A baseball card mystery: Dave Nelsonby Bruce Markusen
December 18, 2012
If you’re a fan of the Brewers, you’re well aware of Dave Nelson. He’s a longtime Brewers broadcaster and former coach for the team who also serves as the head of Milwaukee’s alumni association.
If you’re in your forties or older, you probably remember Dave Nelson as a ballplayer. A 1968 Topps All-Star rookie with the Indians, he later played for the Senators, Rangers, and Royals. He was one of the fastest runners of the 1970s. He’s probably most famous for having stolen second base, third base and home plate in a single inning against the Indians.
Heading into the 1973 season, Dave Nelson was regarded as one of the game’s most dangerous base stealing threats. He had stolen 51 bases in 1972, despite batting only .226 with a mere .324 on-base percentage.
Nelson’s 1973 season would be his best. Switched back to second base, he hit a career-high .286 while also reaching high water marks in home runs and RBIs. He also earned the only All-Star Game selection of his career, becoming the first Ranger to play in the Midsummer Classic.
Toward the tail end of the 1973 season, Nelson played for Billy Martin, who had succeeded Whitey Herzog and Del Wilbur. Nelson became a Martin favorite, admired for his hustle and his willingness to play through pain. Martin likened Nelson to Jackie Robinson, not for his talent but for his aggressive approach to the game.
Fittingly, Nelson’s 1973 Topps card shows him on the basepaths, where he did most of his damage as a ballplayer. Nelson has apparently just stolen a base in a 1972 game against the Oakland A’s. The card clearly shows us two other players, both members of the A’s: middle infielder Ted Kubiak (No. 11) and left-handed pitcher Dave Hamilton (No. 33). Hamilton strikes a bit of an odd pose, as he walks toward second base with his glove wrapped around toward his back. Kubiak has his head down, his eyes focused on Nelson’s right leg, seemingly hoping that Nelson will loose touch with the base. Kubiak and Hamilton are wearing Oakland’s white uniforms, which were only worn during home games. So the venue has to be the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.
That is what we know. Yet, there are a number of questions that remain. What exactly is happening in the photo? Who is holding the ball, Kubiak or Hamilton? Has Nelson just stolen second base, as I first indicated, or is he merely sliding into second after a failed pickoff attempt? And when exactly did this game take place? Can we boil it down to a specific day, or perhaps even the specific inning?
These are the questions. Perhaps some can be answered.
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.