Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A baseball card mystery: Joe Ferguson and who?Posted by Bruce Markusen
Growing up as a sports fan in the 1970s, I remember two Joe Fergusons. One was a decent quarterback for the NFL Buffalo Bills. The other, the lesser known of the two, was an overlooked catcher for the Dodgers and a few other major league teams.
As a baseball fan first and foremost, I started to become more familiar with the baseball Ferguson. He had several distinguishing characteristics. He liked to wear a helmet when he played the outfield. He had an ungodly throwing arm. He also looked like he enjoyed his post-game meals.
Primarily a catcher during his major league career, Ferguson also played in right field from time to time. The time-sharing plan began early in his career with the Dodgers, who already had a fine defensive catcher in Steve Yeager but wanted to make room for the power-hitting Ferguson. When the 220-pound Ferguson took to the outfield, where he hated to play, he made sure to take his hard hat with him.
I haven’t been able to pinpoint an exact reason why Ferguson did this, but it may have had something to do with his lack of confidence in catching a fly ball. “Big Fergie” once lost two fly balls in the sun during the same game, making his head an easy target for a ball dropping out of the sky.
While Ferguson’s fielding prowess in right field sometimes made his managers nervous, he didn’t lack for ability in throwing the baseball. In Game One of the 1974 World Series, Ferguson cut in front of center fielder Jimmy Wynn to make a catch and then unleashed a 290-foot tracer to the catcher, erasing Sal Bando and taking a potential run off the board for the world champion A’s. It was also a smart play by Ferguson, given that Wynn was playing with a badly injured throwing shoulder and would have had little chance to throw out Bando.
Ferguson was an underrated ballplayer. His low batting averages masked his power and his ability draw walks. At his 1973 peak, Ferguson hit 25 home runs and posted an OPS of .839. His ability to catch and play the outfield made him particularly valuable as a role player for the Dodgers, Cardinals, Astros and Angels.
As much as Ferguson’s career as a catcher/outfielder intrigues me, this Baseball Card Mystery is really about the other player on this card, the baserunner for the Cardinals. At first glance, I thought it might be Willie Davis, before realizing that Davis was with the Montreal Expos in 1974, when this photo was likely snapped. Davis would not join the Cardinals until the middle of the 1975 season. So it simply cannot be "Three Dog."
My second thought centers on Bake McBride, the lanky and speedy outfielder who would gain more notoriety for his later tenure with the Phillies. McBride had an Afro similar in its dimensions to what we see on the card. I think it is McBride, but I’m only about 95 per cent sure. Is it McBride, or am I missing some other candidate on the Cardinals‘ roster?
The next question has to do with the date of the game. If it is McBride, can we pin down this 1974 game between the Cardinals and Dodgers, which must have taken place at Busch Memorial Stadium? And finally, is the baserunner safe, or is he 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.