Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A baseball card mystery: Johnny Bench’s 1973 Topps cardPosted by Bruce Markusen
Man, this is a terrific card. It’s part of the iconic 1973 Topps set, depicts a Hall of Fame player in his prime, and shows him attempting to make a fine running catch near the opposition's dugout.
Johnny Bench is the best defensive catcher I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that I never saw defensive stalwarts like Roger Bresnahan, Mickey Cochrane, or Jim Hegan play, but I have seen receivers like Bob Boone, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, and Jim Sundberg over the last 35 to 40 years.
I suppose strong arguments could be made for Josh Gibson as the greatest catcher of all time, but I never saw him play, and the Negro Leagues statistics are sufficiently lacking as to do him little justice.
But let’s get back to the card. Thanks to the magic of Topps, we see Bench in full action, near the end of a sprint toward the first-base dugout, as he attempts to finish off a two-handed basket catch of a foul ball.
Due to the timing of the photo by the cameraman, we don’t know for sure if Bench makes the catch, if he crashes into the enemy dugout, (which appears to belong to the Giants), or both.
So here’s the mystery. Did Bench actually make the catch in this game at Candlestick Park, or did he drop the ball? If he dropped the ball, would the official scorer have dared to give Bench an error?
And by the way, who is that Giant sitting in the darkness of the dugout? Bobby Bonds, perhaps?
The Reds played nine games in San Francisco during the 1972 season. This play must have taken place in one of those games. Time to dig.
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.