Photo Nerdgasm: UPDATED
I know, I know, Morse trade, WBC, Manti Te’o’s Invisible Girlfriend…I have something important to discuss here: Who are these guys? These are two shots taken at the Yankees’ old spring training facility at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the 1978-85 range. The negatives were never printed and never identified by the photographer, and they aren’t obvious to anybody. And I speak as an anybody whose proudest moment was going into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Photo Archive three years ago and having the privilege to be shown their “unidentified” file – and to reel off seven or eight consecutive IDs in the first photos I saw. I was just beginning to draw a crowd when the muse left me. I think I had one tentative name guess for the remaining hundred in the pile.
Anyway, all we know is that they were Yankees, that we think they were non-roster invitees, and that we have three meh possibilities. Want to play?
Who are these guys?
As I said, there are a couple of possibilities. Number One looks vaguely – very vaguely – like Keith Smith, who played exactly 20 innings at short for the Yankees in ’84 and ’85. Let’s look at Number One and Smith, side by side…
Face shape looks pretty good. The eyebrows are close and any deviation can be attributed to a common eyebrow issue for us Keiths – trimming. The head tilt as part of the attitude toward the camera is one of those subtle things that often tell you more than facial features. But maybe you recognize him and it’s somebody else?
As to the other, I’m not nearly as confident:
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our Mysterious Yankee #2 is neither Kelly Scott – a pitcher who was in camp several times in the ’80s – nor Brian Fisher, a very highly rated reliever the Yankees had gotten from Atlanta and later peddled to Pittsburgh. There are a few bad color photos of Scott in which his hair looks very much like our guy. The similarities to Fisher are obvious – the mouth, ear shape, etc. – but doesn’t the unidentified Yankee look significantly older than Fisher? It’s not like these photos could’ve been years apart: Fisher was in the Yank camp just two years, ’85 and ’86.
In any event, if you want to play sleuth, feel free to use the comments. If you have photos or links to support your thoughts, lemme know. Thanks!
The Number 7 is on the one and only Mickey Mantle, who served as a Yankee spring training instructor from the year after his retirement until his health failed in the ’90s – with a couple of exceptions. Mantle was barred from baseball in February, 1983, for having gone to work for an Atlantic City casino, and wasn’t reinstated until March, 1985. Therefore you wouldn’t see a Yankee spring training photo from 1983, 1984, or a shot from early spring training 1985 (most of the fringe guys would’ve been long gone before Mantle’s earliest possible return, on March 18th).
This dates the photo to 1982 or earlier, and 1986 or later. The negatives were supposed to have originated from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
Just as importantly, you can plainly see the memorial armband on Mantle’s left sleeve. The Yankees wore those a lot, and would’ve had them during spring training in 1980 (for the late Thurman Munson), in 1981 (for the late Elston Howard), and in 1986 (for the late Roger Maris).
The images were shot on the same day – they’re on the same negative strip. So they are likely dated to 1980-81 (a smaller chance that they date to 1986). Although then, as now, minor leaguers occasionally would be seen in big league camp even if they weren’t on the roster and they weren’t formally ‘non-roster invitees,’ their likelihood of being photographed was very small (they could and were photographed separately, in minor league camp).
Thus the field of who these two men could be really shrinks to all the guys in Spring Training for the Yankees in 1980 and 1981 who I don’t recognize on sight (and in those two seasons I went from Radio Network sportscaster and reporter, and part-time photographer, to CNN sports correspondent). And that field is:
1980: Pitchers Jim Lewis, Brian Ryder, and Jamie Werly; catchers Scott Benedict, Pat Callahan, and Dan Plante.
1981: Pitchers Curt Kauffman, Lewis, and Ryder; catchers Callahan and Kevin Shannon.
For the record there a couple of other obscure guys in the field that I’ve eliminated because they don’t look like either of these guys: pitchers Paul Boris, Greg Cochran, Tom Filer, Roger Slagle, and Chris Welsh (that’s right: that Chris Welsh, now the Reds’ announcer and then a Yankee lefthand pitching prospect). Speaking of the Reds, neither is either of them another 1981 non-roster invitee named Don Gullett, who was still – five seasons later – trying to spend one healthy season in a New York uniform after having signed a huge free agent contract in the winter of 1976-77.
But I’m digressing. Let’s put together a rogue’s gallery of the remaining possibilities:
Curt Kaufman, 1982
As you see, it’s an incomplete gallery. Nothing turned up for two of those catchers – Dan Plante and Kevin Shannon.
I think most of these guys are obviously neither of our unidentified Yankees. One bears a remote resemblance – I’d suggest Scott Benedict, later a renowned high school coach in Florida, might just be Yankee #1, but the chest hair and the chin in the identified shot suggests otherwise. But do you see that shot of Brian Ryder with the then-Reds farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, from 1982. We may have a winner.
Let’s look at a couple more shots of Ryder, and put them alongside our Yankee #2:
I like the 1981 black and white especially – the profile shot – as a match, but it’s pointed out below that the complexion looks more like those two shots of Jamie Werly.
Ryder was the 26th overall pick in the 1978 draft and produced 15-victory seasons in his first two full years in the minors. But after a so-so year at AAA in 1981 the Yankees packaged him and another minor league pitcher named Fredie Toliver to the Reds, for Ken Griffey Sr (it is almost impossible to recall that we used to just call him “Ken Griffey.”) Ryder and Werly never made the majors – but the latter did put together a solid seven years in the
high minors, including a season as the top pitcher in the Southern League in 1981. In a recent photo he looks a lot like Yankee #1. I think it’s one of them, shown just a few springs ago, with Mickey Mantle over their shoulder…
If anybody has any ideas on the others, feel free to post a Comment – especially if you’ve got a shot of Dan Plante or Kevin Shannon.
Finally it struck me. “Number 1” here has been annoying me for awhile. Looked familiar, but in a disguised way. Is it possible I’m seeing a guy I knew with long, even bushy hair, and a mustache, without either?
Dennis Werth? Jayson Werth’s step-Dad?