A baseball card mystery: Lou Brock and the unknown Pirate

I hear a lot of talk about how Lou Brock doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The critics say that he didn’t walk enough. That he struck out too much. That he wasn’t a good enough defender in left field. Those critics say that those weaknesses counteract the 3,023 hits and the 938 stolen bases.

Many of those critics conveniently ignore Brock’s postseason numbers, which I believe carry him from a borderline Hall of Famer into a deserving place in Cooperstown. Brock played in three World Series for the Cardinals, all during the pitcher’s era of the 1960s. His performance in those three Fall Classics amounted to a cross of Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig. Brock batted a combined .391 in 21 games, covering a span of 92 plate appearances. He hit four home runs, stole 14 bases in 16 tries, and compiled an OPS of over 1.000.

Without Brock’s all-world effort, it’s quite likely that the Cardinals don’t win two of those World Series, in 1964 against the Yankees and in 1967 against the Red Sox. It’s true that Brock did make a baserunning mistake in his third Series against the Tigers, when he failed to slide into home against Bill Freehan in Game Five, but it’s worth pointing out that the Cardinals still led the game at that point. It’s also pertinent to note that Brock hit .464 in that Series and reached base over 51 per cent of the time. It would be difficult to pin the seven-game loss squarely on the shoulders of Brock.

Having established my brief but emphatic case for Brock, his 1976 card is easily my favorite among those issued for him by Topps. It’s most appropriate that Topps shows him on the basepaths, where he gained much of his reputation as the game’s new stolen base king after Cobb.


Brock’s card shows him taking a lead off the second base bag in a game that appears to have taken place at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium. Ordinarily, I would say that the photograph was taken during the preceding season, in 1975. But in checking the Pirates’ roster from that season, I cannot find a black infielder who featured a “2” in his uniform number. In looking at a roster from Baseball Almanac, Craig Reynolds wore the No. 12, but the Pirates’ infielder in this photo is clearly not Reynolds. Of that, I am certain!
Based on the angle of the photograph, I’m relatively sure that the Pirates infielder is the shortstop and not the second baseman. So my initial thoughts centered on Frank Taveras. But he wore No. 10, and not 12 in 1975. I also don’t remember Taveras having such a large Afro as the player in this picture, but my memory could be sketchy on that point.

Maybe we need to go back a season further, to 1974. But Taveras still wore No. 10, and the only two Pirates infielders to have a “2” in their number were Ed Kirkpatrick (No. 23) and Paul Popovich (No. 24). Both were white, so there is no match there either.

To be honest, I’m positively stumped on this one. Without knowing the identity of the Pirates’ infielder, there is probably no way to pinpoint the date, the game, and the inning. Can anyone help me out on these persisting questions?

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  1. Will said...

    I’m not so sure that’s the shortstop.  If the photographer was in the dugout, and if Brock was on first, the angle could be showing the second baseman. 

    Also, look at Brock’s lead-His foot is on the cusp of the dirt.  Most runners, when they lead off of second base are further out towards the outfield to get a better angle rounding third base.  This implies to me that he is leading off of first base, not second base.

    As far as the identity, I have no clue, but I do think that the search should be around Pirates second basemen, not shortstops.

  2. Doug Overton said...

    Initially, I just said, “It’s Frank Tavares”.  Then after reading some comments, Jackie Hernandez made the most sense.  However, I never remembered him having an afro hair style.  He always seemed to have his hair cut pretty close.  The only evidence I found is his 1974 Topps card.  He does indeed have the mid 70s afro coming out from his hat.  Jackie Hernandez – 1973.  I’ll leave it to those sleuths who can track down which year and game, but it seems it is 1973 because this was Hernandez last season.

  3. john w said...

    it appears judging by the placement of the number 2,it is either a number that ends in 2 or simply the number 2.so means it could be Jackie hernandez from 1973.check it out on baseball almanac,has listing of every pirate team roster.

