A baseball card mystery: Ontiveros and Schmidt

If you’re a collector looking to acquire Mike Schmidt’s 1976 Topps card in mint condition, you’ll have to pay a fairly stiff price.

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But if you simply want Schmidt on any card from that set, and want it at a bargain rate, just pick up Steve Ontiveros’ card. The card shows Ontiveros, wearing a cap and no helmet, cutting the third base bag and making a hard charge for home. We can clearly see Schmidt off to the right, looking toward the outfield for an impending throw that may or may not be too late to record an out at the plate.

Schmidt’s presence on the card doesn’t do much for the value of a ’76 Ontiveros, but it does provide an interesting juxtaposition between a Hall of Fame player and a player of the run-of-the-mill variety. Schmidt, one of the greatest players I’ve ever had the privilege of watching, is universally regarded as the finest third baseman in the history of the major leagues. Other than striking out with some frequency, he had no tangible weakness in his diversified game.

Ontiveros, whom I also saw play, was not anywhere near that caliber, but he was not a bad player either. Also a third baseman, he put up an .813 OPS for the Cubs in 1977, batted .274 lifetime, and totaled more walks (309) than he did strikeouts (290). On the other hand, he had very little power, hitting only 24 home runs in over 2,500 plate appearances, and was not a particularly smooth fielder at the hot corner.

So if you were looking for a third baseman to play for your team in the mid-1970s, you were far more likely to end up with a Steven Robert Ontiveros than a Michael Jack Schmidt.

When two players appear on the same card, it also provides us with an opportunity for a baseball card mystery. In this case, the question is obvious: In what game was this photograph taken? And was Ontiveros safe or out at the plate? Since it’s a 1976 card, the photo was most likely taken during the 1975 season. Schmidt is wearing his home whites, so the game must have been played at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Let’s narrow it down a little further: The Giants played a grand total of six games at The Vet in 1975.

So who will be the first to come up with the answer?


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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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elwin
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elwin

We can also say this was taken in the fifth inning. In the third inning, he scored on a single to third. But in the fifth he scored on a single to right, which is where Schmidt is looking.

Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Well done, gentlemen. August 10, 1975. Fifth inning. And Ontiveros is safe at the plate.

Hal
Guest
Hal

Steve Ontiveros wasn’t a bad fielder in the major, although he wasn’t gold glove caliber (whatever that means these days).  Ontiveros did play four years in Japan for the Siebu Lions where he hit .312 for time he played there.  He also won a couple of the Japanese equivalent of the gold glove.

George
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George

I’m going with August 10, 1975 at the Vet. Ontiveros scored twice, once in the first and once in the third inning.

Kevin
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Kevin

George nailed it. He only played in two of the six games the Giants played at the Vet and 8/10 was the only time he was on base at all.

Matt
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Matt

@ Paul, 1975 was the only year the Phils wore white shoes.  It was the fad of the decade.

http://www.uni-watch.com/2011/08/01/when-the-white-shoe-was-hot-in-mlb-2/

Paul
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Paul

Interestingly, it appears Schmitty was wearing white shoes.  I was a Phils fan during that era and remember them always wearing red shoes that matched their uniforms.  Am I forgetting something?

Bruce Markusen
Guest
Bruce Markusen

Did not know that the Phillies wore the white shoes throughout the 1975 season. I remember that in many All-Star games in the seventies and eighties, players would wear white shoes instead of the usual black shoes. I think some players thought the white shoes look was cool.

Selling Fake Yeezys
Guest

The more high profile the player, the bigger the deal. But members of the Ball family turned their noses at convention, choosing instead to put Lonzo, who grew up in Chino Hills, Calif., and played at UCLA, in his own signature sneaker, the Big Baller Brand “Zo2,” with its hefty price tag of $495 per pair.

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