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The Flip Side: Eric Munson

Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, and Eric Munson

Eric Munson: The common Rays fan has likely never heard of him before.

After all, he only played in one season with the Tampa Bay Rays and that was back during the 2005 campaign. He played in just 11 games with the Rays that season, but that was enough for his named to be etched on the team’s all-time roster that I randomized in order to come up with his name.

Okay, full disclosure, the first time I randomized the roster, I came up with Juan Carlos Oviedo — the artist formerly known as Leo Nunez — but he really didn’t have anything interesting to find, and plus: I really would rather just forget about his time with the Rays.

Anyway, back to Munson.

The 1999 MLB Draft is famously known as the draft that has Josh Hamilton going No. 1 to Tampa Bay and Josh Beckett No. 2 to the Florida Marlins. The guy who came just after those two young phenoms was a catcher from the University of Southern California, Eric Munson.

The Detroit Tigers selected the 2- year-old Munson third overall and eventually signed him to a Major League contract with a signing bonus north of $3M. A defensive liability, the Tigers quickly moved Munson to first base and only slotted him behind the plate on an as-needed basis. Nonetheless, Munson surged through the Tigers system and made his Major League debut just barely over a year following the draft.

He played in three games for Detroit before being optioned back to the minors, and then he suffered an injury while serving as a bullpen catcher that would keep him in a back brace through the rest of the season.

A prospect darling, Munson was a mainstay near the top of the Detroit Tigers top prospect lists as the Detroit tried to find a position suitable for their defensively challenged prized prospect.

Munson would be given time in the big leagues over the next several years all over the infield and did actually produce some decent home run totals but struggled altogether offensively. That, combined with his putrid defensive numbers, led to an ultimately disappointing career. Munson became a free agent following the 2004 season and after being signed and then released by the Minnesota Twins during spring training, Munson was picked up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

He had a fantastic year with Triple-A Durham, but played in just 11 games for Tampa Bay, hitting .167/.333/.222 with two long balls over 24 plate appearances.

Munson would journey around the league over the next few years, playing in his final Major League game during the 2009 season with the Oakland Athletics. After finishing up his playing career in the Independent Leagues in 2011, Munson spent some time coaching at the collegiate level and then started Gold Standard Athletics, a baseball training facility in Iowa.

Now, onto the card used in the header.

Having just played in 11 games for Tampa Bay, Munson didn’t have any cards with the team produced. However, googling Eric Munson baseball card comes up with this image of him playing third base and tagging a Devil Rays player as they slide into the base.

2004 Topps #391 Eric Munson NM-MT Tigers

Now the detective work begins.

The game being between the Devil Rays and Tigers is obviously being held at Comerica Park. The player that is being tagged out by Munson is donning the number 10, which was worn solely by Rey Ordonez during the 2003 season.

Ordonez was acquired by the Devil Rays the previous offseason. Known as a defensive wizard, Ordonez was off to an excellent start with Tampa Bay before an injury in May ended his season and eventually his career.

During the 2003 season, the Devil Rays took on the Tigers in Detroit from May 2-4 with Tampa Bay taking two of the three games, including one in extra innings. Ordonez failed to reach base during the first game; something to note in this game was the phenomenal performance by Joe Kennedy, as he hurled a one hit shutout, the second best start in franchise history up to that point.

Back to Ordonez: He had a terrific game on May 3, going 3-for-5. First time on base, Ordonez safely made it to third base and was eventually caught in a pickle and tagged out between third and home. The next time he was on base, he safely scored on a single.

After achieving his third hit of the afternoon, Ordonez advanced to second on a Marlon Anderson walk. Then Rocco Baldelli chopped a ball to the third base side, which Munson fielded and then tagged out the approaching Ordonez for the final out of the inning; this is the play that is captured and forever immortalized on the card.

The Tigers, it should be noted, fell to 3-25 on the season following this game.