A baseball card mystery: Bob Didier and Cleon Jones

It is very appropriate that Bob Didier’s 1973 Topps shows him in a defensive position. The switch-hitting Didier didn’t hit much–in fact, he never hit a home run in his six-year big league career–but he was an excellent fielder and a strong thrower. In 1969, he finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year race, as he helped the Braves to the first ever National League West title.

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Didier might have had a career along the lines of defender extraordinaire Jim Sundberg, but injuries derailed him. Back problems, In particular prevented Didier from becoming an everyday player. After his rookie season of 1969, he never played in more than 57 games in a season, and by 1974, his major league career was over.

Of the few Topps cards that portrayed Didier, his 1973 Topps is by far the most interesting. This rough-and-tumble action shot shows him trying to apply a tag to Mets outfielder Cleon Jones (wearing No. 21), who is sliding hard into home plate as one of the Mets’ catchers (either Jerry Grote or Duffy Dyer) looks on from the background. Didier seems confident that he has tagged Jones out in time, but is still awaiting the call from the home plate umpire. So is Jones, the Mets’ fleet footed starting left fielder, out or safe?

The Didier card raises another interesting question. Normally, Topps cards portray scenes from the previous season, so we would assume that this picture was snapped in 1972. But there’s a problem. Didier is not wearing the Braves’ blue-and-white road uniform that was adopted in 1972. Instead, he is wearing the road gray, which was last used by the Braves in 1971.

A check of Didier’s 1972 playing log confirms our suspicions. Didier played in only 13 games in ‘72, and none against the Mets. So it is likely that the Didier/Jones play took place sometime in 1971.

So we know it’s Shea Stadium, likely in 1971. What was the date, and was Jones safe or out?


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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He 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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Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Well done, Randy, well done.

I guess the only mystery remains as to why Topps went back to the ‘71 season for a Didier shot, and had nothing from ‘72. That question, though, may be a little bit more difficult to answer.

Randy
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Randy
Has to be July 4, 1971. Braves at Mets. In the fourth Jones singled with one out against Phil Niekro. He moved to second on a groundball out from Ken Boswell. Bob Aspromonte singled but Mike Lum gunned Jones down at the plate with Didier applying the tag. Jerry Grote was on deck after Aspromonte and with two outs it makes sense that he would have on his shin guards, which youncan see in the photo. Jones scored a run on a contest at Shea on May 23rd. He scored on a sac fly from Al Weis with pitcher Ray… Read more »
Sparky 11
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Sparky 11

looks like Cleon is safe…..you can see Didier’s empty right hand and the ball popped out by the runners leg….the umpire is waiting to see the end of the play.

lordbyron
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lordbyron

From the picture, I can’t say Cleon is safe or out, but the white seen at the bottom of Cleon’s leg is the white of his sanitary sock and not the ball. You can also see the stirrups of his outer sock and his black spike just below
the socks.

Rapid Robert 19
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Rapid Robert 19

Might it have somthing to do with the fact that Didier only appeared in 13 games in ‘72?

Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Good point, Rapid Robert. On the other hand, there’s always spring training, which has traditionaly been a common place for Topps to photograph players.

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