A baseball card mystery: who’s that Yankee?

Ten years ago, Topps included a terrific subset within its regular issue of cards: a series of “Golden Moments” celebrating some of the most iconic occurrences in the game’s history. One of those cards featured a moment that no Yankee fan over the age of 40 will ever forget.

On an October afternoon in 1978, Bucky Dent, the ninth-place hitter for the Yankees, stepped in against Mike Torrez of the Red Sox. Trailing 2-0, the Yankees faced the prospect of losing the pennant race in game no. 163. Yet manager Bob Lemon opted not to pinch-hit for Dent.

Moments after Dent hit a Torrez fastball toward the Green Monster, Yankee fans watching the game on television struggled to see the ball against the October background of late afternoon sun and shadows. “Deep to left,” cried Bill White, announcing the game on WPIX-TV in New York. “Yastrzemski will not get it… it’s a home run!! A three-run home run by Bucky Dent…”

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White’s words provided Yankee fans with confirmation of something they could not believe they had seen—a home run by the Yankees’ weakest hitter, a man who had managed all of four home runs during the first 162 games.

As we can see on Topps’ “Golden Moments” card, many of the Yankees are surrounding Dent, the newly crowned conquering hero. The Yankee player trailing Dent is Chris Chambliss, who was one of the two Yankees on base at the time of Dent’s unlikely home run. The other was Roy White, who is not visible in the picture.

It’s also easy to pick out most of the other “happy Yankees,” as they were described by White, streaming out of the dugout and onto the field. The first Yankee to emerge from the dugout is the jacketed Cliff Johnson, one of the potential pinch-hitters that manager Bob Lemon bypassed as a replacement for the light-hitting Dent.

Then there is another man in a jacket, Lemon himself, the in-season managerial replacement who looks as relieved as he is happy. Behind Lemon is backup outfielder Jay Johnstone, another one of the would-be pinch-hitters.

To the far left of Johnstone is Gene Monahan, the longtime trainer who just retired from the Yankees at the end of this past season. Directly behind Monahan we see the injured Willie Randolph, who was unavailable to play second base, giving way to the unheralded Brian Doyle.

That leaves one Yankee that I’m unable to identify, the muscular player to the right of Randolph. Whoever he is, he is as thrilled as any of the Yankees, all of whom have just witnessed a singular baseball moment.

I thought I knew every thing there is to know about the 1978 Yankees, but I have fallen short when it comes to this mystery player. I really have no idea who it is. He is partially obscured by the gold foil on the card, but there is still enough there to make an ID. Unfortunately, his face does not look familiar to me. It’s certainly not Thurman Munson or Graig Nettles or Ron Guidry or Ed Figueroa or Catfish Hunter.

So who is it? I really don’t know. Perhaps a faithful reader can supply the answer.

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Comments

  1. Jim G. said...

    It may be Heath, but I’m guessing it might be Mickey Klutts. Even though he only appeared in 1 game in ‘78 (and that was in April), he may have been a September callup. The wide-faced smile reminds me more of him than Heath.

  2. Lou D. said...

    I’m going to guess that it’s Jim Spencer. He was a left handed 1st baseman and the player is clapping like he’s left handed.

  3. Repoz said...

    Certainly looks like Mike Heath. He last played in game 146 (Sept, 15) against the Red Sox…but he was on the post season roster.

  4. Fast Eddie said...

    Come on people; no numbers seen, Bruce is not talking about any video but asking about the guy on the card that is pictured clapping [ yes, like a lefty might ] just to the left of the Gold Fifty Years Insignia.
    Messersmith pitched righty but in the crunch could have just been clapping like a lefty.
    smile Fast Eddie

  5. Damon Salerno said...

    Likely Gary Thomasson, who replaced Roy White in LF for the bottom of the 9’th inning of this game. He recorded a put-out off a Dwight Evans flyball as the first out of the 9’th inning.

  6. Mike Marrone said...

    If that’s the case Damon can you also confirm that Thomasson is one of the trick answers to a Baseball Trivia question I’ve never bothered confirming?

    The question is: When the final out of the 78 World Series was made, all 9 Yankees on the field were white, and no Roy White wasn’t in the answer.

    Name Them:

    1B – Spencer
    2B – Doyle
    SS – Dent
    3B – Nettles
    C – Munson
    P – Gossage
    LF – Pinella *
    CF – Thomasson
    RF – Johnstone

  7. Jim G. said...

    I don’t think it’s Messersmith. He last pitched on July 1st and had a season ending injury. He was done with the Yankees.

    I came across the error of my ways. Klutts was traded way back in June. Coincidentally, for Gary Thomasson (among others). Maybe I can get “Kevin Bacon credit”, or something.

    Of the three guys we seem to be gravitating around, here are period headshots. My vote is for Thomasson. His hair is most similar, and with a big smile, comes closest to matching the shot in Bruce’s question.

