Wednesday, December 28, 2011
A baseball card mystery: Gary Gaetti’s 1993 Topps cardPosted by Bruce Markusen
I vaguely remember Gary Gaetti playing for the California Angels.
He also played for the Royals, Cardinals, and Cubs as he lingered aimlessly on the major league scene throughout the 1990s, far past his prime seasons of 1986, ‘87 and ‘88 with the Twins.
But I have absolutely no recollection of Gaetti playing five games for the Red Sox in 2000, when he went hitless in 11 plate appearances before announcing his retirement.
One would have to be a true Red Sox diehard to remember Gaetti’s early-season cameo at Fenway Park.
More vividly than his tenures with the Red Sox and Angels, I remember Gary Gaetti as the consummate free swinger. For his career high, he averaged 54 walks per a season. Most years, his totals were in the twenties or thirties. A power hitter who loved to rip—he struck out two-and-a-half times for every walk he drew—Gaetti rarely met a pitch he didn’t like.
Nicknamed “The Rat” for his long nose and weak chin, Gaetti was also an aggressive baserunner.
It was an attribute that Topps captured on his 1993 baseball card.
On this play, we see Gaetti going toe-to-toe with Indians catcher Junior Ortiz, who was noted for his strong defensive play.
As the ball arrives in Ortiz’ mitt, Gaetti has already begun his slide into the plate.
(And if you've seen Ortiz' card, you'll know that it shows the same play, but only at a different juncture.)
So here’s the question: Was Gaetti safe, or was he out? Was this one of the 41 runs Gaetti scored during the 1992 season, when this photo was taken? Or was it one of the 402 putouts that Ortiz recorded as the Indians’ backup catcher to Sandy Alomar that summer?
Gaetti’s Angels and Ortiz’ Indians met 12 times in 1992. Six of those meetings took place at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, where Topps snapped this photograph. Perhaps a definitive answer lies in the box scores.
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.