Card Corner Plus: Dick Green and His Fumbling Photo | The Hardball Times

Card Corner Plus: Dick Green and His Fumbling Photo

(via Michelle Jay)

By 1973, Topps had become obsessed with the production of action cards. The company knew collectors, especially children, wanted action cards far more than they wanted to see posed shots of hitters holding bats and pitchers pretending to throw on the sidelines. So Topps included as much action as it could, whether the photography was good, bad, or somewhere in the middle.

On the good side, 1973 Topps included a glorious shot of Roberto Clemente from a spring training game, a posthumous card that turned out to be his final regular Topps issue.

The company also produced some beautiful cards, such as this one Johnny Bench, seemingly on the verge of making a running catch near the dugout.

Or this one of Paul Casanova gracefully rounding the third base bag.

Bill Freehan gets a compelling treatment diving athletically to apply a tag to Celerino Sanchez).

Much like the Freehan card, the wonderful shot of Terry Crowley is laid out in a landscape format, which gives us a good look at the Baltimore outfielder as he appears ready to lower his shoulder and plow into an awaiting Thurman Munson.

Yet, the trend toward action also resulted in the creation of some cards featuring questionable photography, which sometimes employed off-center long-distance shots that reduced the players to nearly indecipherable figures. For example, there is Tommie Agee’s card, which places the veteran outfielder to the far left of the card while also giving us the oddity of three players wearing airbrushed uniforms.

Then there are the strange angles, like Steve Garvey’s card, in which the Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman is partly obscured by Wes Parker’s right arm.

Or how about the Luis Alvarado card, which gives us a nice view of the Chicago White Sox’ spring training parking lot?

And with increased action comes an increased chance of misidentifying players. Joe Rudi’s card gives us a clear look at three members of the world champion Oakland A’s, none of whom happen to be Joe Rudi.

Another case of misidentification is supplied by Ellie Rodriguez’s card. The card, presented in landscape, shows us three different members of the Milwaukee Brewers. But none are Rodriguez.

The catcher on this card is actually John Felske, a backup receiver who would later become manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Felske looked nothing like Rodriguez, but that didn’t prevent another case of mistaken identity.

One of the strangest cards in 1973 Topps is the shot of Bob Locker, ostensibly a member of the Chicago Cubs. But Locker, having spent the 1972 season in Oakland, was actually wearing the uniform of the A’s in the original photograph; the colors, including the blue pinstripes of the Cubs, have been airbrushed onto the photo.

That’s not particularly unusual, but notice the back of Locker’s jersey. There is no number visible here. The airbrush artist either forgot to include a number or simply felt it would be too difficult to replicate.

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Then there are the cards that give us a little bit of good and bad. One of my favorites from 1973 Topps is the card of Rudi’s Oakland teammate, Dick Green.

On the one hand, it’s a pretty good close-up of Green trying to make a play near the second base bag. It’s also a visually striking card; the grass, the outfield wall, and the sleeveless A’s uniform produce a virtual sea of glorious green, punctuated only by the gold pants and jersey and the brown of the infield dirt. And let’s not forget the player’s name happens to be Green.

The card clearly shows him booting a ball in front of the base. While it’s impossible to know whether Green was charged with an error on this play, it has all the earmarks of one. Additionally, Green’s mouth seems to be presenting a physical expression of the word, “Oops.” There’s almost a sense of comedy to the card. One wonders why Topps would have chosen a photograph showing a player making a miscue, especially a defensively superior player like Green who carried with him a Gold Glove reputation. I can’t remember another card from the 1970s era of action shots that shows a fielder bobbling a ball.

There is another oddity to the card. For the most part, the ‘73 set featured players whose action photographs were taken from games that took place during the 1972 season. But notice the sleeveless gold and green vest Green is wearing; the A’s did not use that uniform in 1972. That’s the year they switched to their green, gold, and white pullover jerseys, the uniforms that became synonymous with the dynasty spanning from 1972 to 1974. The A’s last used the vest Green is wearing during the 1971 season and during spring training games in 1972. So could it be a spring training game? The background of the stadium does not look like a spring training venue. My guess is this photograph was taken during the 1971 regular season, if not earlier.

