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Changing positions

I have a lot of blog ideas bouncing around in my head and written on little pieces of paper. Most of them remain where they are, periodically called to the royal palace to be considered by the king (re: me) only to be discarded in disgust.

But sometimes I'll be reading a blog and someone will touch on an idea or a portion of an idea and I take that as a sign. "Well, I have to do the post now. The blogging gods just sent a message."

You lucky people.

A few days ago, this Sonny Jackson card was featured on the exhaustive 1974 Topps - Pennant Fever set blog. I honestly don't know where wobs gets the time to do all that, but it does come in handy. On this particular post, he mentioned that Jackson may be the only player in the set with a position designation of shortstop-outfielder.

Guess what?

He is. I looked.

I looked because I had wanted to do some sort of post about players who field multiple positions and being credited for it on cards. I can tell you're looking at me again. Why was I so interested in such a mundane topic?

Well, for one, this is Night Owl Cards. I would think you would know me by now.

Secondly, noting that a player fields multiple positions is something that Topps DOESN'T DO ANYMORE.

First of all, Topps hasn't featured a player's position on the front of a card the last two base sets. That's something that only slightly annoys me, but I know it really bothers other collectors. But even when it has featured the position on the front of the card, it has featured one and only one position per player per card.

As far as Topps is concerned these days, nobody not no one plays more than one position.

But we know that's not true because Skip Schumaker exists.

Yet, Topps insists:

Skip Schumaker is a second baseman ONLY, dammit.

I went back through to find when the last time Topps featured a multiple-position designation on the front of the card in its base set. Here is what I found*:

2013: No position on the front
2012: No position on the front
2011: One position only
2010: One position only
2009: One position only
2008: No position on the front
2007: No position on the front
2006: One position only
2005: No position on the front BUT multiple-position designation for appropriate players on the back.

And, finally:

2004: Multiple-position designation on the front! Yay, Joe McEwing!!!

I like when I can see that a player fields multiple positions on my baseball cards, not because I have some obsession with scrappy-gritty-play-him-at-every-position-so-you-don't-have-to-play-the-young-phenom-who-might-screw-up-and-make-the-manager-look-bad-not-naming-names-Don-Mattingly players. I like it because if you're a set collector, you can go through and see how many position combinations you can find.

It's fun!

Trust me.

I decided to do this for the 1974 Topps set, partly as a tribute to the blog that inspired me to get off my non-fat ass and do this, but also because the position notations on 1974 Topps are so prominent. It's almost the first thing you see when looking at one of the cards.

So we'll call the rare SS-OF designation on the Sonny Jackson card "No. 1" and go from there.

2. 2B-SS: The most common position combination I would imagine.

Topps also went with "SS-2B," which I'm not considering a separate combination. Besides the order doesn't seem to mean anything. Martinez did play more games at short than second base in 1973 (44-5), but there was that matter of playing 21 games in the outfield. And Heise played 29 games at short and only four at second base, so I have no idea why "2B" is listed first on his card.

3. 1B-3B: Baseball likes its infield sluggers at the corners.

And there you have it in reverse order, "3B-1B." But Steve Garvey didn't play a single game at third base in 1973. He hadn't played third base since 1972. Maybe this is why Topps eventually went to just one position. It prevents people from calling themselves "night owl" and picking apart the facts on your cards.

4. 1B-OF: Lots of first base-outfielder combos in this set.

And OF-1B combos, too. Oliver did indeed play the outfield more than first base in 1973, but Gallagher played just one game at first base in 1973. In fact, up until that time, he had played first base just that one time for his whole major league career.

5. DH-OF: Coming off the first year of the designated hitter, you saw a lot of established guys like Robinson in the "DH-OF" spot in the '74 set.

There was also "OF-DH," but I'll come back to Bevacqua later.

6. 1B-C: Gene Tenace played 134 games at first base in 1973 and just 33 at catcher, so placing "1B" first is correct. But maybe a shot in catcher's gear wasn't the greatest idea.