    Mike Heath:
    http://www.lonecadaver.com/Mike Heath1.jpg

    Jim Spencer:
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_W2Ncx2XIww4/S7XOV9eB8YI/AAAAAAAAF2o/aBCBaUoGmUw/s1600/misc_1978_toppsburgerking_spencer.JPG

    Gary Thomasson:
    http://www.lonecadaver.com/Gary Thomasson1.jpg

  8. BlftBucco said...

    Does everyone agree that the player in question appears to be bare armed? (Not wearing a long sleeve shirt underneath).

    When I first watched some video of the dugout celebration, I only saw a few players that did not have on the dark sleeve shirt underneath.

    I want to watch some more video, but I surely saw Pinella without a dark undershirt. Thomasson I believe had on a dark shirt.

  9. Will Passinault said...

    this is not related to your Dent homer celebration card, but rather another mystery/urban legend. I have always heard that a batboy once posed as Aurelio Rodriguez (Det.Tigers) so that a baseball card photographer could meet his deadline on a day when the original A-Rod wasnt there. Might make a good column.

  10. Red Nichols said...

    With the hair.  . .and the southpaw clapping style, Thomasson gets my vote.  . . Fun topic, Bruce.  .  .

  11. Aaron said...

    After reading this article, I watched the following YouTube video several times and slowed it down around the 2:15 mark and the 2:55 mark.  After checking the angles and looking for clues, I am 98% sure that the player’s jersey number is 12, which would make it Jim Spencer.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shTqUztrAd0

  12. Bruce Markusen said...

    I would say it’s definitely not Spencer, but I think it could very well be Heath or Thomasson. Facially, he looks like Thomasson, but I remember him being a bit thinner. The body, more like a catcher’s body, makes me think Heath.

  13. Aaron said...

    It’s Spencer.  I put a few still photos together to illustrate this clearly for every.  You can see in this first picture that we are looking at the shaggy haired gentleman who is the second one not wearing a jacket and is behind Lemon.

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent1-1.jpg

    You can see from these next two pictures that as Dent is returning to the dugout, that player puts his left arm around Dent and walks back into the dugout with his arm around Dent.

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent3-1.jpg

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent4.jpg

    You can see from this picture, and more importantly from the YouTube video, that the player that puts his arm around Dent is wearing #12, making it Jim Spencer.

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent2.jpg

  14. Aaron said...

    Also, it clearly can’t be Thomasson.  He wore #24, and you can see him on the opposite side of the “human tunnel” from the player in question in this picture.

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent4.jpg

    It can’t be Piniella (#14) because he can be seen standing farther back without a hat on in this picture.

    http://i1186.photobucket.com/albums/z378/thejumper5/BuckyDent2.jpg

    I haven’t been able to locate #46 Mike Heath anywhere in the video of the play, but I think all other evidence I’ve looked at shows that it is Spencer.

  15. BlftBucco said...

    I watched the youtube video that was mentioned above and I don’t believe that the player is Spencer.

    If you look at the 2:20 mark you can see the player/person clapping.

    At the 2:28 mark, I believe that the same person is shown.  He does not appear to have a uniform number on his back although he is clearly wearing a Yankee uniform.

    Again at 3:01 he is seen.  Again with no uniform number.

    Non Player? A player not on the active roster? I’m not sure who or why he’s there without a number.

  16. Lou D. said...

    Aaron, thanks for confirming my guess to which the author replied “it’s definitely not Spencer”. Sorry Bruce but it he looks nothing like Thomasson or Heath.

  17. Jim G. said...

    I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree that it’s Spencer. I believe BiftBucco was on the right track. Studying the YouTube video, I concentrated on the frames from 2:27-2:28. At 2:27 you definitely see Spencer (#12) disappearing into the crowd to greet Dent. I believe the man on the card can be seen converging on the right side at the 2:28 mark. He’s to the right of a jacketed player and he has no number. He seems a little old to be a bat boy, but I’m not sure who else would be on the bench without a number. His hair and build match the mystery man in the card. He also doesn’t have the black undershirt. Despite Aaron’s subsequent still shots provided, which are all Spencer as he identifies, it does not prove that he’s on the card. I have no idea how to go about identifying the unnumbered player, but I believe that’s our man.

  18. BlftBucco said...

    To further support that it is not Spencer, take a look at the person in question clapping at the 2:18-2:20 mark.  There is at most an inch of black stirrup showing beneath the bottom of his uniform pants. 

    When looking at Spencer, there is about two to three inches of black stirrup seen beneath his uniform pants.

    The person in question can clearly be seen sitting next to Munson at the 1:34 to 1:37 mark of the video.  He doesn’t look like Spencer to me.

  19. Bruce Markusen said...

    I’m going to throw out one more name. Could it be bullpen catcher Dom Scala? Would he have had a number on his uniform?

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