Wednesday, January 18, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Thurman Munson and who?Posted by Bruce Markusen
Jorge Posada’s impending retirement has me thinking about great Yankee catchers. I’m not old enough to have seen Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra or Elston Howard in live action, but I’ve been fortunate to see both Posada and Thurman Munson up close and personal.
Posada will be an interesting case for Hall of Fame discussion. His late start, coupled with his defensive shortcomings, will hurt his chances, though perhaps not irrevocably.
Munson’s case for the Hall of Fame is a tougher sell. Due the ravaged state of his knees, he was already in decline by the time of the horrific plane crash and fire that took his life in 1979.
His three phenomenal seasons of 1975 to 1977 constitute an impressive peak—he was arguably a better player than Carlton Fisk during that stretch—but three straight Hall of Fame seasons are not enough, at least not by themselves, to gain entrance to Cooperstown.
Munson received his own action card in the 1972 set; he was one of 72 players to merit an action photo, complete with red banners all the way around. Technically speaking, we don’t really see Munson in action here, but rather in conference with one of his pitchers.
Those conferences on the mound could become rather heated, with Munson loudly imploring his pitchers to pick up the pace, knock a hitter off the plate or simply throw some damn strikes.
That brings us to this week’s baseball card mystery. It’s a two-parter, involving both location and identity.
First off, the Yankees are clearly wearing their road grays, so we know that this photo was not taken at the old Yankee Stadium. Given the absence of the “Green Monster,” I think it’s safe to say that it’s not Fenway Park, either.
That leaves us with 10 other choices, including old RFK Stadium in Washington, home of the Senators.
Second, I’m left wondering which Yankee pitcher is standing on the mound next to Munson. His face is bathed in shadow, making an indentification difficult. His glove is not evident on his left-hand, so it is likely a southpaw.
It could be Fritz Peterson, but I’m not certain. Other possibilities on the 1971 Yankees are Mike Kekich (whom I remember as being thinner than the pitcher on this card) and four relatively obscure relievers: Alan Closter, Rob Gardner, Gary Jones and Terry Ley.
So who is it? And where is it?
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.