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Cubs historical sleuthing: Hall of Fame edition

Just when was this photo of Ernie Banks and Johnny Bench taken?

The careers of future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Johnny Bench overlapped by five seasons, 1967-71, and Bench played just 26 games in a September callup in ‘67 (none at Wrigley) and Banks played sparingly in ‘71, so it was really mostly a three-season overlap.

Which makes the photo at the top of this post an intriguing sleuthing game. Here’s where I found it:

Well. There aren’t many clues there, but we’ll take “early 70’s” to mean either 1970 or 1971. It can’t be 1968 or 1969; the Cubs wore an Illinois sesquicentennial patch in 1968 and all players wore a baseball 100th anniversary patch in 1969. Thus it’s got to be ‘70 or ‘71. Still, that would mean quite a few games, right?

Off to baseball-reference I went. Banks and Bench played in the same game seven times in those two years. But there aren’t any more clues in the photo, really; no scoreboard, no pitcher, just one other player (beyond the mostly unrecognizable pitchers in the Cubs bullpen).

Next clue: The ivy has grown in, but not fully. It’s not as thick as it would be in the peak of summer. So that would suggest sometime in May.

Next clue: It’s cloudy. So I eliminated five of the seven games that had “cloudy” or “overcast” in the weather description.

That left two games: May 9, 1970 and August 24, 1971. I’d already pretty much eliminated games later in the season, and that left the last clue: the third baseman. On August 24, 1971, the Reds’ third baseman was Woody Woodward. That’s definitely not Woodward.

On May 9, 1970, Tony Perez played third base for the Reds. Yes, Perez, mostly known as a first baseman, played a lot of 3B early in his career, over 750 games. That looks like Perez.

It would have made sense for a photographer to be at Wrigley focusing on Banks on May 9, 1970. Ernie was two homers short of 500 at that time, and in fact, he did hit a home run in that game, his 499th, a two-run shot in the seventh inning:

I’ve written before about how the home run you see in that video really should have been Ernie’s 500th, but the short version is this: Banks hit a ball over the fence at Jarry Park in Montreal on June 30, 1969, a foggy, drizzly night when they probably shouldn’t have played at all. Expos right fielder Rusty Staub kicked some dirt around the bottom of the fence and told the umpires, who were having trouble seeing in the fog, that the ball had gone under the fence.

Obviously, that’s ludicrous, but the umpires believed him and Ernie was given a double. The Cubs played the game under protest, which was disallowed. Many years later Staub told writers that he had to walk away from the scene so the umps wouldn’t see him laughing.

Had that ball been a home run in Montreal (as it should have), the home run on May 9, 1970 would have been his 500th, on a Saturday at Wrigley with a big crowd of 33,168, instead of when it actually happened, the following Tuesday in front of about 5,000.

Anyway, back to this photo: I’m nearly certain it’s from May 9, 1970. It’s probably not the swing that launched Ernie’s 499th (the stance of the umpire doesn’t appear to match the video), but it’s notable that it’s from that date, and the fact that three Hall of Famers, Banks, Bench and Perez, are in the photo.