A baseball card mystery: Jim Spencer and Billy Northby Bruce Markusen
February 13, 2013
Jim Spencer’s 1977 Topps card gives us one of the better views of those atrocious 19th century throwback uniforms the White Sox wore in the 1970s. With black tops, black pants and a black cap, the Sox did their best imitation of 19th century wear, when teams had dark wool uniforms that maximized the properties of heat and sweat. Only these Sox uniforms were made of polyester, which makes them even more frightening.
While the uniforms are generally hideous, they are somewhat flattering to the paunchy Spencer, who looks thinner than usual in this photograph. It’s most appropriate that Topps shows Spencer in a defensive posture; he was an excellent defensive first baseman who won the Gold Glove in 1977. With his quick first step, nimble feet, and soft hands, Spencer was among the most sure handed first basemen of the era.
As a bonus, Spencer’s 1977 Topps card also gives ample space to A’s speedster Billy North, who can be seen making his way back to first base on an attempted pickoff throw. There was good reason to attempt a pickoff against North: In 1976, he led the American League with 75 stolen bases. That was the best single season output of a career that saw him steal a total of 395 bases.
Based on North’s positioning, and the fact that Spencer has not yet caught the ball thrown by the White Sox‘ pitcher, we can assume that North makes it back to first base safely on this play.
That brings us to our mystery. Can we pinpoint the date of this game, which presumably took place in 1976? And do we know what happens to North? Does he remain stranded at first, or does he advance farther around the bases?
One major clue may help us find an answer. North is wearing an all-white uniform; that was the uniform that the A’s wore only on Sunday day games at home. Given that piece of information, we can deduce that the Oakland Coliseum is the site, and that this game must have taken place on a Sunday during the 1976 season.
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.