Tuesday, November 08, 2011
A baseball card mystery: who’s that Yankee?Posted by Bruce Markusen
Ten years ago, Topps included a terrific subset within its regular issue of cards: a series of “Golden Moments” celebrating some of the most iconic occurrences in the game’s history. One of those cards featured a moment that no Yankee fan over the age of 40 will ever forget.
On an October afternoon in 1978, Bucky Dent, the ninth-place hitter for the Yankees, stepped in against Mike Torrez of the Red Sox. Trailing 2-0, the Yankees faced the prospect of losing the pennant race in game no. 163. Yet manager Bob Lemon opted not to pinch-hit for Dent.
Moments after Dent hit a Torrez fastball toward the Green Monster, Yankee fans watching the game on television struggled to see the ball against the October background of late afternoon sun and shadows. “Deep to left,” cried Bill White, announcing the game on WPIX-TV in New York. “Yastrzemski will not get it… it’s a home run!! A three-run home run by Bucky Dent…”
As we can see on Topps’ “Golden Moments” card, many of the Yankees are surrounding Dent, the newly crowned conquering hero. The Yankee player trailing Dent is Chris Chambliss, who was one of the two Yankees on base at the time of Dent’s unlikely home run. The other was Roy White, who is not visible in the picture.
It’s also easy to pick out most of the other “happy Yankees,” as they were described by White, streaming out of the dugout and onto the field. The first Yankee to emerge from the dugout is the jacketed Cliff Johnson, one of the potential pinch-hitters that manager Bob Lemon bypassed as a replacement for the light-hitting Dent.
Then there is another man in a jacket, Lemon himself, the in-season managerial replacement who looks as relieved as he is happy. Behind Lemon is backup outfielder Jay Johnstone, another one of the would-be pinch-hitters.
To the far left of Johnstone is Gene Monahan, the longtime trainer who just retired from the Yankees at the end of this past season. Directly behind Monahan we see the injured Willie Randolph, who was unavailable to play second base, giving way to the unheralded Brian Doyle.
That leaves one Yankee that I’m unable to identify, the muscular player to the right of Randolph. Whoever he is, he is as thrilled as any of the Yankees, all of whom have just witnessed a singular baseball moment.
I thought I knew every thing there is to know about the 1978 Yankees, but I have fallen short when it comes to this mystery player. I really have no idea who it is. He is partially obscured by the gold foil on the card, but there is still enough there to make an ID. Unfortunately, his face does not look familiar to me. It’s certainly not Thurman Munson or Graig Nettles or Ron Guidry or Ed Figueroa or Catfish Hunter.
So who is it? I really don’t know. Perhaps a faithful reader can supply 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.