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Cubs historical sleuthing: Spring training edition

Mr. Cub is featured in his final season.

I came across the photo at the top of this post via this tweet:

Well, you know me. I immediately wanted to sleuth out the date of that game!

You might say, “Hey, Al, a spring-training game from almost 48 years ago? You’ll never find that.”

Ah, so you doubt my sleuthing skills? First, here’s a larger version of that photo.

And, we’ve been given clues from the tweet itself. It’s obviously Ernie Banks, and the tweet says it’s from 1971, Ernie’s final season. We also know the game is against the Giants, from the tweet.

There aren’t any online references to 1971 spring training, no standings nor boxscores nor schedules. I do know that has to be an away game for the Cubs, as they are wearing their road uniforms, and the Giants are in their home whites. The big rocks in the background are the Papago Rocks, part of Papago Park in the city of Phoenix, just north of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Phoenix Muni was the spring-training home of the Giants from 1952-83, as well as the home of their Triple-A team until the Diamondbacks were created in 1998.

All right, so that’s Ernie batting in a game against the Giants at Phoenix Muni in 1971. But when?

Off to the Tribune archive I went. That made this relatively easy. The Cubs played the Giants four times during spring training 1971. Three of those games were at Scottsdale Stadium, then the spring home of the Cubs.

The only Cubs/Giants spring game at Phoenix Muni happened on March 29, 1971. Sure enough, Ernie started at first base that day (he’d been limited to pinch-hitting much of that spring due to knee problems) and Dick Dietz (No. 2) was the Giants catcher. Here’s the boxscore, from the Tribune:

That boxscore is a little lopsided compared to modern boxscores, where you’d always see the visiting team on the left and its pitchers on the top of the pitcher list, and you’ll note the pitchers are all mixed up there — Ken Holtzman, Juan Pizarro and Ron Tompkins were the Cubs pitchers, Frank Reberger, Don McMahon and Steve Hamilton went for the Giants. Both Reberger and Hamilton had a Cubs connection. Reberger pitched for the Cubs briefly in 1968 and Hamilton would be a Cub in 1972.

Also, how the Cubs managed six RBI when they scored only five runs... a typo, obviously, but which is the extra one is lost to the mists of time.

1,947 attended — that was fairly typical for spring games in those days, a much quieter time before spring training was the big business it is today.

I can’t say for sure, but based on the shadows I’d guess this was Ernie’s first of the two at-bats he had that afternoon. Let’s imagine that on that sunny March afternoon in Phoenix, that swing of Ernie’s produced the one hit he had in that game.

Just another little slice of Cubs history.