Joe Ferguson played catcher in Major League Baseball from 1970 through 1983, spending most of his seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Joe Ferguson, on the other hand, played quarterback in the NFL from 1973 through 1990, the majority of those seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
Both were solid performers, if never superstars, but both of them did turn in some all-star type seasons in the middle 1970s.
All of this was a pot of confusion just waiting to boil over, and it did on the afternoon I bought this 1974 Topps baseball card from the local junk shop in the early 1980s.
On the way home, I regaled my dad with the fact that Ferguson hit three “Grand-Slammers” in the minor leagues in 1969.
Dad was quick to point out that Ferguson played football, I was quick to show him my card, and we rode the rest of the way in steely silence.
Nothing makes for a happier family outing than two pouting dudes.
Butt of Topps’ Joke
Anyway, I had forgotten about this card until I ran across a copy the other day, and that’s when I noticed #18 for the Philadelphia Phillies mooning the camera.
As it turns out, the answer was pretty easy to find thanks to the wonders of the Internet.
And even if you roll back the calendar to 1972, Robinson is still the only guy to dawn that uniform in Philly. So, unless you think Topps reached all the way back to 1971, that Phillies player is Robinson.
Besides, the player in the phot is right-handed, and so is Robinson. And the heyday of Joe Ferguson’s facial hair was the middle of the decade.
But we can go a bit deeper, right?
Specifically, it’s always fun to try and figure out from which game a photo makes its way onto cardboard. Even better would be narrowing it down to an inning or an at-bat.
Welcome to Cookiecutter … er … Veterans Stadium
In this case, we know a few things about the Phillies, the Dodgers, Robinson, and Ferguson that might help us out.
- Robinson did not appear in any games against the Dodgers in 1972.
- Robinson is wearing his home uniform in Ferguson’s 1974 Topps card, so this game took place in Veterans Stadium.
- Robinson played in three home games against LA in 1973 — August 24-26.
- Ferguson also played in all three of those contests.
So we’ve narrowed it down from two full seasons’ worth of games to three games. To go further, we need to look at the action in the photo.
Robinson is either preparing to bat, tossing his cookies, or looking for a contact. Ferguson, meanwhile, is way back near the Dodgers’ dugout, facing the field.
There are a couple of situations when these two circumstances might collide:
- Ferguson has chased after a foul ball with Robinson in the on-deck circle OR stepping out after himself swatting the foul ball.
- Ferguson is taking the field to start an inning while Robinson prepares to step in as the first batter.
Honestly, I lean toward the first because of all the craned necks in the stands behind Ferguson. Pretty easy to imagine that a batter has lofted a ball behind him, Ferguson gave chase but ran out of room, and the fans are watching the final arc of the ball.
If that’s the case, there’s not much more we can do to hone in on a specific game. All three games were played at least partly in the daylight, as depicted on the card, and Robinson (and Ferguson) played the entirety of all of them.
Suspend Your Cardboard Disbelief
But if we imagine that Ferguson has just bounded out of the dugout to start an inning while Robinson checks the dirt for his magic batting powder, then we can nail it pretty conclusively.
Robinson led off an inning only twice during the series with Los Angeles, both in that first game on August 24.
In the third inning, around 8:30 pm, there would have still been some sunshine.
In the eighth inning, sometime after 9:30 pm, it would have been pretty dark.
So, if Joe Ferguson’s 1974 Topps card shows Craig Robinson leading off an inning, it’s almost surely the third frame on August 24, 1973.
That’s what I want the answer to be, because I like to solve mysteries.
The fans, the strong sunlight, and the absence of a catching mask in the photo, though, make me suspect that we’re looking at a pop-up.
Maybe the other Joe Ferguson has just stepped into Veterans, nabbed our Joe Ferguson’s mask, and darted into the stands.
Sure, but wouldn’t it make for a great baseball card story?