Every baseball card tells a story (or ten). Some are just more explicit about it than others.

Take the 1972 Topps In Action card of Thurman Munson (#442), for example:

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At first glance, this card seems to be telling the story of how part of a catcher’s job is to consult with his teammates, plan out a strategy, as the future Yankees captain appears to be doing here.

Mostly, though, you might be struck with disappointment over what appears to be a misnomer, as there’s not much “action” going on at all.

And then, you realize that Munson is actually talking to someone.

Suddenly, there’s a mystery.

Just who is that shadowed man standing there on the mound with Tugboat?

Well, the mound itself gives us a clue — the man of mystery is almost surely a coach, an infielder, or a pitcher.

If we assume that this picture was taken during the 1971 season, then our choice of coaches lies among manager Ralph Houk, Elston Howard, Dick Howser, Jim Turner, and Jim Hegan.

The only one of those guys known to have thick(ish) dark hair and sideburns was Howser, who stood a few inches shorter than Munson (who was listed at 5’11”).

The coaches seem to be out.

Switching our focus to infielders, then, we can limit the field to southpaws since we can see that Munson’s mound-mate has a bare left hand, and a hidden right one.

That limits our choices to … well, to no one, really. The Yanks had a number of men in the dirt who batted lefty, but they all threw righthanded.

So …

On to the pitchers, then.

Lefthanded 1971 Yankees moundsmen included: Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich, Al Closter, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, and Rob Gardner.

Working backwards …

Gardner, at 6’1” is a definite candidate, as he had the requisite dark hair and sideburns. He appeared in just two game for the ‘71 Yanks, though, making him a longshot to have landed on this card.

Similarly, the 6’0” Ley made just six appearances for the Yankees in 1971 (or in the big leagues, ever).

Jones stood an even six feet, just a bit taller than Munson, and his hair was lighter than Gardner’s. Still, with 12 games pitched in 1971, he has an outside shot.

Three inches taller than Munson, Closter had the basic look and opportunity (14 games in 1971) to pull off this cardboard appearance, too.

Ditto, and even more so for the 6’1” Kekich and his 37 games, and the six-foot Peterson with 37 appearances of his own.

Now, at this point, we could start breaking down each of these pitchers’ game logs from 1971 to see if any of them might fit the circumstances of this card.

First, though, I want to back up and take a closer look at those circumstances, with a specific focus on the type of game we’re peeking in on here.

So …

Munson and Mr. Mystery are obviously wearing road uniforms, and there’s plenty of sunshine.

We’re looking for an away game, in other words.

Not only that, though — there’s a lot of yellow in those stands, don’t you think.

Now, in those days before interleague play, the Yanks played only American League teams during the regular season (and the size of the crown here certainly seems more “regular season” than exhibition of any sort).

The question is, then, what American League teams prominently featured yellow as one of their primary colors?

Well, take a look at this nifty layout of 1971 team logos and then come back here to talk.

OK, you got a good look, right?


So now we know that the Royals had a bit of gold accent, the Brewers had some yellow, and A’s had plenty of yellow.

I’m making an executive decision here and eliminating K.C. from consideration since the Royals have really always been about the blue.

So we’re looking for day games in Oakland or Milwaukee that featured one of the six gents above.

Parsing through the game logs over on Baseball Reference, we come up with these specific games that *could* be the one:

  • May 13 at Milwaukee (Peterson)
  • June 12 at Oakland (Jones)
  • June 13 at Oakland (Peterson)
  • July 24 at Milwaukee (Kekich)
  • July 25 at Milwaukee (Closter, Peterson)

And that’s the entirety of the thing.

The rest of New York’s visits to Milwaukee and Oakland in 1971 were either night games or involved only righthanders … or both.

So, how do we narrow this down? How do decide which of these games is actually the one on that Munson card up there?

Well, I’m going to cheat a bit and use the 1972 Topps set itself.

To wit, fast forward 132 cards (interesting number in hobby terms, don’t you think?), and we find ourselves at #574:

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Yeah, it’s Fritz Peterson.

In action.

For the Yankees.

On the road.

In the sunshine.

With plenty of yellow in the stands behind him.

Then look at his belt loops and sleeves and hat and button2 on his jersey … and compare them to someone else:

I’m calling this the same guy, and I’m calling it Oakland — see the green accents in the blowup of the crowd?

Peterson went the full nine innings in that game on June 13, giving Munson plenty of time to visit the mound, with the most likely candidates being before innings or when his pitchers got in trouble.

Could well have been the second inning, when Angel Mangual smacked a one-out double, and then Peterson walked Dave Duncan … before forcing Dick Green into a 5-3 double play.

Are we witnessing the exact moment, there on Munson’s card #442, when The Captain convinced Peterson to throw one if his maybe-not-so-famous knuckle-curves to get the Yanks out of a jam?

Could be.

But if you want to try and make the case for Kekich at Milwaukee, well — be my guest.

Wouldn’t be the first time these hurlers were involved in a swap, after all.

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You might also be interested in our take on Munson’s first and last baseball cards:


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1972 Topps Baseball #620 Phil Niekro

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1972 Topps Baseball #439 Billy Williams Low Grade

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1972 Topps #343 Willie Stargell *Poor*

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1972 Topps Oscar Robertson #25 PSA 4 VG-EX

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