A baseball card mystery: Tim Foli

The 1980 Topps set has its share of crisp action photography. Tim Foli’s card, which came out just a few months after his Pirates surprised the Orioles to win the 1979 World Series, is a good example of that.

We can see Foli grimacing, perhaps even groaning, as he attempts to finish off a double play agaisnt the Mets. We can also see a small puff of dirt kicking up from the Shea Stadium infield.


Grimaces and infield dirt. Those are two elements essential to any self-respecting action card. We shouldn’t be surprised to see such elements on a card depicting Foli.

A player of limited physical talents, he survived 16 seasons in the major leagues, mostly on ferocity, maximum effort, and a fiery temper that reflected his motivation to show others that he belonged. Yes, there was a reason this man was commonly known as “Crazy Horse.”

Foli’s determination helped him reach the pinnacle of his career in 1979. Along with third baseman Bill Madlock, second baseman Phil Garner, and Hall of Fame first baseman Willie Stargell, Foli formed a rock-solid infield that became one of the bulwarks of the “We Are Family” Bucs.

Interestingly, Foli did not start the 1979 season with the Pirates. He actually appeared in three games for the Mets, his opponent on the Topps card, before an April 19th trade sent him to Pittsburgh for the “Man of Steal,” Frank Taveras.

In solidifying shortstop for the Pirates, Foli put together his best season. He batted a career-high .291, struck out a mere 14 times, and compiled a career-best OPS of .679 (hey, it was the 1970s).

Foli’s 1980 card not only reflects his down-and-dirty style, but it provides us with another baseball card mystery. Here are the assumed facts:

The photograph was taken during the Pirates’ championship run of 1979. The setting is Shea Stadium, as evidenced by the home pinstripes being worn by the versatile Joel Youngblood. We might also assume that Foli has retired Youngblood at second base, either on a simple foreceout, or on the front end of what is perhaps a 4-6-3 double play.

Or maybe I’m way off base. Maybe Foli hasn’t thrown the ball at all. Perhaps Youngblood has been called safe, the end result of a successful steal of second base.

Given this nebulous information, can we pin down the exact game in which this play occurred? Better yet, can we determine the exact inning? That, my friends, is this week’s challenge.

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  1. Nick said...

    Couldn’t Foli also be “duping” Youngblood into a slide (perhaps on a ball hit to right field so that Youngblood doesn’t advance to third)?  The position of his glove leads me to believe that he probably either has the ball (and is getting ready to apply the tag) or is faking that he has it.  Not sure this really adds much but it does raise the possibility that there really was no play at 2b here…possibly just a fake.

  2. Tony said...

    September 9,1979 is a possibility.  In the 8th inning Youngblood was picked off first but an error by Tekulve allows Youngblood to reach 2nd.  It is reasonable for Foli to have 7 stars by this point in the season.  Just a guess.

  3. BlftBucco said...

    Checked some old newspapers.  The Pirates wore the Yellow Shirt/Black Pant combination on September 9th.  I didn’t locate any newpaper photos for the other dates yet to see what uniform combinations they wore.

  4. Michael Caragliano said...

    Two clues: it’s clearly a day game, although it looks a bit overcast, and Foli has seven of the stars on his cap that Willie Stargell liked to hand out. That second clue in particular (I doubt anybody would’ve had seven stars in mid-May) leads me to think it’s one of three plays on either September 8th or 9th, 1979. In the bottom of the 8th on the 8th and the bottom of the 1st on the 9th, Youngblood singled and stole second. In the bottom of the 8th on the 9th, Youngblood got picked off, but reached second on an error. Those are also the only two day games the Pirates and Mets played at Shea that year where Youngblood reached base and/or could’ve been involved in a play with Foli at second.

  5. Scott said...

    “Nick” above writes about a possible fake or “dupe”.  Players even in those days aren’t going to put themselves directly in front of the runners cleates for a fake play. But this could also be Youngblood getting back to the bag from the 3rd base side from either a pick off play or he rounded the bag to far on a hit and is trying to get back to 2nd ahead of a throw from a cutoff man.  What I was really hoping the writer was going to say here, is that this card somehow just became invaluable.

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