December 12, 2013
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I've already mentioned this—okay, I've mentioned it several times—but I won an award for historical baseball analysis and commentary at the SABR Analytic Conference last week. Actually, you folks did the voting, so I want to thank you again. Not only was I sitting next to Bill James when my name was announced (in other words, I was sitting next to my all-time baseball writer when I won an award for baseball writing), but Bill was kind enough to mention me in his speech the next day.
Enough about me. You can listen to Bill's speech here.
When you last 19 years in the game as a catcher, the most physically demanding of all positions, you have done something right. A testament to durability and staying power, Bob Boone had the kind of defensive presence and complimentary offensive skills that allowed him to stay at the big league level for nearly two decades.
Breaking into the big leagues in 1972, Boone emerged as the Phillies’ No. 1 catcher in 1973. He was nearly traded to the Tigers as part of a deal for venerable catcher Bill Freehan, but he remained with Philadelphia through the 1981 season.
Despite struggling in his efforts to catch staff ace Steve Carlton, Boone emerged as the starting catcher on the division-winning teams of 1976 to 1978 and the world championship team of 1980. But age and injuries began to take their toll the following summer.
Deciding to go with a younger catcher in the newly acquired Bo Diaz, the Phillies sold the 33-year-old Boone to the Angels after the 1981 season. The Angels immediately made him their starting catcher and watched a rejuvenated Boone bounce back to play in 143 games, win a Gold Glove, and garner some consideration for American League MVP.
In subtle ways that involved pitch calling and a sturdy relationship with California pitchers, Boone helped the Angels win the West Division before being eliminated by Milwaukee’s crew of “Harvey’s Wallbangers” in the Championship Series.
One of the earliest photographs of Boone with the Angels can be found in the form of his 1983 Topps card. Boone is seen giving pursuit to a foul ball along the third base line. Given Boone’s defensive prowess, I wouldn’t doubt that he eventually catches this pop fly.
Many action shots are taken during regular season games, but that is not the case with all of the shots in the 1983 Topps set. In this case, Boone is wearing the Angels’ road grays, while the unknown Mariners batter is wearing the home white pants, but this is clearly not the Seattle Kingdome, an indoor stadium with artificial turf.
The preponderance of sun and natural grass indicates that this photo was taken at one of the Mariners’ spring training games, likely during the spring of 1982.
Since this is a spring training game, I’m not too concerned about the specific date and inning of this game. Instead, I’m curious as to the identity of the Mariners’ batter. First, we know that he is white, so we can eliminate Gary Gray, Julio Cruz, Manny Castillo, Lenny Randle, Dave Henderson, Al Cowens, and Uptown Bobby Brown from the conversation.
Based on where the batter is standing, it appears to me that he is a left-handed hitter. If that is indeed the case, then we can eliminate first baseman Jim Maler, shortstop Todd Cruz, and catcher Jim Essian from consideration. They were all right-handed hitters.
So that leaves us with several possibilities, including Rick Sweet, Dave Revering, Bruce Bochte, Joe Simpson, John Moses, and a utility infielder named Steve Stroughter. Or perhaps it is someone who did not make the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, perhaps one of their minor leaguers. That would make solving this mystery particularly tricky.
I honestly have no idea who it is. Can anyone help me out? Who is this Ancient Mariner from 1982?