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Cubs historical sleuthing: An injured catcher

One clue made this one easy, and also brought up one of the worst things Leo Durocher did as Cubs manager.

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To allow you to play along here, I have to show you the full version of the photo above, which is in a vertical format:

Getty Images

We have two easily identifiable people in this photo: Ernie Banks at the right, and Leo Durocher, who is looking at his catcher, who’s clearly in some sort of distress.

Your next clue is the baseball 100th anniversary patch on Leo’s right sleeve. That was worn only in 1969.

So, the only way to figure out when this photo was taken was the visiting player also standing over the catcher. We only see a “3” on the back of his uniform. Thankfully, in those days many teams put players’ numbers on batting helmets. You can clearly see “23” on the back of the helmet, and that numbering style was used by the Dodgers in that era.

Claude Osteen, a mainstay of the Dodgers’ rotation from 1965-73, wore No. 23 for them in 1969.

Osteen pitched twice in Wrigley Field in 1969 — May 7 and July 25. All the people in this photo are wearing long sleeves under their jerseys. The boxscores say it was 58 degrees on May 7 and 80 on July 25, so this has to be May 7, 1969.

The problem is that the Cubs catcher doesn’t look like Randy Hundley, who caught the May 7 game (and the July 25 game, too). But it has to be, there’s no other possible game this could be, there would be no reason for Osteen to be standing at the plate in that situation. Also, Durocher kept riding Hundley hard in 1969, for the fourth straight year. He started and caught every inning of all six games the Dodgers played against the Cubs in Wrigley Field that year.

That game went 12 innings, with Fergie Jenkins throwing a complete game. (Try doing that in 2019!) The small piece of face you can see in the upper right of the photo looks like Fergie, too.

Osteen threw the first nine innings and batted three times, popping up foul, grounding out and singling. It’s tough to know which at-bat that was; given the shadows I’m inclined to say it was during the first at-bat, in which he popped up. Hundley, down temporarily, stayed in the game, a perfect example of Durocher’s old-school mentality that should have been out of the game by 1969.

If Durocher hadn’t overused Hundley so much from 1966 through early 1970, he might have played several more years than he did. Hundley caught at least 144 games for four straight years, and caught almost every inning of all those games, including a brutal 156 starts in 1968. But his knees couldn’t take all the pounding and eventually serious knee injuries shortened what might have been a much better career.