And here's the reverse designation. Ellis did play more games at catcher than first base in 1973. But he also DH'd more than he played first base.

7. DH-1B: Here we go with the original designated hitter, Rob Blomberg. Who knew he played another position in 1973? But he did. 41 games at first base compared with 59 at DH.

And here is 1B-DH, with "first base" spelled out. Perhaps this was a request by Harmon. "I ain't no DH," I believe is what he said. And he did play only nine games as the DH in 1973.

8. 2B-3B: I couldn't find the reverse "3B-2B" in the set. And Gilbreath didn't play a game at second base in 1973.

Back on my '75 Topps blog, I did a breakdown of the positions listed with Gilbreath's cards. I don't know why I did that, but it seems appropriate now:

'74: 2B-3B
'75: SS
'76: 2B
'77: 2B-SS
'78: 2B
'79: 2B

9. 3B-SS: My guess is Vukovich had a strong arm. None of that sissy second base for him.

10. 3B-OF: There were a few of this combination in the set. Every time I think of "3B-OF," I think of Pedro Guerrero fielding and I wince a little bit.

Tovar, as you know, played all nine positions in a game. I'd love to see that designation on the front of a card.

11. C-INF: Now we're starting to cover some ground! That's everything except pitcher and the outfield right there. Arnold did play catcher, second and third in 1973, but only one game of 2B and 3B. He played some shortstop in 1972, too.

12. INF-OF: This is what's known as "covering your bases." Just throw a "C" and "P" on there and be done with it. But Campbell did actually play the infield positions and the outfield in '73, so that position notation is a true statement.

And that brings us back to Bevacqua. When Bevacqua saw Campbell's "INF-OF" designation, he became jealous. All he had was a lousy "OF-DH."

So he got himself traded ...

And his position designation changed to "INF-OF," just like Campbell.

The truth is, the change is justified. Here's where Bevacqua played in 1973:

3B: 40 games
DH: 18 games
2B: 16 games
1B: 9 games
LF: 5 games
RF: 5 games

That says "INF-OF" to me. Probably "INF-OF-DH" would be better.

To be fair, I wonder if some of the position designations were based on 1972 stats. I know that most photos for the 1974 set were taken during spring training in 1973. I'd like to know how early in the card creating process facts like "position played" were determined.

At any rate, I'm wondering how a total of 12 position combos stacks up with other years. I don't plan to find out, but I don't think there are too many sets that have more. Unless you can find a "DH-2B" or "C-SS" combo, the same ones are going to pop up over and over.

So that's what happens when something sparks an idea that was only a scribble on a piece of paper for many, many months.

Perhaps that's where it should have stayed.

But I feel better knowing.

* - I didn't search every last card of each of those sets. I have family.


Red Cardboard said…
My boy Pete Rose played over 500 games each at 5 different positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, LF, RF) and a bonus 73 at CF. Pete's cards should just say 'Hustler' in lieu of a position.
petethan said…
I'm still waiting to find another C-SS card, like Jim Anderson's in the '84 set. If there's a C-2B out there somewhere (Biggio quit catching cold turkey, so I doubt it's him) then I'd guess that every combo pair would be out there somewhere, right?
Nick said…
I always found the '77 Topps Gary Carter "C-OF" designation interesting. I don't ever remember seeing another one of those.
night owl said…
Charlie Moore, 1977 Topps, as well.
Ryan said…
OH, I'd say that a shot in Catcher's gear is ALWAYS a great idea! Fantastic reporting, Night Owl!

steelehere said…
I did a quick search and unfortunately Brooks Kieschnick didn't have any P-OF cards.
Thanks for taking me back to the 1974s. Move forward to Herb Washington and his position of PR. That was cool to see.
Some of the more unusual position combos I have found:

1967 Mel Queen P-OF
1966 Vic Power 1B-INF (what???)
1965 Harry Bright C-INF-OF

Bob Watson's 1969 card listed him as C-OF, and I think some early Dale Murphy cards as well.