So why use an old photograph of Green? I can only guess that Topps desperately wanted to use an action shot but had no good choice from the 1972 season, as Green missed most of it due to a back injury. He played in only 26 games that spring and summer. Not wanting to fall back on a posed spring training photograph, Topps apparently opted for whatever action it had of Green, even if it meant showing him in something of a compromising position — from a baseball perspective, that is.

Green’s career makes for an intriguing story. It is ironic that one of Green’s cards shows him bobbling a ball, be it a grounder or a low throw from another infielder. Green was a stellar defender at second base, one of the best in the game from 1963 until his retirement in 1974. In fact, Green’s fielding almost garnered him a World Series MVP Award in a ’74 Series that saw him go hitless at the plate. That’s how good Mr. Green was with a glove in hand. Oddly, he never won a Gold Glove, in part because his career overlapped with Bobby Richardson, Bobby Knoop, Davey Johnson, and Bobby Grich. Richardson, Knoop and Grich were all skilled defenders and quite comparable to Green. Green was a better fielder than Johnson, but the latter’s superior hitting seemed to win him favor in the voting.

Green began to forge that reputation early in his major league career. In 1963, the Kansas City A’s promoted him to Triple-A and switched him from third to second base. Green worked hard at the new position, taking grounders for 30 to 40 minutes at a clip and wearing out A’s instructor and coach Jimmy Dykes, who hit him ground ball after ground ball. It didn’t take him long to excel at his new position.

Despite hitting only .234 in the minors that year, Green flashed enough power and good glove work to earn a promotion to the big leagues in September. That winter, the A’s traded incumbent second baseman Jerry Lumpe, clearing a spot for Green in 1964. Playing in 130 games as a rookie, Green batted .264 with 11 home runs (though he only managed a 92 wRC+) and also excelled defensively, drawing comparisons to Richardson, his counterpart with the New York Yankees. Playing an unusually deep second base, which increased his range, he exhibited sure hands and a rock-solid pivot at the bag. With his strong, low-to-the-ground build, Green showed toughness on takeout slides, allowing him to complete double plays with regularity.

Green became a bright spot for a series of bad teams. While he was grateful for the chance to play in the big leagues, years later his memories of the Kansas City teams were something other than nostalgic. “Those A’s were the worst,” Green told sportswriter Joe Gergen. “I don’t know how bad the Mets were then, but I don’t see how they could have been any worse than we were.”

In 1968, Green and the A’s moved to Oakland, and the team began to show promise, playing .500 ball that summer. Green lost a month to military service — and, temporarily, his second base job when he returned — but a breakthrough came for him in 1969. Playing most of the season for manager Hank Bauer, Green batted a career-high .275 with a 121 wRC+, compiled an on-base percentage of .353, slugged 12 home runs and fielded every ground ball in sight. It earned him some down-ballot support in the American League MVP vote.

After the high of 1969 came the low of 1970. Green endured the worst season of his career. While hitting was never the strength of his game, a .190 season batting average was simply unpalatable. He lost playing time to John Donaldson and a journeyman infielder named Tony La Russa. After the season, Green admitted that he had allowed his poor hitting to affect his usually reliable fielding.

To make matters worse, Green didn’t like to travel and often found himself homesick. He had grown disenchanted with the lifestyle of a baseball player. He told reporters he would likely retire and operate his family’s moving company in Rapid City, South Dakota. At the end of the disappointing season, Green returned his contract offer unsigned and mailed back a check he had received for upcoming spring training expenses.

Ultimately, he changed his mind and had a solid 1971, drawing praise from one of his rival second basemen Davey Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles, the reigning Gold Glove Award winner. “Greenie’s the least scared of the opposing baserunners of all the second baseman in the league,” Johnson told A’s beat writer Ron Bergman. “He shows the most guts. He sacrifices something, trying for that double play.”