  4. Jim G. said...

    I was all set to accept that it was Jackie Hernandez from a previous season (I even pinned down the date in ‘73 that it could’ve been), but as 87 Cards notes, there are NO available shots of Hernandez with an afro. (He has had a very small mustache, but nothing like in this card.
    It certainly wasn’t Mendoza. He wore 11 with the Pirates, was a little stockier build, and had no ability to grow significant facial hair. (There is evidence to pathetic attempts.)
    So, everything points to Frank Taveras, who it totally looks like, but why is he wearing the 2 or X2? Were there any “tribute” games in ‘75 where all the players might have worn a 2? I know that kind of a tribute is a recent phenomenon. I’m not even sure who the 2 would be a tribute to. Clemente was 21 when he died, but there’s no sign of the 1. Jackie Robinson was 42, but they didn’t start JR day until 2004.
    Unless Hernandez grew his hair and ‘stache out through the ‘73 season and there’s no document of it, Taveras must have worn a 2 at some point in ‘75.

  5. Jim G. said...

    This team photo from 1973 shows Hernandez with similar afro and facial hair. Close enough to compare to the card. (He’s back row, far left.)
    So if we go to 1973, there were 4 games hosting the Cardinals that Hernandez played short and Brock was on 2nd. A double header on Sept. 3rd, Sept. 4th and Sept. 5th. The card clearly looks like a day game. The 4th and 5th had 8pm-ish starts, so I eliminate them.
    That leaves the double header on the 3rd. I was thinking day/night, but game 1 started at 10:38 AM!! (Imagine that!) Game 2 at 2:28, so both qualify. (Since it was a Monday it must have been Labor Day.)
    To further pin it down, the left fielder in the background is right handed. Stargell played left in game 1, and is left handed, but righty Gene Clines played left in game 2, so I contend it was this game. Brock was on 2nd twice – in the 4th he singled and stole 2nd. In the 5th he singled and advanced to 2nd on a throw. I’m not going to venture a guess as to which inning this was shot.
    A further aside on this date – game 1 went 13 innings. Cardinal catcher Ted Simmons caught every inning of both games. 22 innings in all. He went 6-11.
    @ Michael – I missed your reference to the ‘74 card. I would have saved myself some time. So that’s further evidence it could be JH.

  6. Jim said...

    I must agree with Jim G.  However, the inning Brock went to second on a throw was the 6th.  If it is the second game, then in Three Rivers Stadium, 1st base must have been west of second base.  I don’t know, never was there.

  7. Bruce Markusen said...

    Good work, everyone. I agree that it is Jackie Hernandez and likely from that 1973 season.

    Hernandez was much criticized in his day, but he was good enough to be the starting shortstop for a world championship team in 1971.

  8. Bill Ogorodny said...

    I think the number 2 may be Mario Mendozza. I don’t recall what number he wore when he came up with the Bucs but the face sure looks like Mendozza.

  9. Bill Ogorodny said...

    A second guess would be that it is Jackie Hernandez.  He did wear number 2 and played for the Pirates in the 1974 season.

  10. 87 Cards said...

    Quite a headscratcher….I offer this for the HBT community to chew on.

    The face and ‘fro look a young Frank Tavares—google the ‘75 Frank Tavares Topps card and evaluate.

    However, I find no documentary proof that Tavares wore number 2 or x2 ever.

    Three Rivers Stadium opened for baseball on July 16, 1970.  From that date to 1975, the only Pirate shortstop that wore #2 or #x2 was Jackie Hernandez from 1971 to 1973. The Internet records no images of Hernandez with a ‘fro or even facial hair.

    Bruce, I give up on this one—good challenge; thanks for keeping them coming.

  11. scott said...

    If Brock doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF simply because of a base-running mistake in the World Series, then the same goes for Babe Ruth!  Brock is a HOFer all the way.

