A baseball card mystery: Jim Spencer and Billy North

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.

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During his career, Spencer won two Gold Gloves, earned an All-Star Game selection in 1973, and even led the American League in intentional walks one season. That happened with the White Sox in 1976, when he was surrounded by seven regular players who each hit fewer than eight home runs. By then the White Sox no longer had Dick Allen and Bill Melton. Instead their lineup was filled with hitters like Jack Brohamer, Kevin Bell, Pat Kelly and Bucky Dent.

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.

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Comments

  1. Carl said...

    I remember this card as a kid and I remember at the time thinking it was Claudell Washington.

    Look at the shadows.  Seem’s almost overhead to me, indicating early in the game.  Game time was 3:10, so 5th inning would be about 90 minutes after game started.  Anybody able to find when the game started? 

    Also sad fact – attendance was 6,056.?! (for a Sunday home game for a team with 5 straight division titles)

  2. dennis Bedard said...

    I care.  This site is important to me.  These seemingly irrelevant tidbits of information and people’s continued interest in them bespeak a level of knowledge and sophistication about sports.  The fact that many people read this site and comment on it says something about our level of civil discourse:  tradition is important.

  3. Callum said...

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  4. Callum said...

    Hey this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have
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  5. Joe Dimino said...

    Looks like May 30, 1976 … That’s the only Sunday they played in Oakland.

    North was on first several times, Spencer played the entire game. HBP and CS in the first; in 5th he walked and Campaneris sacrificed him over where he was stranded; in the 7th he walked and stole second and was stranded again; in the 9th he reached on a force out and stole second, scoring on Campaneris’s single.

    He’s got a patch of dirt on his pants, probably from a stolen base attempt, so that rules out the first inning.

    But he’s not too dirty … So I’m guessing 5th or 7th inning?

  6. salvo said...

    I think those uniforms were in fact black, but as you know if you’ve ever held two black articles of clothing side by side, even black can have a hint of hue to it, be it red, blue, green, etc.

    And those ‘77 White Sox were the polar opposites, power-wise, of the ‘76 squad that managed just 73 homers, topped by Spencer and Jorge Orta with 14 apiece. For the next season the Sox added Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble and hit over a 100 more homers than the year before.

    Nine different players hit in double digits as the team became known as The South Side Hit Men.

    That was a really fun season in old Comiskey as they won 90 games a year after winning only 63 and drawing 1.6 million a year after drawing under a million.

    Nancy Faust came up with her “Na-Na-Na-Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye” serenade and the bleacher fans held up the giant red bullseyes and signs like “Pitch at Risk to Richie Zisk.”

    I remember one game where I was sitting directly behind Senator Chuck Percy in the left-field bleachers and having an Eric Soderholm home run land in our midst and a scramble ensued with no deference to the esteemed congressman. Those were some fun, festive times at the ol’ ballpark.

  7. Jim said...

    Yep, I agree on the date, but it appears the sun is almost directly overhead which would be noon standard time, 1 pm daylight time.  The time of game was 3:10, not the start time.  I think it is the first inning.  The dirt on North’s back pocket would then be put on when he hit the deck after being hit by the pitch.

  8. Johnny P said...

    Here’s an account of all of North’s at bats:

    1st inning: hit by pitch, Spencer wouldn’t be fielding a throw.
    3rd inning: groundout 1B-P, Spencer would be the thrower, not the recipient.
    5th inning: walk, again, no throw.
    7th inning: walk, no throw.
    9th inning: bunt groudout, P-SS, forceout at 2B, North safe at 1B.
    11th inning: sacrifice bunt, 3B-1B.

    My best guess would be the 11th inning- North would be trying to beat out the bunt, while Spencer appears to be tilted toward the other side of the infield- i.e., third base.

  9. Bruce Markusen said...

    Johnny, I may be wrong, but I don’t think North is running from home to first. I believe he is trying to get back to first base, perhaps on a pickoff attempt.

  10. Joe Dimino said...

    Agree with Bruce, that is definitely a pickoff attempt. North is on the other side of the white line and Spencer is positioned exactly how he would be when holding the runner. North would be on the other side of Spencer if he was running down the line.

    The shadows overhead is a great call. And North hitting the deck on the HBP could be possible.

    Would also make sense that the card photographer would try to get his shot early and get out of there too.

  11. Joe Dimino said...

    Looking further, Pat Kelly was hit by Dick Bosman to lead off the first for Chicago . . . and North was hit by Gossage to lead off for Oakland. So it makes sense that North’s HBP was a ‘hit the deck’ type.

    Goose would probably be ejected for that today grin

    Oakland was 20-24, 6 games out in 5th place out of 6 teams at the time. I figured that would explain the attendance, but . . .

    The previous year they were in first place at 29-18 on Sunday June 1 at home and drew 7644.

  12. Marc Schneider said...

    I love this kind of stuff but it sure makes me feel old. I was 20 in 1976; it doesn’t seem that long ago but now it’s going on 37 years.

  13. Dennis Anderson said...

    The White Sox in 1976, the first year of this style of uniform, wore white caps with a dark navy brim (the uniforms were actually dark navy from ‘76 to ‘81) for most of the year. Then they switched to the all-navy cap.

  14. 87 Cards said...

    I have to weigh in because I lack the discipline the lay off the collared Sox unis of the ‘70s.  They mocked my purist (even as a pre-teen) baseball sensibilities.

    I played Litte League ball in the middle seventies.  In 1976, our league had a team called the White Sox.  In 1977, after the collared jerseys and atrocious shorts of the MLB White Sox, the same sponsor of the White Sox (a locally-owned office supply store-remember those?) bought new gear and named his entry the Rockies. He was quite open with his disgust of the ChiSox and their togs.

    This new name was 20 years prescient to the MLB Rockies but then inspired by a medicore NHL team in Denver newly-arrived from Kansas City. In my youth, the only Big Four teams in our time zone were the Denver Broncos, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies (now doing business as the New Jersey Devils).

  15. John S. said...

    As a Cub fan who got a lot of mileage ridiculing those horrible uniforms at the expense of my Sox fan friends, I can assure you that they were navy blue.  Sox got the last laugh with WS in ‘05.  I’m here still hoping!

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