Night Owl,
I think Jim Lefebvre's 1967 card might say 3B-2B


And another thing: Why did Topps see the need to add a period after INF but not after OF?

On some 1970 cards, they abbreviated shortstop as S.S. (as if it were 2 words).
baseballbrent said…
Mike Heath in 1980 had C, 3B, and OF. I always thought that was a cool card just because of all the positions. I think Rick Peters in 1981 had 3 positions too.
deal said…
Love this post. thanks
Anonymous said…
In scrolling through your post, I inadvertently created a little trivia challenge for myself. I was looking at the Ted Martinez card, and all I could see of the next card was "ST. LOUIS 1B-3B", and I immediately said "Joe Torre". I tried doing it with other cards - I couldn't do it with every card because I was sloppy with the scrolling and "spoiled" myself with too much of the card. The other ones I got right were Frank Robinson, Ron Blomberg and Harmon Killebrew.

So this is my life in my late 40's. I'll walk into a room and not remember why I walked into that room, but I can tell you that "CALIFORNIA DH-OF" is Frank Robinson.
night owl said…
No, that is awesome.
Dan McAvinchey said…
We coded all the 82,000+ cards in the Baseball Card Cyber Museum with position (listing the positions alpha so C-OF is the same as OF-C) and here are the counts we have:

Catcher 5780, Catcher-Designated Hitter 26, Catcher-Designated Hitter-First Base 1, Catcher-Designated Hitter-Third Base 1, Catcher-First Base 102, Catcher-First Base-Outfield 15, Catcher-Infield 12, Catcher-Infield-Outfield 2, Catcher-Left Field 1, Catcher-Outfield 85, Catcher-Outfield-Third Base 9, Catcher-Second Base 2, Catcher-Shortstop 1, Catcher-Third Base 52, Center Field 363, Center Field-Designated Hitter 1, Center Field-First Base 1, Designated Hitter 602, Designated Hitter-First Base 249, Designated Hitter-First Base-Outfield 5, Designated Hitter-Infield 2, Designated Hitter-Left Field 3, Designated Hitter-Outfield 302, Designated Hitter-Pitcher 1, Designated Hitter-Right Field 6, Designated Hitter-Second Base 7, Designated Hitter-Shortstop 2, Designated Hitter-Third Base 25, First Base 4649, First Base-Infield 2, First Base-Left Field 8, First Base-Outfield 699, First Base-Outfield-Third Base 1, First Base-Pitcher 1, First Base-Right Field 8, First Base-Second Base 15, First Base-Shortstop 6, First Base-Shortstop-Third Base 2, First Base-Third Base 175, Infield 936, Infield-Outfield 128, Infield-Pitcher 1, Left Field 304, Left Field-Second Base 1, Left Field-Shortstop 1, Left Field-Third Base 4, N/A 8979, Outfield 15221, Outfield-Pinch Hitter 2, Outfield-Pitcher 7, Outfield-Second Base 121, Outfield-Second Base-Shortstop 5, Outfield-Second Base-Shortstop-Third Bas 1, Outfield-Second Base-Third Base 7, Outfield-Shortstop 29, Outfield-Third Base 229, Pinch Hitter 13, Pinch Runner 2, Pitcher 28219, Pitcher-Shortstop 2, Relief Pitcher 312, Right Field 315, Right Field-Third Base 2, Second Base 3973, Second Base-Shortstop 426, Second Base-Shortstop-Third Ba 1, Second Base-Shortstop-Third Base 30, Second Base-Third Base 259, Shortstop 4447, Shortstop-Third Base 216, Third Base 4205, Unknown 832

We're showing 29 Outfield-Shortstops! Guys like Eddie O`Brien (56 Topps), Tony Kubek (60 Topps), and Bert Campaneris (65 Topps).