A baseball card mystery: Dave Nelson

If you’re a fan of the Brewers, you’re well aware of Dave Nelson. He’s a longtime Brewers broadcaster and former coach for the team who also serves as the head of Milwaukee’s alumni association.

If you’re in your forties or older, you probably remember Dave Nelson as a ballplayer. A 1968 Topps All-Star rookie with the Indians, he later played for the Senators, Rangers, and Royals. He was one of the fastest runners of the 1970s. He’s probably most famous for having stolen second base, third base and home plate in a single inning against the Indians.

Heading into the 1973 season, Dave Nelson was regarded as one of the game’s most dangerous base stealing threats. He had stolen 51 bases in 1972, despite batting only .226 with a mere .324 on-base percentage.

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Installed as the Rangers’ third baseman by manager Ted Williams (who felt that he was better suited for the position), Nelson was hardly the classic corner man. He had little power, with only two home runs in 1972. But he did bring versatility to the table, in addition to the aforementioned speed; he put in some time in left and center field in 1972. Over the course of his career, he played several other positions, including second base (where he played more games than at any other position), shortstop, first base, and right field.

Nelson’s 1973 season would be his best. Switched back to second base, he hit a career-high .286 while also reaching high water marks in home runs and RBIs. He also earned the only All-Star Game selection of his career, becoming the first Ranger to play in the Midsummer Classic.

Toward the tail end of the 1973 season, Nelson played for Billy Martin, who had succeeded Whitey Herzog and Del Wilbur. Nelson became a Martin favorite, admired for his hustle and his willingness to play through pain. Martin likened Nelson to Jackie Robinson, not for his talent but for his aggressive approach to the game.

Fittingly, Nelson’s 1973 Topps card shows him on the basepaths, where he did most of his damage as a ballplayer. Nelson has apparently just stolen a base in a 1972 game against the Oakland A’s. The card clearly shows us two other players, both members of the A’s: middle infielder Ted Kubiak (No. 11) and left-handed pitcher Dave Hamilton (No. 33). Hamilton strikes a bit of an odd pose, as he walks toward second base with his glove wrapped around toward his back. Kubiak has his head down, his eyes focused on Nelson’s right leg, seemingly hoping that Nelson will loose touch with the base. Kubiak and Hamilton are wearing Oakland’s white uniforms, which were only worn during home games. So the venue has to be the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum.

That is what we know. Yet, there are a number of questions that remain. What exactly is happening in the photo? Who is holding the ball, Kubiak or Hamilton? Has Nelson just stolen second base, as I first indicated, or is he merely sliding into second after a failed pickoff attempt? And when exactly did this game take place? Can we boil it down to a specific day, or perhaps even the specific inning?

These are the questions. Perhaps some can be answered.


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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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Peter Boucher
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Peter Boucher

My observation is this. I have literally used a magnifying glass and if you have one, you will see the color of white through the webbed part of Hamilton’s Baseball Glove. Therefore, I say that Hamilton has the ball. Plus, his glove is behind his back which for the sake of argument is something of an awkward way to walk.

Michael Caragliano
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Michael Caragliano
All hail Retrosheet—responsible for starting as many bar room bets as it settles. Hamilton only appeared in one game in Oakland in 1972 against the Rangers, and it was on a Sunday, as the all-white uniforms establish, July 30th, to be precise. Hamilton started the second game of a double header and lasted 6.2 innings. He gave up singles to Nelson in the first and seventh and Nelson stole second both times. (Nelson had another single sandwiched between them, but it came with a runner ahead of him, and the inning quickly ended.) So it has to be after one… Read more »
87 Cards
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87 Cards
July 30, 1972, Game 2, Texas at Oakland; the recently-relocated Senators won 4-2 to sweep a double-header on the coast from the soon-to-be World Series Champions…what a day for Dave Nelson of Rangers, 3-5, 2 RBIs, 2 runs scored, 2 stolen bases…Three weeks earlier, Texas had swept a four-game series in Baltimore against the defending American League champions…. Oakland was six games in front of the second-place White Sox and 20.5 games ahead of Texas in the American League Western Division standings coming into the games of Sunday, July 30, 1972. In the top of seventh inning, two out, the… Read more »
87 Cards
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87 Cards
Good to see Ted Kubiak inaction…Interestingly,  Kube had started the 1972 season with Texas before being traded, ten days before this July 30 photo,  to A’s along with Don Mincher to start his second tour with the A’s..While in Arlington, Kube started 20 games; Lenny Randle and Vic Harris got over 50 starts each at 2b…Whitey Herzog loved speed demons so I postulate that Kubiak (12 SBs, 1 CS in Texas) was moved on to make way for the speedier, younger Randle, Harris and Nelson..Nelson stole 51 bases in 1972 but led the AL with 17 CS. Kubiak played in… Read more »
BlftBucco
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BlftBucco

@87 Cards

George Hendrick (Oak ‘72) was still a coach with the Rays as of the end of last season.

Hard to believe that Kubiak is 70!  I still feel like a kid collecting cards from his era.

Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Good job, Michael, 87 Cards, and Peter. I think you’ve pretty much nailed the answers.

In addition to Kubiak and Hendrick, Darold Knowles is still a coach in the Blue Jays’ system. He was with Dunedin last year.

Mike Hegan is still broadcasting, I believe with Cleveland. Reggie Jackson still works in the Yankee front office.

Steve
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Steve

I have a 1964 DubuquePackers baseball sittin in front of me with Dave Nelson’s signature. pretty Awesoe!

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