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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