jim Sundberg, but injuries derailed him. Back problems, In particular prevented Didier from becoming an everyday player. After his rookie season of 1969, he never played in more than 57 games in a season, and by 1974, his major league career was over.
Of the few Topps cards that portrayed Didier, his 1973 Topps is by far the most interesting. This rough-and-tumble action shot shows him trying to apply a tag to Mets outfielder Cleon Jones (wearing No. 21), who is sliding hard into home plate as one of the Mets’ catchers (either Jerry Grote or Duffy Dyer) looks on from the background. Didier seems confident that he has tagged Jones out in time, but is still awaiting the call from the home plate umpire. So is Jones, the Mets' fleet footed starting left fielder, out or safe?
The Didier card raises another interesting question. Normally, Topps cards portray scenes from the previous season, so we would assume that this picture was snapped in 1972. But there’s a problem. Didier is not wearing the Braves’ blue-and-white road uniform that was adopted in 1972. Instead, he is wearing the road gray, which was last used by the Braves in 1971.
A check of Didier’s 1972 playing log confirms our suspicions. Didier played in only 13 games in ‘72, and none against the Mets. So it is likely that the Didier/Jones play took place sometime in 1971.
So we know it’s Shea Stadium, likely in 1971. What was the date, and was Jones safe or out?
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.