A baseball card mystery: who’s with Bob Boone?

When you last 19 years in the game as a catcher, the most physically demanding of all positions, you have done something right. A testament to durability and staying power, Bob Boone had the kind of defensive presence and complimentary offensive skills that allowed him to stay at the big league level for nearly two decades.

Breaking into the big leagues in 1972, Boone emerged as the Phillies’ No. 1 catcher in 1973. He was nearly traded to the Tigers as part of a deal for venerable catcher Bill Freehan, but he remained with Philadelphia through the 1981 season.

Despite struggling in his efforts to catch staff ace Steve Carlton, Boone emerged as the starting catcher on the division-winning teams of 1976 to 1978 and the world championship team of 1980. But age and injuries began to take their toll the following summer.

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Deciding to go with a younger catcher in the newly acquired Bo Diaz, the Phillies sold the 33-year-old Boone to the Angels after the 1981 season. The Angels immediately made him their starting catcher and watched a rejuvenated Boone bounce back to play in 143 games, win a Gold Glove, and garner some consideration for American League MVP.

In subtle ways that involved pitch calling and a sturdy relationship with California pitchers, Boone helped the Angels win the West Division before being eliminated by Milwaukee’s crew of “Harvey’s Wallbangers” in the Championship Series.

One of the earliest photographs of Boone with the Angels can be found in the form of his 1983 Topps card. Boone is seen giving pursuit to a foul ball along the third base line. Given Boone’s defensive prowess, I wouldn’t doubt that he eventually catches this pop fly.

Many action shots are taken during regular season games, but that is not the case with all of the shots in the 1983 Topps set. In this case, Boone is wearing the Angels’ road grays, while the unknown Mariners batter is wearing the home white pants, but this is clearly not the Seattle Kingdome, an indoor stadium with artificial turf.

The preponderance of sun and natural grass indicates that this photo was taken at one of the Mariners’ spring training games, likely during the spring of 1982.

Since this is a spring training game, I’m not too concerned about the specific date and inning of this game. Instead, I’m curious as to the identity of the Mariners’ batter. First, we know that he is white, so we can eliminate Gary Gray, Julio Cruz, Manny Castillo, Lenny Randle, Dave Henderson, Al Cowens, and Uptown Bobby Brown from the conversation.

Based on where the batter is standing, it appears to me that he is a left-handed hitter. If that is indeed the case, then we can eliminate first baseman Jim Maler, shortstop Todd Cruz, and catcher Jim Essian from consideration. They were all right-handed hitters.

So that leaves us with several possibilities, including Rick Sweet, Dave Revering, Bruce Bochte, Joe Simpson, John Moses, and a utility infielder named Steve Stroughter. Or perhaps it is someone who did not make the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, perhaps one of their minor leaguers. That would make solving this mystery particularly tricky.

I honestly have no idea who it is. Can anyone help me out? Who is this Ancient Mariner from 1982?

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Comments

  1. Tony said...

    I’m not sure, but we do have one more clue.  Which of these players wore the socks in the manner like the batter in the picture.  This may eliminate one or two of the possibilities.

  2. Mark Simon said...

    Aaron Boone (Bob’s son) thinks it’s Bruce Bochte…and I tend to trust Aaron on these sorts of things. He’s a player-ID machine…

  3. 87 Cards said...

    @Mark Simon…I leaning toward retracting my ode to Joe and going with the Bruce Bochte conclusion…I had eliminated Bochte because the hitter was not wearing the wire-frame eyeglasses that I remember on Bochte’s face…searching the baseball-card internet resources, I found Bochte starting wearing or posing with glasses when he joined the Oakland A’s in 1984 with whom he played until 1986.

    Also, on the tale of the tape, both Bruce and Joe were 6’3” with Joe recorded on Baseball Ref at 175 pounds and Bruce at 195 pounds. A visual comparison of waistlines from internet sources gives Botche the more athletic look despite the greater mass of the two and also more closely matches the upper porportions of the pictured hitter.

  4. Mark Simon said...

    the timing of this article was pretty good…Tim Kurkjian and Aaron did a segment on today’s Baseball Tonight podcast about how he’s a baseball-card ID savant

  5. 87 Cards said...

    I recognize the stadium—that is Tempe Diablo Stadium.

    The hitter is likely Joe Simpson, currently of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team. 

    I would also entertain the hypothesis that Jim Anderson, a Mariner in 1980 and 1981, is holding the bat. He was a right-handed batter however.  Anderson was released in spring training and later finished up with two season in Texas. 

    I eliminated Stroughter due to skin color.  I eliminated Moses, Sweet, Essian, Bud Bulling, Revering and Richie Zisk due to the batter’s lack of facial hair.  That left Anderson and Simpson with Simpson being the only left-handed swatter of the bunch.

    As a youth, I watched a lot of Albuquerque Dukes games at the Albuquerque Sports Stadium when Simpson was assigned to the AAA affiliate of the Dodgers. When I left New Mexico thirty years ago, Simpson was the all-time leader in Dukes ABs and games played. I believe that to still be true due to the Dukes decaying into the Isotopes and Simpson playing before the six-year minor league free agent rule.

  6. Tony said...

    Bochte wore his socks like the unnamed batter in the picture.  Joe Simpson wore his pants lower exposing less of the sock.  I looked at the Topps cards from 1980 and 1983 for Bochte and 1981 for Joe Simpson.

  7. dennis Bedard said...

    I am not sure that the batter is actually the batter.  It looks like Boone is eyeing a pop up from the third base line.  One would think that the batter would be on his way to first base regardless of whether it was fair or foul.  So I think the man with the bat in his hand is the next hitter.  As for Boone, he was part of a rare breed, literally.  His father and son played major league ball.  I know that has been done before but I cannot remember by whom.

  8. Bruce Markusen said...

    At this point, it looks like it’s down to Bochte and Simpson, with Bochte the favorite. But I could be persuaded otherwise!

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