A baseball card mystery: Thurman Munson and who?

Jorge Posada’s impending retirement has me thinking about great Yankee catchers. I’m not old enough to have seen Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra or Elston Howard in live action, but I’ve been fortunate to see both Posada and Thurman Munson up close and personal.

Posada will be an interesting case for Hall of Fame discussion. His late start, coupled with his defensive shortcomings, will hurt his chances, though perhaps not irrevocably.

Munson’s case for the Hall of Fame is a tougher sell. Due the ravaged state of his knees, he was already in decline by the time of the horrific plane crash and fire that took his life in 1979.

His three phenomenal seasons of 1975 to 1977 constitute an impressive peak—he was arguably a better player than Carlton Fisk during that stretch—but three straight Hall of Fame seasons are not enough, at least not by themselves, to gain entrance to Cooperstown.

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With his squatty body and distinctive red chest protector, it’s always easy to pick Munson out on other player’s cards, like Terry Crowley’s 1973 Topps card and Carl Yastrzemski’s 1972 “In Action” card.

Munson received his own action card in the 1972 set; he was one of 72 players to merit an action photo, complete with red banners all the way around. Technically speaking, we don’t really see Munson in action here, but rather in conference with one of his pitchers.

Those conferences on the mound could become rather heated, with Munson loudly imploring his pitchers to pick up the pace, knock a hitter off the plate or simply throw some damn strikes.

That brings us to this week’s baseball card mystery. It’s a two-parter, involving both location and identity.

First off, the Yankees are clearly wearing their road grays, so we know that this photo was not taken at the old Yankee Stadium. Given the absence of the “Green Monster,” I think it’s safe to say that it’s not Fenway Park, either.

That leaves us with 10 other choices, including old RFK Stadium in Washington, home of the Senators.

Second, I’m left wondering which Yankee pitcher is standing on the mound next to Munson. His face is bathed in shadow, making an indentification difficult. His glove is not evident on his left-hand, so it is likely a southpaw.

It could be Fritz Peterson, but I’m not certain. Other possibilities on the 1971 Yankees are Mike Kekich (whom I remember as being thinner than the pitcher on this card) and four relatively obscure relievers: Alan Closter, Rob Gardner, Gary Jones and Terry Ley.

So who is it? And where is it?

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Comments

  1. Jim C said...

    You can’t say for sure it isn’t Fenway, because the picture was taken by someone along first base, and the people you’re seeing are behind third base, not in left field. If the picture was taken in ‘72, it can’t be RFK, since the Senators decamped for Texas at the end of ‘71. The size of the crowd says it must be either opening day, or a popular, stadium-filling team. Maybe Oakland?

  2. Bob M said...

    This could likely be Oakland, because of all of the gold colored caps in the background and the light grey color of the cement steps. Since the Coliseum was built in 1967-68, the cement would not have become a weathered looking dark grey. (It looks as if something like a fight might be going on in the stands, since it appears that a lot of faces seem to be looking into the grandstand, rather than out onto the field.)Will also guess that the pitcher is Mike Kekich, who is listed at at 6″1’,200 lbs. in The Baseball Encyclopedia, actually a bit larger than any of the others you listed.

  3. Jim G. said...

    I can’t find any evidence that the A’s wore all yellow hats in 1971. ‘69 is the closest. Of course, that wouldn’t necessarily stop a giveaway cap be all yellow. The only thing is, it seems like a brighter yellow than I’d expect in an A’s cap. Maybe it’s the discoloration of the card over the years. But I would think the yellow would be duller, not brighter.
    But let’s suppose it is Oakland. The Yankees visited there in June and August. All of the August games were at night, and the picture looks to be taken in the daytime. In June, the day games were on the 12th and 13th (Sat. & Sun. respectively). If we use Bruce’s list of potential pitchers, Gary Jones pitched on the 12th. I can find no photo of him to compare. Apparently he wasn’t worthy of a Topps card. On the 13th Fritz Peterson pitched a shutout. Looking and comparable pictures, I don’t have a problem accepting that he is in this shot.
    The one thing that may help prove/disprove is the fact that they are all wearing long sleeves. The temperature on the 12th was 60 degrees. On the 13th it was 62. Is this cool enough for those two be be wearing long sleeves? I don’t know. I wouldn’t, but that’s me.
    Another possibility that entered my mind thinking about the long sleeves and yellow hats. Did the Yankees play the Pirates in spring training that year? I can’t find a record of their schedule. The yellow hats look much more like Pirate hats than A’s. And Florida has been known for cool weather during spring training.
    I’m just tossing it out there.
    But if I had to give my best guess, it would be Oakland, June 13 with Fritz Peterson.

  4. jim said...

    baseball card photos are taken in the year prior to their release so a 1972 card would have a picture taken in 1971 so this photo could be from rfk stadium.

  5. Bob M said...

    One other slight possibility is Chicago. If you look really closely at the retaining wall it sort of looks as if it is constructed of bricks. I almost think that Comiskey Park’s walls were of that construction.

  6. TomF said...

    I am with JimG: It’s Fritz Peterson vs. the A’s in Oakland. Why: Long sleeves in 60 degrees isn’t unusual, he’s got the ball in his left hand (so he’s not a 1st baseman waiting for a reliever – the mgr would have the ball), I immediately thought the crowd was Oakland due to the caps (matched images burned in my brain from attending games there in early 70’s), and it looks enough like the Peterson photos/cards of that era.

  7. John said...

    What prompted my thought on it being an infielder was the body language, which is pretty low-key, and that Munson’s mask is off, which I think would be rare for a quick conference.

    Looks almost like they’re just waiting for someone or something.

    Also, impossible to tell, but is the other guy actually wearing a glove on his right hand? Or is it tucked under his arm? Or dangling from his right hand (maybe he’s a righty, and he’s just holding the glove)?

    Could even be a coach, but he looks too young & fit to be an early-70s coach.

  8. Jeff S. said...

    Check out Topps #82 for 1973, Fritz Peterson- looks like it is a pic from the same day also- can see those gold caps in the background everywhere.

    No question it is Fritz in my mind.

  9. BlftBucco said...

    I believe JimG is correct.  Fritz Peterson on June 13th.

    Also check out the in action cards of #574 Fritz Peterson and #578 of John Odom.  I believe they were taken the same day (Yellow caps in the background).

    Looking at the image that John posted and the comment that Bob M stated about everyone looking up in the stands makes you wonder what is going on.  It appears that everyone in the stadium has their back to the playing field. (Could it be a relaxed moment during the 7th Inning stetch?)

  10. Jim G. said...

    @BiftBucco – Good find on the Odom card. He was Peterson’s opponent that day.
    One correction: I said Peterson pitched a shutout, but he allowed 1 run in his complete game.
    While doing the research I came across something interesting. Noticing some of the glaring weaknesses in that Yankee lineup, the biggest was 3b. It looks like the was a grand total of 2 HRs total by Yankee third baseman in ‘71, both by backup Ron Hanson. The player with the most PAs, Jerry Kenney, had none! So much for a power position. And a far cry from the ARods, the Nettles, and Blowers of this storied franchise.

  11. Bruce Markusen said...

    Yes, the photo was almost certainly taken in 1971. I’m beginning to think it’s Oakland or Washington.

    John, you raise an interesting possibility. Maybe it’s the first baseman? I’ll have to check to see if the Yankees had a lefty throwing first baseman in 1971.

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