A baseball card mystery: Joe Ferguson and who?

Growing up as a sports fan in the 1970s, I remember two Joe Fergusons. One was a decent quarterback for the NFL Buffalo Bills. The other, the lesser known of the two, was an overlooked catcher for the Dodgers and a few other major league teams.

As a baseball fan first and foremost, I started to become more familiar with the baseball Ferguson. He had several distinguishing characteristics. He liked to wear a helmet when he played the outfield. He had an ungodly throwing arm. He also looked like he enjoyed his post-game meals.

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When I think of Ferguson, the word “burly” comes to mind. He looked part lumberjack, part sumo wrestler. He wasn’t what I would call fat, but then again, he didn’t look like Jack LaLanne either. He just looked big in every way, including his mustache and eyebrows.

Primarily a catcher during his major league career, Ferguson also played in right field from time to time. The time-sharing plan began early in his career with the Dodgers, who already had a fine defensive catcher in Steve Yeager but wanted to make room for the power-hitting Ferguson. When the 220-pound Ferguson took to the outfield, where he hated to play, he made sure to take his hard hat with him.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint an exact reason why Ferguson did this, but it may have had something to do with his lack of confidence in catching a fly ball. “Big Fergie” once lost two fly balls in the sun during the same game, making his head an easy target for a ball dropping out of the sky.

While Ferguson’s fielding prowess in right field sometimes made his managers nervous, he didn’t lack for ability in throwing the baseball. In Game One of the 1974 World Series, Ferguson cut in front of center fielder Jimmy Wynn to make a catch and then unleashed a 290-foot tracer to the catcher, erasing Sal Bando and taking a potential run off the board for the world champion A’s. It was also a smart play by Ferguson, given that Wynn was playing with a badly injured throwing shoulder and would have had little chance to throw out Bando.

Ferguson was an underrated ballplayer. His low batting averages masked his power and his ability draw walks. At his 1973 peak, Ferguson hit 25 home runs and posted an OPS of .839. His ability to catch and play the outfield made him particularly valuable as a role player for the Dodgers, Cardinals, Astros and Angels.

As much as Ferguson’s career as a catcher/outfielder intrigues me, this Baseball Card Mystery is really about the other player on this card, the baserunner for the Cardinals. At first glance, I thought it might be Willie Davis, before realizing that Davis was with the Montreal Expos in 1974, when this photo was likely snapped. Davis would not join the Cardinals until the middle of the 1975 season. So it simply cannot be “Three Dog.”

My second thought centers on Bake McBride, the lanky and speedy outfielder who would gain more notoriety for his later tenure with the Phillies. McBride had an Afro similar in its dimensions to what we see on the card. I think it is McBride, but I’m only about 95 per cent sure. Is it McBride, or am I missing some other candidate on the Cardinals‘ roster?

The next question has to do with the date of the game. If it is McBride, can we pin down this 1974 game between the Cardinals and Dodgers, which must have taken place at Busch Memorial Stadium? And finally, is the baserunner safe, or is he out?

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Comments

  1. Jim G. said...

    My vote is Bake McBride, May 24,  2nd inning, scoring on a single by Ted Sizemore. Sizemore advanced to 2nd on the throw home. It looks like a day game, and that was the only one where Ferguson caught in St. Louis. Messersmith was the Dodger pitcher. Cards won the game 7-2.

  2. Jim said...

    Using the following presumptions,

    a.  It is Bake McBride
    b.  The game is in St. Louis in the daytime
    c.  The picture was taken in 1974.

    I would have to say it is the second inning of the May 27, 1974 game.  As Retrosheet has the play, “McBride doubled to left; Sizemore singled to center [McBride scored, Sizemore to second
    (on throw to home)]”

    Which would explain Ferguson waiting for the ball.

    Any other comments?

  3. Chris R said...

    That’s Bake, sporting a fairly restrained iteration of the Afro that became the inspiration and avatar for the name of one of my fantasy teams: Bake McBride’s Fro.

  4. weskelton said...

    OK, I’m with you now.  I was thinking Phillies, but McBride was with St. Louis in 74.  Makes more sense now.

  5. Jim said...

    weskelton, trouble with your assessment is that the player in the picture does not have pinstripes.  He has piping around the sleeve, which the Phillies did not have on their uniforms.

    Now as far as being a Reds player (Geronimo?), all 8 games Geronimo played against the Dodgers at Cincinnati were at night.  This is definitely a day game.

  6. Jim G. said...

    jere,
    That’s a possibility. My money is still on the 2nd. It looks like its going to be a bang-bang play, and even Simmons would probably take second on a play like that.

  7. jere said...

    “it was so much easier to pick the second inning because it stated there was a throw home.”

    Yeah, that may be the main reason why you’d have to pick that one, it’s the only one of the two where we KNOW a throw went home. Or pretty sure anyway.

  8. jere said...

    I agree on 5/27/74 as the game. It was the only home game McBride had played in his young career to that point with Ferguson as the opposing catcher.

    Jim and Jim G both went with the second inning play—but couldn’t it also be the first inning? McBride was on second base with two out, and Simmons singled to right, scoring Bake, with no advance by Simmons. There’s a chance Ferguson is about to receive the throw while the slow-footed Simmons takes a wide turn and holds at first. Ferguson does seem to be facing toward the right side of the diamond, but I think the throw could be just as easily coming from center or right-center.

  9. Jim said...

    Very true and I considered it.  But it was so much easier to pick the second inning because it stated there was a throw home.  Yes, there may have been a throw home in the first as well.  Good point.

  10. Jim G. said...

    Phil,

      The guy in the white shirt looks like Al Schmidt, who owned a chain of pizza stores in the St. Louis area, Mr. Z’s House of ‘Za. He lived in Clayton, MO and had Cardinals season tickets from 1967 to 1988, when he retired and moved to Sun City, AZ. He led Cardinal fans in Busch stadium hot dogs eaten from ‘72 to ‘78, and drove a famous red VW wagon that had big fire-breathing Cardinals painted on the side. He always wore a white shirt to day games, and remarkably, despite the prodigious amount of hot dogs eaten, never spilled mustard on them. He also had an imaginary girlfriend that he killed off before game 7 of the 1982 World Series…..

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