Green returned as the A’s starting second baseman in 1972, but surgery for a back injury cost him most of the season. He was back in action in mid-September, setting the stage for his first World Series and a memorable play. In Game Four, Cincinnati’s Hal McRae lowered his shoulder and body blocked Green on a double play attempt, sending him sprawling 10 feet back in the middle of the infield dirt. Several A’s players took exception to play, which was legal according to the rules of the day, but Green shrugged it off as part of the usual duty of a second baseman.

The A’s ended up winning the Series, giving Green his first championship ring. Shortly after the A’s won, the mayor of Rapid City declared “Dick Green Day” in the second baseman’s hometown.

Green added to his hardware collection in 1973, despite an off year the plate. In the World Series, Green’s struggles continued, with just one hit in 16 at-bats against the New York Mets, but the A’s took a tough, seven-game set. The postgame celebration that followed took on a tone of melancholy with the news that Dick Williams had resigned his post as manager, largely in response to owner Charlie Finley’s mistreatment of fellow second baseman Mike Andrews. While the resignation got many of the headlines the next day, Green also used the postgame celebration to make a career announcement. “I think it’s time to quit,” Green told the Associated Press. “I’m happy to be going out on top.”

Once again, Green changed his mind. Affected by an injury to his arch, he hit only .213, but Manager Alvin Dark stayed with him throughout the postseason. He had just two hits in the ALCS and none in the World Series against Los Angeles, but his defensive handiwork reached new heights. He turned in several stellar plays that stymied potential Dodgers rallies, prompting Dodgers outfielder Willie Crawford to say, “How many of him are there?”

Green played so well in the field, helping the A’s to a five-game Series win, that some writers speculated about him as the Series MVP. That didn’t happen—the award instead went to Rollie Fingers—but Green’s fielding did earn him the Babe Ruth Award, given to the Series’ standout player as judged by the New York baseball writers.

Green’s fielding prowess in the World Series turned out to be the swan song of his career. After the season, he once again announced his retirement, but this time, at 33, he followed through on the promise. During a 2014 interview at the Hall of Fame, Green explained why this retirement finally stuck. “I would have lost my starting job (in 1975) to Phil Garner, and I just didn’t want to be a utility infielder,” he said. Green also was discouraged by Oakland’s loss of Catfish Hunter, who had been declared a free agent because of a Finley contractual blunder.

Unfortunately, during his visit to the Hall, I neglected to ask him about his less-than-flattering 1973 Topps card. Based on my encounter with Green, who seemed a laid-back sort, I imagine he wouldn’t have been too upset about it.

Besides, in a world where too many baseball cards look the same, Dick Green’s 1973 Topps card stands out for its oddball brilliance.

References and Resources

  • Bruce Markusen, A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s
  • Dick Green’s biographical file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
  • The National Baseball Hall of Fame


Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Hey Bruce. This stuff is fascinating. I don’t think this is the first time you have used that Paul Casanova card in one of your articles. It looks familiar and my memory tells me it is not from collecting cards in ’73.

GoNYGoNYGoGo
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GoNYGoNYGoGo

Paul wrote about that card and Paul Casanova just a few weeks ago on HBT.

Love the article Bruce. I need to go back and finish collecting that set.

GeneralKnarf
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GeneralKnarf

I love the airbrushing on the outfielder on the Bob Locker card. Light blue uni, and a big C in the middle of his chest. Classic Cubs look from the 70s.

87 Cards
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87 Cards
I feel moved to challenge the conclusion that John Felske is misidentified as Ellie Rodriguez in 1973. I believe the card shows the long mane of Darrell Porter from the following premises. 1. Skip Lockwood (#42) is behind the catcher.. 2. George Scott, playing third-base, is the infielder ducking the throw. He was the only man of African-American descent to play third for the 1972 Brewers. 3. Milwaukee is in the home whites. 4. A day-game is in progress. 5. John Felske did not catch Lockwood in 1972. 6. BR.com has Lockwood, Porter and Scott on the infield in Milwaukee… Read more »
The Duke
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The Duke

Didn’t Darrell porter where big ugly horn-rimmed glasses? Also, that just doesn’t look like Porter to me

Joe Mannix
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Joe Mannix

Great article. Funny stuff.

gc
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gc

who do you think is in the “Rudi” card? Could it be Gene Tenace in the middle with Odom on the right?