  12. Michael Caragliano said...

    Here’s a possibility—is this a photo from 1973? If so, then the fielder is Jackie Hernandez. If you look closely, there’s something like a shadow on the fielder’s left shoulder which could be the #21 patch the Pirates wore for Roberto Clemente. Hernandez clearly has a ‘stache and a ‘fro on his 1974 Topps card, which has a photo of him from 1973. He wore #2 his entire tenure with the Pirates. Plus, Topps using photos more than two years old isn’t unprecedented; there are a couple of Mets photos in the 1969 set that were clearly taken in 1964 or 1965, when the Mets wore the World’s Fair patch, and Sammy Ellis’s Angels card in the same set, which is a head shot of him in his Reds uniform, was clearly taken at the Polo Grounds, which was demolished five years earlier.

    Now, if the photo was taken in 1973, there’s only one possibility. The Pirates and Cardinals played a double header on September 3rd, and Brock and Hernandez both played in the second game, which the Cardinals won 8-3. Brock singled and reached second twice in that game, in the top of the 4th and 6th, when Hernandez was playing shortstop.

  13. Peter Boucher said...

    The trouble is, the Pirates player most certainly has a No.2 on his jersey but Brock’s left arm is in the way of what could possibly be a number to the left of the number 2. 12, 22, 32, 42, who knows ??

  14. jere said...

    It’s Jackie Hernandez (game is from ‘73 because of Robinson patch and nobody else fits whose number ended with 2). And Jim G. has it all right in terms of the date, Sept. 3. And game one of that DH is indeed eliminated since the shadows compare with other photos of post-noontime at Three Rivers. (North ran from first to home.) So it is game 2, and you can tell Brock JUST slid—look at the dirt on his right leg/foot.

    I think this pic from Getty Images might even be that very steal, 5th inning, game 2, 9/3/1973, everything matches up with him and Hernandez: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/outfielder-lou-brock-of-the-st-louis-cardinals-steals-news-photo/104963161

  15. Jim G. said...

    @Jim – Thank for the clarification. It was the 6th.
    @ Jere – the steal was in the 4th inning
    @ 87 Cards Re: Mendoza Line – good one!
    @ bstar – I sympathize with you. I was sure it was Taveras for a while myself.

  16. Jim said...

    Why did Topps use a three year old picture on a future Hall of Famer card?  I would think that would be restricted to “cup of coffee” players.

  17. Jere said...

    Hey it’s just like how even Superman can’t win at Scrabble if he’s picking vowels all day. If you couldn’t get a good shot of the guy, you had to hit the vault I guess.

  18. bstar said...

    Good stuff on the photo find, Jere. We can even match up the stocking length on Hernandez’s legs & the length of the undershirt both are wearing from your pic.

  19. Mark Marvelli said...

    It’s rookie Willie Randolph (12), playing second base, photographed from the first base dugout photographers area. It doesnt look like what we think of as WR but he played 30 games that year as a fresh faced, big haired, mustachioed 21 year old for the Pirates.

  20. Mark Marvelli said...

    Just to clarify…in ‘75 Craig Reynolds wore 12 for for 31 games while playing shortstop at the beginning of the season. Randolph came up at the end of July and took over the uniform number after Reynolds was gone and played mostly second base with a game or two at third.

  21. Jim G. said...

    OK, let’s ignore the fact that Randolph is much darker skinned and never had more than a thin mustache (and there’s no pictures of him in a PP uniform with any stache). Randolph played in two games at home vs. the Cards in ‘75, and was a pinch hitter both times. He never played the field in those games. There’s no way that’s Randolph.

  22. Bruce Markusen said...

    There are few things I’m sure of in life, but one of them is this: That is NOT Willie Randolph on Lou Brock’s card.

  23. DEoA said...

    You know why I bet they used an old picture of Lou Brock for 1976? Because none of Lou’s base cards from 1962 (his rookie card) to 1975 are action shots. They are merely poses, usually holding a bat. I wonder if someone at Topps realized they had never had a card of Lou in action in all their years.

  24. Jim said...

    Whoever that Pirate is, he has a patch on his left sleeve.  They (the Pirates) only did that in 1973 and is was a 21 inside a circle for Clemente.  So, it’s got to be a 73 picture.

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