Friday, February 10, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Ontiveros and SchmidtPosted by Bruce Markusen
If you’re a collector looking to acquire Mike Schmidt’s 1976 Topps card in mint condition, you’ll have to pay a fairly stiff price.
Schmidt’s presence on the card doesn’t do much for the value of a ’76 Ontiveros, but it does provide an interesting juxtaposition between a Hall of Fame player and a player of the run-of-the-mill variety. Schmidt, one of the greatest players I’ve ever had the privilege of watching, is universally regarded as the finest third baseman in the history of the major leagues. Other than striking out with some frequency, he had no tangible weakness in his diversified game.
Ontiveros, whom I also saw play, was not anywhere near that caliber, but he was not a bad player either. Also a third baseman, he put up an .813 OPS for the Cubs in 1977, batted .274 lifetime, and totaled more walks (309) than he did strikeouts (290). On the other hand, he had very little power, hitting only 24 home runs in over 2,500 plate appearances, and was not a particularly smooth fielder at the hot corner.
So if you were looking for a third baseman to play for your team in the mid-1970s, you were far more likely to end up with a Steven Robert Ontiveros than a Michael Jack Schmidt.
When two players appear on the same card, it also provides us with an opportunity for a baseball card mystery. In this case, the question is obvious: In what game was this photograph taken? And was Ontiveros safe or out at the plate? Since it’s a 1976 card, the photo was most likely taken during the 1975 season. Schmidt is wearing his home whites, so the game must have been played at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Let’s narrow it down a little further: The Giants played a grand total of six games at The Vet in 1975.
So who will be the first to come up with the answer?
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.