I hope the confusion is all mine

When it comes to female film stars of the 1970s, I have never been able to keep Karen Allen and Karen Black straight. I know that they don’t look especially alike, and they are more than ten years apart in age, but their shared first name has established a mental block for me, and I can never remember which is which. I could tell you now, but only because I just did the Google search. My clarity, however, is certain to be short-lived. Ten minutes after I log off, I might be able to tell you that one appeared in Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other in Five Easy Pieces and The Great Gatsby, but I won’t be able to recall which Karen is which.

It’s similar with some ball players. If you mention any of the many hundreds of major leaguers who played from the late 1960s to the early ’80s, there’s a fair chance that an image of the player would come immediately to my mind, thanks to my card collecting and general obsession with baseball in those days. I might even be able to produce a few bare facts, such as position, team and whether the player was a righty or lefty. Naturally, there are some players I simply don’t remember at all, but much worse, there are certain pairs of players around whom my memory has become irretrievably tangled. Maybe they were teammates, or have similar names, or played similar roles. Or maybe they have nothing that connects them other than my confusion. And as with Allen and Black, it doesn’t matter how often I look them up in baseball-reference. Ten minutes later I can no longer tell them apart.

Welcome to the mental shortcomings that are my world. Here are some players that I just can’t seem to keep straight. I hope that the readers of this blog do not share my fate.

Vic Davalillo and Jose Cardenal: Both were good-hitting outfielders. The two were teammates twice, first in Cleveland and later in St. Louis. Just don’t ask me which one was traded for Jimmie Hall and which for Vada Pinson, because I could only guess.

Jim Spencer and Don Mincher: Both were lumbering first basemen cut from the Boog Powell mold. Several years different in age, they were teammates briefly, one succeeding the other for the California Angels. My confusion of these two is further fueled by the fact that both later played for the Oakland A’s, although not at the same time.

Jim Price and Jim French: Both were backup catchers in the late 60s. One played very little because, as a teammate of Bill Freehan, he stood little chance of cracking Detroit’s starting lineup. The other played somewhat more often, not because he was any better, but because the Washington Senators lacked an All-Star backstop. One was a Triple Crown contender, sort of. The racehorse of the same name was one of the chief rivals of Canonero II in 1971.

Von Joshua and Von Hayes: They share an uncommon first name, and each also has something in common with Greg Gross, which is apparently enough to confuse me. One was a teammate of Gross on the Phillies, while the other was the Dodgers’ equivalent of Greg Gross, a utility outfielder and pinch hitter. But which Von is which – it’s a 50-50 proposition in my mind.

Greg Goossen and Mike Cubbage: This one makes perhaps the least sense. Their names don’t sound alike. If you squint, the last names look a bit similar, but then lots of things look alike through squinting eyes. You would have to squint really hard to see any similarity in their playing careers. One was an infielder for the Rangers and Twins in the 70s, the other a catcher and first baseman for the Mets in the 60s and the target of a famous Casey Stengel quip. Earlier this year, when I saw Goossen’s name on the obituary page, I had to pause and think hard: New York catcher or Minnesota third baseman?

Jack Hamilton and Jack Fisher: Along with Steve Hamilton and Eddie Fisher, these two are half of what could be a foursome of 1960s pitching confusion, but somehow the other two are crystal clear in my mind. Steve Hamilton was the lanky ex-basketballer who threw the famed “folly floater” for the Yankees. Eddie Fisher was the mid-60s closer for the Chicago White Sox when closing meant taking the ball in the middle innings and going the distance. Given the possibilities, I feel pretty good that it’s only the two members of this quartet named Jack that I find confusing. Both pitched for multiple teams, including the Mets, and one had the distinction of being a 24-game loser for New York. But ask me which one was on the mound for the Angels and delivered the pitch that all but ended Tony Conigliaro’s career, and mentally I’m tossing a coin.

Joe Pignatano and Jim Pagliaroni:  Both were catchers, although by the time I became baseball-conscious in the mid-60s, one had moved on to coaching, where he remained for more than two decades. I do not recall having had any confusion over these two when I was a youngster. It was only later, with the emergence of Mike Pagliarulo, that they became hopelessly twisted in my mind.

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