clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cubs historical sleuthing: 1960s mystery edition

This one was actually easier than it looked.

Getty Images

Once again, I delve deep into the Getty Images archive of photos, which contains quite a few old Cubs and Wrigley Field photos.

This one has the following caption attached:

Pirates catcher puts the tag on Ernie Banks at the plate, after the Cubs shortstop tried to score from first on a double.

Well, that’s not much help, other than identifying Ernie Banks, which I probably could have done anyway.

On Getty’s website the photos are arranged (mostly) chronologically. This one’s in a group of other images from the early 1960s, so I started there. The Pirates catcher is wearing No. 5. That’s Hal Smith, who caught for Pittsburgh in 1960 and 1961. Incidentally, in 1960 Smith hit one of the most forgotten three-run homers ever in a World Series Game 7. Smith’s three-run blast in the eighth inning gave the Pirates a 9-7 lead. It could have been the game-winner, except the Bucs gave up the lead in the top of the ninth, and so Bill Mazeroski’s walkoff homer got all the publicity.

Anyway. I began with the assumption that the captioned information was, at least, correct. There were 11 games in 1960 and 1961 where Smith and Banks both played at Wrigley Field.

Not one of them contains a play that matches what’s shown above.

Then I had another look at the photo. It looks like Banks is safe here, right? I don’t see a baseball anywhere, much less in Smith’s mitt, and Ernie’s crossing the plate apparently without being tagged.

So I looked for games in which Banks had scored on such a play in those two years against the Pirates when Smith was catching.

It happened twice — in the fourth inning May 4, 1960 and in the fifth inning September 7, 1961.

The next thing to look at is the shadow near the plate, so I’ve got to get into a bit of sun data. All single games in 1960 and 1961 started at 1:30 p.m. The May 4 game ran just 2:07 and so would have ended around 3:37. The fourth inning of that game couldn’t have happened much past 2:30, and possibly earlier — there were only two baserunners before the fourth. Sunset in Chicago May 4, 1960 was 7:53 p.m. There’s no way a shadow could have been that close to the plate at 2:30(ish) on May 4.

September 7? That looks more promising. Sunset in Chicago September 7, 1961 was 7:14 p.m. That game ran 2:53, so it would have ended (around) 4:23. That was a fairly slow-moving game for that era; a bottom of the fifth play would almost certainly have been after 3 p.m., maybe 3:15. I’ve been at plenty of September games at Wrigley when the shadows begin to creep toward the plate area by that time.

So that’s what I’m going with for this play. Ernie Banks was on second base (and George Altman was on first) and scored on a double by Billy Williams in the bottom of the fifth inning, Thursday, September 7, 1961. Just 2,752 watched this contest, which the Pirates eventually won 7-5, helped by five Cubs errors. Banks had also homered earlier in the game, his 27th (of 29 he hit that year).